We Spend One Hour Looking at Paul Cézanne’s ‘Card Players’ at Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation

Blake Gopnik and Christian Viveros-Fauné go to the Barnes Foundation.

In the latest installment of our “Strictly Critical” video series, artnet News critics Blake Gopnik and Christian Vivéros-Fauné spend one hour with Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players at Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation. Don’t worry, the video isn’t an hour long!! We’ve distilled their conversation to five minutes.

Gopnik believes The Card Players (1890-92) may be the supreme modern painting–the “billion-dollar picture,” as Vivéros-Fauné calls it, one that the market dreams about but will never get its hands on. There are a total of five paintings of card players in Cézanne’s series. Three others are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the Musée d’Orsay. The fourth was purchased by the nation of Qatar in a private sale in 2012. Our critics try to get at what makes this painting great–and they get stumped as the work outwits them.

The picture seems all about “nots”: not­ telling a story, not having a moral, not capturing life or light, not aiming for beauty, not even reveling in fleshy paint. You get about as far in an hour with this great canvas as you might in five minutes with other, simpler works. Even if it were to be stamped with that billion-dollar price tag, our critics decide that it could never be reduced to its price. The version bought by Qatar reportedly fetched over $250 million making it the most expensive artwork ever sold until, of course, last week when a painting by Paul Gauguin nabbed the spot. (See Paul Gauguin Painting Sells for Record $300 Million to Qatar Museums in Private Sale.)

The Barnes is renowned for its unparalleled holdings of Post-Impressionist and modern paintings, including canvases by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso, as well as American masters like Charles Demuth and Maurice Prendergast.

Past “Strictly Critical” videos have visited Old Masters (see “Strictly Critical” Spends an hour with Mr. Vermeer) and contemporary giants (see Strictly Critical Video: Gopnik and Viveros-Fauné at the Whitney’s Koons Retrospective).

For Gopnik’s Daily Pic devoted to Cézanne from last month, see Paul Cézanne Eyes His Wife.

For other recent news about the Barnes, see Thom Collins Leaves Miami for Barnes Foundation.

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