Playing Cards


Adriaen Brouwer
Oudenaarde 1605/ 1606 - Antwerp 1638
oil on panel
25 x 39 cm
Inventory number 642

Scruffy-looking villagers are smoking, drinking and playing cards in a low-life tavern in this typical example of genre painting. The painting depicts a scene from daily life with a humorous or perhaps moralising undertone. The purpose of such works was to make respectable burghers aware of the reprehensible behaviour of the 'ordinary folk'. Still, it is not only Adriaen Brouwer's satirical outlook on the conduct of the poor that catches the eye here. The natural quality and intimacy of the painting are also striking. Brouwer draws the viewer's gaze directly to the essence: a telling expression of enjoyment, happiness, anger or pain. We also notice some characteristically odd details, like the dog in the bottom right.


After periods in Amsterdam and Haarlem, Brouwer moved to Antwerp, where he spent the final years of his life and produced around sixty paintings. Together, they are seen as a high point in genre painting in the Low Countries. However, Brouwer's reputation always overshadowed his genius. Not long after his death, the image emerged of Brouwer as a bohemian and an artist on the fringes of society. In spite of all the gossip, Peter Paul Rubens fully acknowledged his artistic talent, much as he recognised the genius in Caravaggio, another 'marginalised' master. Rubens was an unconditional fan of Brouwer's work and owned a number of paintings by his hand.

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