In Cezanne’s “Card players” I see and sense a mysticism that is not as ordinary as its subject matter suggests. There are a combination of subdued factors that contribute to the mood of this painting. However, there are three different versions of “Card players” that Cezanne painted. I have chosen to critique the first for I find it to be the most effervescent. The other two while fine in their own right, do however suffer from two palettes that do not work as effectively as the first version. Thus, I have chosen the most well executed painting in my view. The canvas is horizontal. It is dated 1894-95 and its current location is the Musee d’Orsay. The line is most well rendered, especially the arms of the figures and elements of the table. However, the shape of the table is most unusual. It would seem to have a depression upon the table, but it attracts such attention that one finds the irregular shape reminiscent of Van Gogh. The table even manages to steal the scene from the card players. As far as the texture, the clamminess of the flesh and pastiness of the jackets, come off quite adequately. Apparently, Cezanne was depicting a frequent motif of Dutch and French 17th century genre painting, where one can find raucous tavern dwellers. Instead, Cezanne took a different approach by using these two figures and used a more subdued approach to their personalities. Could this possibly be a more existential approach? I can imagine these card players being normal people, but I cannot believe in the idea that they are happy, like Impressionist figures for instance.
Cezanne’s distinctive sense of texture is palpable. There is an oozing amount of that pasty quality that he seems to do so well at. It does remind me of Sargent a bit, I might even go so far as to say that it has a Rembrandt quality as well. Both would probably agree on the noir-like atmosphere. Although, one may not always be mesmerized by Cezanne’s geometrical astonishments in his landscapes, I do find the humility of his subjects here intoxicating. They are certainly more emphatic than some other Impressionist subjects. They are more mysterious and bare little of the superficial F. Scott Fitzgerald-like quality to the characters. But painters like Monet had to sell somehow, so why not make the characters upper-class and bountiful in joy at that? I do not blame Manet and Degas for distancing themselves from Impressionism. Although I digress with my axe-grinding towards that art movement, I assure the reader that this does prove a point. The implications of the respective point is that Cezanne was radical. He painted shapes in a revolutionary sense. One can easily look at his landscapes and decipher the aforementioned remark, but in “Card Players” he seems to suggest a totally new touch to art. The table almost, I stress almost, foreshadows the eccentric attitude of Surrealism. One can readily imagine Dali’s peculiar clock or dream canvases coming next on the slideshow, or even Warhol. Cezanne may not appear as an artist who influences modernist/post-modernist artists like the aforementioned, but made would-be artists look at Art in a new lens. However, there is one factor of this canvas that impresses me. His background setup reminds me very much of Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” In The Mona Lisa, Da Vinci satisfied his fascination of geology by including his native Tuscan landscape. With Cezanne, depictions of a landscape are never so easily obvious, I however do think he is portraying a landscape per say, he does make it ambiguous. The clustering of shapes makes me think the players are out in the middle of a rainforest. It’s just one of those impossible to place emotions. There is however one really intriguing shape. Towards the right of the piper-smoker’s hat is an almost wine bottle-like shape that in capsules a Wyndham Lewis Vortex figure running under the crash of lightning. It would seem absurd, but that is the type of interpretation one can gather from Cezanne’s free flowing shapes. And I do not think one would be hard pressed to find that free-thinking mindset in realms of Modernism, such as Abstraction, or to be even more specific, a Rothko canvas. And again, in the upper left-hand corner one can find this flare of gold dust just barely gaining admission into the canvas. Its abruptness makes me think that the canvas truly goes on infinitely, but plunges one back to reality when one realizes that the canvas is not some other place that one can truly enter.
Cezanne created a treatise on not just humility, but a reaction towards Impressionism. He was more aligned with great artists that shared his dark hues. I think deep down he knew that Impressionism was only an ephemeral solution to the general art-going public and would not cement accomplishments. On the other hand, I believe Cezanne as one individual did more to art than most of the Impressionists combined. His subjects actually speak and are real. Like the Caravaggio canvas where St. Thomas probes the wound of Christ, Cezanne finds a way to show the passion of realism by probing the people that inhabit the onerous times they live in. Cezanne was not about extravagance, he was about dark humility.