Paul Cézanne’s famous paintings of peasant card players and pipe smokers have long been considered to be among his most iconic and powerful works. So says the Courtauld of their new exhibition Cézanne's Card Players.
The rustic card players were some of my favourite paintings when I was studying at the Courtauld. In particular, "Man with a Pipe", and "The Card Players" which depict the same man named Alexandre in two different situations. Alexandre was one of my favourite characters to illustrate in my children's book Magic at the Museum.
Alexandre was a peasant gardener. Cézanne strove to capture the essence of these sun-beaten farmers with the rough application of paint and deep browns.
If you look closely, you will see that his head is very small compared to his body (or, perhaps he is just very tall). I used this feature to advantage in the Magic at the Museum action scenes; Alexandre always looks very strong and powerful. In response to the sometimes odd perspective in his paintings, Cézanne told his critics, "I have a lazy eye."
The famous English critic Roger Fry wrote in 1927: “It is hard to think of any design ... which gives us so extraordinary a sense of monumental gravity and resistance – of something that has found its centre and can never be moved.”
This in an interesting quote, because I imagined Alexandre to be the strong, solid centre of the crack-the-whip game the characters play on the Somerset House Ice Rink. Here you see him holding everyone steady while they whirl around the ice.