Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Caravaggio-Inspired Card Players from the Fogg Museum

Caravaggio can make the claim to have painted the most influential painting in the history of art, The Cardsharps, on display at the Kimbell Art Museum. I know of many copies as well as other paintings influenced by it but I recently discovered yet another work influenced by Caravaggio's Cardsharps, which is owned by the Fogg Museum of Art, in Cambridge, MA.

The Card Players at the Fogg Museum of Art
The Card Players, oil on canvas, 94.2 x 119.2 cm (37 1/16 x 46 15/16 in.)

The painting is titled The Card Players and is thought to be the work of an unknown 17th century French follower of Caravaggio. Unlike the original Cardsharps, this composition features only two figures, instead of three. The only other painting based on the composition of the Cardsharps, that features two players, that I know of, is The Game of Cards, painted by Count Balthus, between 1948 and 1950 (aside from a 1947 study that Balthus made prior to the finished painting).

In the Balthus painting the girl is the winner despite the fact that the boy is prepared to cheat. That's evident from the expressions and also due to the fact that Balthus always portrayed girls as winners. Following that logic there's actually no place for Caravaggio's third figure in Balthus' composition, which would have to be overpowering the girl while peeking at her hand. While it is utterly impossible that Balthus wouldn't have known about Caravaggio's Cardsharps it really makes me wonder if he had ever seen the Fogg painting and if it had in any way influenced his two-figure composition, or if the similarity is just a coincidence.

I actually discovered the Fogg painting through an eBay purchase of an old museum gift shop postcard, which I bought at a bargain price of .50 cents.

The postcard is a black and white print and I am unsure if it's an original or a photocopy. I actually wish the postcard was stamped and postmarked, to authenticate the date, but I guess I have to settle for a blank one. Anyway, even if it's a photocopy I can't really say I feel ripped off at that price. I was actually prepared to pay $150 because it was a postcard I've never seen before and assumed it was a rare find. Perhaps I'm even right about that, although I'm not sure it would have any resell value if I had paid more that 10 bucks for it.

When I first saw the eBay listing I had no idea this was a picture of a painting, but when I received it in the mail I saw the mention of the Fogg Museum of Art, on the back (although Caravaggio's dates are wrong and should be 1571-1610). A quick Google search helped me find an image of the original oil painting on the museum's web site.

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