National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The House of Cards Jean Siméon Chardin (artist)
French, 1699 - 1779
The House of Cards, probably 1737
oil on canvas
overall: 82.2 x 66 cm (32 3/8 x 26 in.) framed: 107.3 x 92.1 x 10.2 cm (42 1/4 x 36 1/4 x 4 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
1937.1.90
On View
From the Tour: 18th-Century France — Chardin and Portraiture
Object 4 of 11

Like its occasional pendant, Soap Bubbles, this painting points to idleness and the vanity of worldly constructions. The boy's apron suggests he is a household servant called to clear up after a gaming party. Instead, he uses the cards—folded to prevent their being marked and used again—to build the most impermanent of structures. The stability of the painting's triangular composition freezes the moment, as the boy is poised, breathless, to remove his hand and test the fragile balance of his construction. In the open drawer the jack of hearts hints at rascality.

When Chardin showed this painting or Soap Bubbles with the Young Governess he could contrast the boys' idleness with the girl's industry and underscore the fleeting nature of the objects that held their attention. The point is made especially clear by the nearly identical poses of the girl and of the young servant seen here. Both appear against warm, neutral backgrounds whose subtly blended tones create depth and set off bright accents of red and blue.

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