Artists and Their Historical Fascination With Gambling

Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) – The Cardsharps – Google Art Project” by Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain

It’s safe to say that creative forces such as artists are often drawn to emotive settings and scenarios. They deliver the kind of atmosphere, intrigue and eccentricity that can be encapsulated in a painting. There are few better settings that evoke such tension and drama than a casino. Several high-profile artists have put their names to fine art that depicts elements of casino gambling.

It’s not just artists who have enjoyed a historic fascination with casino gaming through the generations. Elsewhere in popular culture, it has been glamorized too. The Hollywood industry has often brilliantly encapsulated the excitement and drama that casinos bring, whether it’s the James Bond or the Ocean’s Eleven franchises. The casino culture has even been brought to life in our video game screens by the likes of Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto series.

It’s this combined fascination with casino gaming that has ensured the 21st century gambling economy is alive and well. Although there is a demand for state-of-the-art, digitized casino action, there are many who still enjoy the “old-school” authenticity of classic forms of gambling. Casino enthusiasts are often fascinated by the logic of the roulette wheel layout, which dates back as far as the 17th century, thanks to the scientific mind of Frenchman Blaise Pascal.

Below, we celebrate the most iconic gambling-themed works by some of the greatest artists who have played their part in romanticizing the casino scene.

The Cardsharps by Caravaggio

16th century Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – Caravaggio for short – specialized in Baroque and Italian Baroque painting styles. His iconic ‘Cardsharps’ painting is an enchanting insight into what gambling once looked like in 16th century Italy. This painting has significant meaning for Caravaggio, given that it was his first original painting after graduating from the Cavaliere Giuseppe Cesari d’Arpino workshop.

The Card Players by Paul Cezanne

The hidden genius that is Paul Cezanne was the brains behind one of the best-known gambling-themed paintings of the modern era – ‘The Card Players’. Cezanne’s post-impressionist style laid the groundwork for the move between the 19th century-style of impressionism and the new-age 20th century form of cubism. His innovation saw the likes of Picasso and Matisse regard Cezanne as the “father” of all creatives. The Card Players was a series of five oil paintings inspired by the late-19th century gambling culture involving Provencal peasants. It’s been said that a version of this was sold to the Qatari Royal Family for a staggering $250 million in 2011.

Man in a String Chair by Lucien Freud

Lucien Freud is best known for his stunning portrait of the Queen Mother (Elizabeth I) at the turn of the Millennium. Freud was also known for enjoying a flutter know and then, with some of the UK’s most prominent bookmakers even posing for self portraits through the years. ‘Man In a String Chair’ was based on Victor Chandler and has been valued in the past at more than $5 million.

At the Roulette Table by Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch – At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo – Google Art Project” by Google Art Project, Public Domain

The Modernist era was led by the likes of Edvard Munch, who spearheaded the Symbolist movement in the late 19th century. ‘At the Roulette Table’ is Munch’s homage to the glitz and glamor of the Monte Carlo casino floor. Having regularly frequented Monaco’s casino scene in 1891 and 1892, Munch conveys the helter-skelter atmosphere around the table.

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