Cézanne had certainly seen The Cardplayers, attributed to the Le Nain brothers, at the museum in Aix-en-Provence, his home town. During the 1890s, the artist tackled this theme of Caravaggian inspiration on many occasions, and gave an exceptional gravity to the confrontation. Cézanne substitutes subtle gestures and glances with bulky figures and characters in silent concentration.
The bottle, with the light playing on it, forms the central axis of the composition. It separates the space into two symmetrical areas, accentuating the opposition of the players. The latters are allegedly peasants Cézanne used to see at his father's property in Jas de Bouffan, on the outskirts of Aix. The man smoking the pipe has been identified as "père Alexandre", the gardener there.
Of the five paintings on this subject, this is one of the most spare. Here, everything comes together to give a monumental aspect to the composition, helped by the wonderfully harmonised colour range.
The recurrence of the card players in Cézanne's art in his last years has given rise to an interesting interpretation: does the confrontation of the two players symbolise the struggle which the artist had in getting his father to recognise his painting, represented here by the "playing card"?