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The Card Players

David Teniers the younger (Antwerp 1610 - Brussels 1690)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

circa 1645

Materials

Oil on panel and gilt

Measurements

457 x 582 mm (18 x 23 in)

Order this image

Collection

Polesden Lacey, Surrey

NT 1246500

Caption

The tavern scenes of this Flemish artist frequently centre on figures gambling on games of chance. The overall mood in this example is one of calm – note the sleeping dog – although the pointed look of the figure gazing out at the viewer creates a moment of tension. The broken pipe at his feet alludes to the vanity of his activity while his black suit, wide collar, and refined features mark him out as a cut-above the rest of the party. Perhaps his furtive gaze is that of one who should know better, caught out in the indulgence a low and foolish passion.

Summary

Oil painting on panel, The Card Players by David Teniers the younger (Antwerp 1610 - Brussels 1690), c.1645. An interior with two peasants seated at the left, playing cards, and three others, one standing watching; on the right a woman is holding a frying pan over a fire, with two men beside her; in the background a peasant carrying a jug is passing through a doorway and above an old woman looks down from a trap-window; a sleeping dog in the foreground.

Full description

Most people, if asked to specify the quintessential 'Dutch' picture, would probably single out a landscape or a marine; otherwise they would most likely put their finger on an indoor tavern scene, with boors carousing, fighting, playing dice, backgammon, or cards, or just sitting smoking and drinking. Of all the various specialisations of Dutch painters in the 17th century, it is indeed one of the most distinctive, yet one of the most surprising, when viewed in the context of the previously traditional themes of art. It represented a turning to the activities of the everyday life of common people as decisive in its day as that of the Impressionists in the 19th century, but with barely any precedent save the art of Pieter Bruegel. It is therefore a little disconcerting that the genre was invented by one Fleming, Adriaen Brouwer (1606-1638) from Oudenaarde, and that it was taken up and given some of its finest expression by another, David Teniers of Antwerp. Brouwer had admittedly left Flanders for Holland by 1625 - the first record of him is, appositely, at an inn kept by the painter Barent van Someren in Amsterdam in 1625-34 and was in Haarlem - possibly before, and certainly after - that, where he was influenced by, if not a pupil of, Frans Hals. But by 1631 he was back at Antwerp, having been painting his tavern scenes for some five or six years. Brouwer's innovation was to show - unlike the so-called 'Merry Company' paintings of David Vinckboons (1576-1632 - another Flemish immigrant!) and his followers - boors rather than gentlefolk, and - again unlike Vinckboons' kermis scenes, or the monochromatic allegories of Adriaen van de Venne (1589-1662) - to depict these indoors, in taverns or simple interiors, rather than cavorting in the open; and with less supercilious or satirical intent. His paintings always have more movement than Teniers's - brawls are frequent - and the interiors are more cramped; but he put all the essential elements in place. As time went on, he restricted the tonal range of his pictures to a limited range of browns and greys, against which only the odd cap or blouse stands out as a note of lively colour. In one picture in particular, the Scene in a Tavern in the John G. Johnson Collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (cat.no. 1184), he anticipated Teniers very closely: the setting is more spacious and L-shaped; the protagonists - including a more distant group in front of a fireplace - have calmed down; still-life elements are introduced; notably an arrangement of logs in the right-hand corner, a toss-pot, and a flagon, glass, and cloth upon a very Teniers-type table; and a drawing of a peasant's head is stuck up on the wall. What Teniers brought to his appropriation of Brouwer's models was a yet greater element of spaciousness and calm; more minutely particularised figures, often of slightly higher social status; a greater emphasis upon still-life elements; and a lighter, blonder colouring, with the background colour of the walls &c. tending more towards silvery-grey than brown. The impression conveyed, as in the tavern pictures of his contemporary in Holland, Adriaen van Ostade (cf.no.00) is of simple enjoyment of such things as ale, tobacco, and cards, and of cheerfulness; one can see why - unlike Brouwer's - their works were so sought after for the prime collectors' cabinets in Holland and in France in the 18th century. Brouwer, by contrast, was particularly sought after at the time, especially by his fellow-artists: Rubens