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Paintings Featuring Gambling

As we all now, gambling as a pastime is as old as the hills themselves. So it's of no surprise that many artists have used gambling as a motif for their work. For various reasons, some of these works of art have gone on to become collectible with the world of art dealing. So we decided to have a closer look at some of the most popular and well known paintings featuring gambling as their main focus.

Paintings Featuring Gambling
The Cardsharps – Image source: Caravaggio via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction: Gambling Paintings

In our present age of online gambling, it’s sometimes difficult to imaging that there were other, much more informal ways of having a flutter. It’s generally believed that the ancient Chinese started playing cards and these card games quickly spread all around the world with trade. During the 15th century, games with dice gave way to card games. Even though dice has been with us since before Roman times, this new form of gambling, with playing cards, was in ascendance.

Paintings Featuring Gambling: Gambling Inspired Art.

In the beginning, cards were the reserve of the upper classes, but, as with all vices, that quickly changed. It should come as no surprise then, that activity so popular with all walks of life, should find it’s way into the subject matter for all sorts of artists. Dice has been represented, but the playing of cards, with it’s larger groups and scenes of joy and drunkenness, have always proved irresistible for the greatest painters. Let’s have a look through art history to find the most well-known paintings featuring gambling before you pop up the online casino sites in Italy. Maybe the ancient roman and renaissance vibes will increase your efficiency.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – The Cardsharps

Caravaggio represents the highest point of Baroque painting. The well-known painting, The Cardsharps, was painted in the 16th century in around 1594. It shows two boys playing cards. But one of them cheekily has a card hidden behind his back. Also, there’s an older man behind the back of the innocent player. He appears to be signaling to the crafty boy opposite. It’s obvious that the two of them are in cahoots. The three of them are all entranced by the game and it’s an enchanting work of art. Caravaggio’s use of light and dark contrast, or chiaroscuro, was incredibly influential to fellow artists.

Paintings Featuring Gambling: Georges de La Tour – The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs

This was painted between 1626 and 1629. It is, without a doubt a tribute to Caravaggio’s Cardsharps. The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs is a scene in which two women are playing cards with a man. The women appear distracted for a moment. The man chooses this time to produce a couple of aces from his belt. We can also see a couple of a maidservant and another woman who is looking on with faces of suspicion and alarm. It painting shows us the players as a living being and the whole canvas is alive with the game. It’s also a morality play about the dangers of wine, women, and gambling. Georges de La Tour later went on to paint another picture in with card players in 1635, this time called “The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds”.

Paintings Featuring Gambling
The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs – Image source: Georges de La Tour via Wikimedia Commons

Jan Steen – Argument Over a Card Game

The next work belongs to the Dutch Golden Age and is one of the most celebrated paintings from that era. Argument Over a Card Game was painted during the second half of the 17th century. It perfectly captures the drama over a game of cards. Jan Steen shows us all types in society. In this painting, we can see a nobleman being restrained. He has a knife drawn, as does his opponent who remains seated at the card table. Behind some peasant, folk is laughing at the whole situation. Steen was well known for paintings which at first glance appear chaotic, but on closer inspection, the details shine through.

Paintings Featuring Gambling: Paul Cézanne – The Card Players

In the early 1890’s’, Paul Cézanne painted a series of five paintings featuring gambling, all depicting players playing cards. The famous French Post-Impressionist painted scenes from quiet card games in darkened rooms to drunken noisy peasants playing cards in the tavern. The paintings are known for their typically muted colors. The detail is unimportant to the artist, as he strives to capture both the light and the ambiance.

Cassius Marcellus Coolidge – Dogs Playing Poker

These are a series of instantly recognizable paintings featuring gambling. The sixteen pieces of art all depict dogs playing cards. They were painted by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge as a commission from the Brown and Bigelow advertising company in order to sell cigars. All the paintings have the dogs seated in what looks like a speak-easy, with its red walls and green felt card table. A different colored over headlamp lights the table and the light fall-off into the darkness at the edge of the frame. In some, the dogs are sat without clothing, and in others, fully clothed including hats. And in all paintings, there’s at least one dog with a cigar.

Paintings Featuring Gambling
This is probably the most famous painting which features gambling – Image source: Cassius Marcellus Coolidge via Wikimedia Commons

Paintings Featuring Gambling: Fernand Leger – Soldiers Playing Cards

Highly influences by both Cézanne and Picasso, Fernand Leger was the late member of the Cubism movement. The painting has an almost mechanical feeling to it. This should come as no surprise as it was painted while Leger was hospitalized after the First World War Battle of Verdun. He has combined the elements of machines and welded them to the bodies of dislocated soldiers. The use of cold blues and blacks adds to the impression of a mechanical apparatus. The soldiers look more like robots than anything human. It’s hard not to see the cruel inhumanity within these forms, as would have been witnessed first hand by the artist during his days in the trenches.

And nowadays? When we will see paintings featuring online gambling sites in Italy? Wagering just like any other aspect of entertainment had a long cultural journey through history. How our era will reflect gambling in visual art? Next time we will talk about that question!

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