Gambling was always a powerful and attractive topic for artists of the world. This is true for artists working in all art forms and of all ages. Gambling is therefore presented in numerous artworks and usually with a focus on the inherited duality of the practice.
There’s a lot of excitement and skill involved in gambling
but there’s also a dark and consuming side of it and that’s what the art usually tends to depict in equal measure. As both gambling and modern art tend to change and evolve the interest of modern artists in gambling remains the same.
"The Cardsharps" by Caravaggio
You can’t really answer the question of what is the history of gambling
without knowing the art history that follows it as well. One of the most famous of such art pieces is the Cardsharps by Caravaggio. It portrays two players immersed in the card game with a third figure looking at the cards over the player’s shoulder and signaling the cards to the other.
The beautiful composition creates a sense of tension that is created in this act of cheating. The two figures loom over the player being cheated and the observer is invited to take part in the secret.
"Argument over a Card Game" by Jan Steen
"Argument over a Card Game" by Jan Steen is a baroque painting from the 17th century and it features everything that this style and technique are famous for. The painting features a fight that broke out in a tavern over a card game, evidence of which can be found on a table and the floor.
As is the case with most paintings in this era, it’s the light that draws attention to the hectic scene and sets a stage for it, while leaving the background characters to tell the story of their own to a careful observer.
“Casino/Gambling” and “The Gambler” – Zaza Tuschmalischvili
Moving on to more abstract art forms, the painters were still fascinated with gambling and depicted it in a new form, but with the same themes in mind. The painting is the second piece the Georgian artists have sold, but the actual amount remains unknown.
The piece is influenced by cubism even though the painting is from 1995 and it shows even to the most casual observer, unfamiliar with modern art. There’s also an immersive dream-like quality to the painting.
"The Card Players" Paul Cezanne
This is probably one of the most famous works of art depicting gambling in the world. It was painted in 1890 and it was inspired by "The Cardsharps" by Caravaggio
. However, the style and the form are what you may expect from the 1890s painting.
The painting is now in private possession and was the subject of one of the largest art acquisitions in history. It’s owned by the royal family of Qatar it set the new owners back about $250 million.
"Soldiers Playing at Cards" by Fernand Léger
This painting was inspired by the work of Cezanne and especially The Card Players. It’s a work of cubist art and it shows right away. The painting features robot-like figures playing cards. The soldiers lack any personal features or even a gaze directed at the cards and blend with one another.
The painting was made during and influenced by World War One. It shows the ease with which the soldiers lose their humanity and stop being individuals. It also reflects on the themes of The Card Players in the light of the war during which the game is being played.
At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo - Edvard Munch -
Edvard Munch is a Norwegian artist most well known for his painting, made in a similar style –Scream. His work is mostly known for being dark, pessimistic, and gloomy and that’s noticeable in this painting as well. The scene of gambling features players around a roulette table, but their figures are somewhat elusive and blend with one another.
The colors are distinct and bright as is often the case with this style in general and there’s a strange and somewhat unsettling perspective forcing you to look up at the figures at the end of the table.
Dogs Playing Poker by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge
This is actually a series of paintings created in the span of ten years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The painting was commissioned as an ad to sell cigarettes and it has become a phenomenon that created many parodies and references.
It’s often seen as the prime example of kitsch art used to decorate homes in middle-class America. The first painting in the collection was sold for about $650.000 in an auction held in 2015. The painting was featured in a variety of different pop culture media.
Gambling was always a big part of art history. It’s a theme that painters are exploring for centuries now. The style and form have changed over the years and every artist has brought their own aesthetic and aesthetic of the age to the painting, with the core themes being the same.
There are also countless more paintings we didn’t get to mention here and works of art in other media that deal with the subject of gambling. The topic will continue to puzzle and interest artists as much as it does many players and gamblers for years to come.