owned no less than seventeen of his paintings, and Rembrandt six, a copy, and a sketchbook . Teniers's earliest pictures of the kind date from 1633; tellingly they were often misattributed in the past to Brouwer . The importance that he ascribed to them can be gauged from the fact that in the earliest of his 'Gallery Interior' pictures, of 1635, the only one in which he includes a self-portrait at an easel (private collection) , he places one of them in the foreground, the foremost of a group of five of his own pictures being examined by two youthful connoisseurs. A picture that must date to only two or three years after these, yet in which the artist is already distinctively and recognisably himself, is, like the present picture, at Polesden Lacey: the Backgammon Players . Unfortunately, this panel was expanded a little while afterwards, to make it conform to the classic type of Teniers tavern interior - and perhaps even to make it, as it now serves for the present picture, the pendant to another such painting - and the instability of the joints make it unsuitable to lend. The present painting is also a relatively early work, datable to the early to mid-1640s, like four other pictures of card-players, one of which, 'Le bonnet blanc' of 1644 (private collection), was so celebrated that it simply took its name from the most distinctive note of colour in the painting . All of these are situated in the same L-shaped space, with the game of cards taking place in the well-illuminated, transverse, stage-like section at the front; and with figures at fireplaces (and, in the case of Le bonnet blanc', going out of a door) in the dark section going back at a right-angle from this. Two of them have a V-topped niche (in the National Gallery's picture it is arched) with a carafe of wine in (almost like a secular equivalent of the piscina in a church). All four have an opening high up in a wall, two with an earthenware pot in, and two with an onlooker (in the Louvre's picture, a crone, as here), with a window behind, peering at the card-players (this feature of a head craning through an upper opening, which almost amounts to a signature of Teniers's tavern-scenes, seems first to appear in a painting of 1635 in a private collection in Madrid) . All but 'Le bonnet blanc' (which has them on the left-hand side only) has groups of still-life elements, including a trestle-bench and a pitcher with a handle (but of earthenware in all but the present painting) in both foreground corners. The left-hand card-player appears to be painted from the same model as the one in a similar position in the National Gallery's picture, and in turn to be the same - slightly older - as the man having his foot dressed in The Village Doctor's of 1636 in the Szépmüvészeti Museum in Budapest . The other card-player, by contrast (whom Smith - surely mischievously! - speculated might be the village curate) does not appear to recur in any other painting by Teniers, and is unusual in looking out at us, as if to draw us in to the picture. He also wears slightly smarter clothes, with ribbons on his shoes and knickerbockers, and a broad linen collar. One might almost expect him to be a self-portrait, but he bears no resemblance to those; he certainly has the particularity of a portrait, however: perhaps he was a fellow-artist or connoisseur. When first written about in 1794, the picture was said to have been purchased by Sir Lawrence Dundas directly from "the Marquis de Graville", along with its then pendant. No such person is known as a collector, but Louis-Robert Malet de Graville (1698-1776), whose family owned the seigneurie of Graville, which carried with it the right to the title of marquis, originally called himself the marquis de Valsemé, and after 1730, the comte de Graville. He not only fought with the French army in Flanders between 1743 and 1749, but was appointed Governor successively of Dunquerque in 1758, and of Maubeuge in 1768. He was thus well placed to acquire pictures by Teniers, whether as the spoils of war, or as legitimate purchases in peacetime. The first known British owner of this picture was one of the most discriminating connoisseurs of the 18th century: Sir Lawrence Dundas, 1st Bt, MP (c.1710-1781), who is now perhaps best known from Zoffany's portrait of him with his grandson (later 1st Earl of Zetland) of 1769/1770, which shows them in a room of his house in Arlington Street essentially given over to Netherlandish pictures. Two paintings by Teniers, in more elaborate versions of the frame on the present picture (which is probably a later dealer's imitation), can be seen on the right-hand wall of this: a Corps-de-garde (Dulwich Picture Gallery) and the Journeymen Carpenters (in the collection of the Dukes of Newcastle at Clumber until 1938; last sold at Sotheby's, 21 April 1982, lot 65). The latter is in fact none other than the former - but factitious - pendant of the present picture (it is signed and dated 1661, so is appreciably later), and was the immediately succeeding lot in the posthumous sale of his collection by his son (created Baron Dundas of Aske in August) at Greenwoods' on 29-31 May 1794. Altogether the sale contained fifteen paintings by Teniers, almost all pictures of some consequence; Desenfans' collection now at Dulwich is probably the only British collection ever to have had more -but not of so consistently high a level. It is not clear why Dundas's collection had to be sold - and certain pictures, such as the great Van de Cappelle Seapiece, or Poussin's Crucifixion (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Conn.) were bought in. The next owner of this Teniers was Edward Coxe (d.1814), the collector brother of the auctioneer Peter Coxe, at the sale conducted by whom in 1807 it was sold to a dealer and subsequently acquired by William Wells of Redleaf (1768-1847). Although better known as a patron and hospitable host to contemporary artists (particularly Landseer) at his house near Penshurst, which was equally celebrated for its gardens (which reputedly introduced crazy paving to Britain!), Wells had a distinguished collection of Old Masters. He sold his Van Dyck Head of Charles I in three positions to the Prince Regent, and bequeathed Reni's Coronation of the Virgin to the National Gallery, but it was as "one of the richest and most choice collections of the Dutch masters" in England that Passavant singled it out for encomium . He owned four more paintings by Teniers, and numerous other 'low-life' pictures, which helps to account for his acquisition of Wilkie's Distraining for Rent, and of his sketch for The Village Festival, both of which are heavily indebted to Teniers, as is, even more strongly, his Card Players of 1808 . The picture was bought at Wells's posthumous sale in 1848 by George Field, about whom little is known (he does not seem to have been any kin of the homonymous chemist, colour-researcher, and collector, 1777-1854, whose own collection was auctioned at Isleworth in 1855). It too, evidently, primarily consisted of Dutch paintings, but Waagen could only say of it: "These admirable Netherlandish pictures were exhibited in 1856 in one of the public apartments in Marlborough House. I am not, however, able to say where they are usually placed" . The collection included one other small Teniers, of Three Boors and a dog. If the painting is now at Polesden Lacey, that is not because it was collected by Mrs Greville, but because it is one of the many fine Dutch pictures acquired by her father, the brewery millionaire, William McEwan (1827-1913), through the dealer, Lesser Adrian Lesser (active 1874-99) . He is recorded as having bought a painting by Anton Mauve in 1877, but his first recorded purchase of an Old Master was the philanthropic gesture of retaining for the National Gallery of Scotland that same year a pair of portraits by Frans Hals, belonging to a Major Jackson of St. Andrews, which had been on exhibition there over the winter of 1884/85 . He was to follow this in 1892 with the provision of funds for the purchase of Rembrandt's Woman in bed (?Tobias's wife, Sarah?) . It may have been this that stimulated him to start collecting Dutch pictures on his own account, since the first four pictures that he is recorded as buying came from Lesser in 1893 - by coincidence all from the sale of Henry Bingham Mildmay, a cousin of the Sir Henry St.John Mildmay, Bt, in whose collection the Rembrandt once had been. Sixteen of the thirty-six Dutch & Flemish 17th-century pictures now at Polesden Lacey (but not all on view) were inherited from McEwan by Mrs Greville; and, it is probably fair to say, the majority of the finest and most quintessentially Dutch of them. Mrs Greville's taste evidently ran rather to portraits and to the - by her time - more fashionable field of Early Italian and Flemish painting. Sadly, the unstable condition of its panel prevents the exhibition of what was probably his most appealing - and for a Scotsman, no doubt most satisfying -purchase, Pieter de Hooch's Child Golfers . Guided by Lesser, his taste was conventional, but his choices were sound - there is only one dud (a copy of the Earl of Yarborough's Cuyp) amongst his acquisitions. If any personal taste at all is betrayed, it is by the fact that only one artist is represented by more than one picture, and then by three: Teniers. In addition to the present picture and the already-mentioned Backgammon Players, he bought from Lesser in the same transaction one of Teniers's many pictures of An Alchemist, it too dating from relatively early in Teniers's career. All three are indoor scenes, with fine psychological studies of their chief protagonists; framed alike and hung together, they make a telling case for an artist who - despite the fine and varied holdings of his work in