de jonckheere old masters

David Teniers

Peasants playing cards in an interior

Copper: 24,1 x 30,8 cm
Signed D.TENIERS.f bottom right


David Teniers firmly establishes his pedigree with this scene of Peasants playing cards in an interior. In an excellent state of preservation, this copper perfectly illustrates the theme that made this artist and his genre scenes so successful.

Four meagrely-dressed men and one man of fashion are playing cards in this modest interior. The composition owes its great beauty to the colours of their clothes. Comprised of red, blue and green, the range of colours used here is particularly varied and nuanced. The painting clearly draws inspiration from the scenes of Adriaen Brouwer (Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen). We find the space configured in the same manner and the characters sitting at a table. The main figure sitting on the left, dressed in red, is wearing a white cap. The same cap also features in two of his other works, albeit hanging from a chair and not on someone's head (see M. Klinge, David Teniers the Younger: paintings, drawings, exhib. cat., Antwerp, 1991, no. 33 and 34). Bearing a close similarity to a still life, the figures are accompanied by objects in a seemingly calm atmosphere.

David Teniers demonstrates a close observation of human behaviour and descriptions of rural life. Partly a reflection of the reality of the era, his scenes of smoking or playing cards are not only a portrayal of social customs. Sayings from the period and captions appearing on engravings based on these paintings often contain a warning relating to dubious pleasures accentuated by a state of drunkenness that is not always under control. Teniers portrayed card players on several occasions, and a similar scene figures in Kassel’s painting of 1633 (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister). Originating from the Far East, the playing cards shown here are just like those we still have today. The suits are the same as those found in a traditional French pack: spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. Some of the cards are easy to identify and interpret: we know that the five of diamonds stands for money and trade (including the sex trade), while the six and the jack of spades relates to hostility and misfortune. To be more precise, the six of spades symbolises the futile struggle against destiny.

In the 19th century, this painting was part of the collection at Blenheim Palace, the home of the Duke of Marlborough, before being sold to Stephenson Clarke, an outstanding collector. This signed copper, of a wonderful quality, is a decisive example of the painter’s finest themes. Teniers was, indeed, among the best artists of his day.

Provenance :
John Winston Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough (1822-1883), Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire;
George Spencer-Churchill, 8th Duke of Marlborough (1844-1892), Blenheim Palace;
Christie's, London, July 24th 1886, lot 51 (550 gns. from M. Colnaghi);
Martin Colnaghi, London;
Stephenson Clarke (1824-1891), Croydon Lodge, Haywards Heath, Sussex and descendents;
Eric Martin Wunsch collection.

Littérature :
(Possibly) Blenheim guide, containing a full and accurate account of the paintings, tapestry, and furniture, Oxford, 1820, p. 31;
G. Scharf, Catalogue raisonné, or a list of the pictures in Blenheim Palace, London, 1861, p. 65;
'Blenheim pictures sold', The New York Times, July 24th 1886.

Expositions :
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Exhibition of Works by Old Masters, Winter exhibition, 2 January-10 March 1888, no. 114;
Brussels, Exposition de l'art ancien: l'art belge au XVIIe siècle, June-November 1910, no. 458;
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Winter exhibition of Flemish paintings, 5 December 1953-6 March 1954, no. 289.