the National Gallery as well as Dulwich - no longer receives his due in this country, and they make an ideal complement to the primarily outdoor scenes at Dulwich. Notes: (i) Jakob Rosenberg & Seymour Slive, Dutch Art and Architecture 1600-1800 (The Pelican History of Art), 3rd (revised) edn., Harmondsworth, 1977, p.183. (ii) e.g. Konincklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp (inv.no.5043), and Gemäldegalerie, Kassel (inv. GK139): exh.cat. David Teniers the Younger, Konincklijk Museum, Antwerp, 1991, nos. 1 & 3. Teniers was even asked to make a copy of a Brouwer in the artist's own lifetime, since demand for his works exceeded the supply; and we have a number of drawn copies of Brouwer's paintings by him (cf. exh.cat. Teniers, no.109). (iii) Exh.cat.cit., no.11. (iv) [St. John Gore], Polesden Lacey, The National Trust, 1964, p.28, no.58; exh. cat. Teniers, p.18, fig.5, & p.56. (v) Exh.cat. Teniers, no.33; the others (somewhat arbitrarily selected) are an undated picture also in a private collection (ibid., no.34), a painting of 1645 recently in the Louvre (ibid., fig.34a), and an undated picture in the National Gallery (inv.2600; cf. Gregory Martin, The Flemish School circa 1600-circa 1900, 1970 [repr. 1986], pp.269-71, who adduces good grounds for suggesting that this picture may be earlier still, from towards the end of the 1630s). (vi) Exh.cat. Teniers, no.12. This too, however, appears to be a feature that Teniers derived from Brouwer: vide the example in the latter's Tavern Scene with a sexual assault in the Bacon collection at Raveningham Hall (exh.cat. The Age of Rubens, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1993, no.65). (vii) Exh.cat. Teniers, no.14. (viii) Francis Russell, in his entry on the Zoffany in exh.cat. Treasure Houses, 1985-86, no.281, maintains that the frame on the Journeyman Carpenters is the most elaborate shown in it, and that it therefore probably came with the picture from the marquis de Granville's [sic] collection; but the frames visible on this wall are equally elaborate, including that on the other Teniers, which came from the De Neville collection in Amsterdam. It therefore seems most probable that Dundas - whose Frenchified taste is exemplified not only by his collection of 17th century Dutch pictures, but by the complete tenture de Boucher that he ordered from Neilson at the Gobelins for Moor Park - had them all made to variations on a common pattern. Their juxtaposition on one wall, with the much soberer frames on the chimneypiece wall, supports the suggestion that - as in his portrait of Charles Towneley amidst his collection in Park Street - Zoffany was painting an epitome of the collection in Arlington Street, rather than any one room in it, and that he was probably juxtaposing the hangs of two walls in two distinct rooms. (ix) Inv.no.54; Peter Murray, Catalogue, 1980, p.125 & pl. Although Smith - who also inverts the dimensions - says that the Dundas painting was on copper, the 1794 sale catalogue does not. (x) J.D. Passavant, Tour of a German Artist in England, trans. Elizabeth Rigby [later Lady Eastlake], London, 1836 [reprint 1978], vol.II, pp.71-72. (xi) Cf. exh.cat. Sir David Wilkie of Scotland (1785-1841), North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, 1987, no.9, and refs. on pp.3-20 & 148. A copy by Wilkie of a picture of Boers by a tavern by Teniers was exhibited ex-catalogue in the Sir David Wilkie exhibition at Richard Feigen, London, 1994, in which the Card Players is no.6. (xii) Gustav Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, London, 1854, vol.II, p.335; do., Supplement, 1857, p.192. (xiii) Cf. Julia Lloyd Williams, 'Ale, altruism and art: the benefactions of William McEwan', Apollo, May 1994, pp.47-53. (xiv) Exh.cat. Frans Hals, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1989, nos. 57 & 58. (xv) Exh.cat. Dutch Art and Scotland:A Reflection of Taste, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1992, no.50. (xvi) Lloyd Williams, art.cit., p.51 & col.pl.II. (adapted from author's version/pre-publication, Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)

Credit line

Polesden Lacey, The McEwan Collection (National Trust)

Marks and inscriptions

D. TENIERS. F (signed, bottom left)

Makers and roles

David Teniers the younger (Antwerp 1610 - Brussels 1690), artist

Exhibition history

In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.61

References

Smith 1829-42 John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, 8 vols and supplement, London, 1829-42, 1835, vol.III (1831), no.353, p.353 Waagen 1854-7: Gustav Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 3 vols. (translated by Lady Eastlake) with a supplementary volume: Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain, London, 1854-7, vol.II, p.335; do., Supplement, 1857, p.192.

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