Most Famous Paintings Depicting Gambling

The phrase “every picture tells a story” is one of the oldest optics clich├ęs out there. It is also one of the most literal. No artist paints anything without a backstory for inspiration. It could either be a back story about their lives, something about the universe, a story about someone they love and cherish, or even about someone they hate. Over the years, there have been amazing paintings with gambling-related backstories. This is an overview of the most famous paintings depicting gambling and their history.

Some of these paintings depict gambling directly while others send subliminal messages about one of the oldest forms of entertainment in the world. Gambling has inspired and will continue to inspire artists indefinitely. However, not every artist is going to be remembered in the history books, and not every gambling inspired painting will be as famous as The Cardsharps. So, we are going to focus on just a few of the most popular paintings depicting gambling throughout history. 

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An Overview of the Most Famous Paintings Depicting Gambling and Their History 

1. The Cardsharps by Caravaggio

The Cardsharps mentioned in the introduction is one of the most beautiful paintings by the famous artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in the year 1594. Caravaggio was an Italian artist who was popular for his realistic works in his time. Additionally, it is one of the most popular paintings depicting gambling. The oil painting is of three people, two young men playing cards. There is also an older man in the room.

Caravaggio’s goal was to show how common it was for people to cheat during card games. One of the young players hides some cards behind him. The cards are not visible to his opponents but visible to the viewer. He is a cardsharp who is working with the older man to cheat the other player. However, the older man’s job is to look at the other player’s card and signal his accomplice giving him an edge over his opponent. The other player has a dagger near him which is most likely there to protect him if things get messy. 

Cardsharps still visit casinos with new and improved ways to manipulate card games to their advantage. The advancement of technology has made it more difficult for cheaters to work but it hasn’t eliminated the problem. This is why Caravaggio’s painting is still significant in today’s world. Even if Caravaggio painted more than one copy of the Cardsharps, the original is said to have been purchased by the Kimbell Art Museum in 1987.┬á

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2. Slot Machine Queen by Shelly Wilkerson

Shelley Wilkerson invented The Slot Machine Queen. It depicts an old woman sitting in front of a slot machine with a cat. It is a colorful and uplifting painting. The old woman has a wide grin on her face and a glass of champagne in her right hand. The slot machine in front of the woman appears to have reached the jackpot as you can see from the display. Shelly Wilkerson made the painting for her poem about slot machines. The poem was as follows;

“Pull that handle and watch ’em spin

Yes’sir ladies, I play to win!

Bells and whistles, flashing light

Lady Luck’s with me tonight!

Keno, craps and blackjack deals

Vegas lights and real cheap meals

Rare white tigers, poker hands

Crooners, comics and rockin’ bands

Kids in college, proms, and braces

Made me wish for all four aces

Nest egg withered, lost my stash

Thought I’d end up ‘trailer trash’

Saved my quarters, saved my dimes

Hoping for much better times

Kids are grown, the house is paid

Pretty soon I’ll have it made.

All my life I’ve paid the way

And now it’s time for mom to play

So listen to my ‘inside straight’:

I’m golden now and life is great!”

The painting has been made into wallpapers, printed into stationery, phone cases, and even outfits. Any slot machine lover can find these beautiful branded items online. It remains a great work of art with more modern meaning.

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3. At the Roulette Table by Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch created At the Roulette Table in 1892 after visiting Monte Carlo several times for inspiration when he was staying in France. As the name implies, the painting is of people playing on a roulette table. According to his literary notes at the time, he was obsessed with the roulette and fascinated by everything else in the casino. The painting depicts the nervous atmosphere at the typical roulette table. Munch said that he got a lot of inspiration from other paintings and also experimented with many others before he came up with this masterpiece. In the painting, he tested the style of Gauguin and van Gogh by Degas. All the men and women on the table are anxiously waiting for the result with their palms stretched out. They are all concentrating on the roulette wheel to see who will win or lose.

4. Card Players by Paul C├ęzanne

Paul C├ęzanne is a post-impressionist painter from France. Through the course of his career, he started a series of paintings known as Card Players. It involved several paintings with similar messages but all were related to gambling, specifically, card playing. C├ęzanne’s paintings were a little different from what many other painters did in his time. 

Most of the people in his paintings were peasants rather than aristocrats gambling. Cezanne said he experimented with many others until he got what he wanted. He released paintings in his series after that. The paintings were of different sizes. All five pieces in the series were oil painted. Some had two players, some three and others had more than three. Over the years, different families bought one of the five versions in the series. In 2011, the Qatar Royal family bought one for $250 million. They subsequently sold it to the Davis family in Florida for $300 million. 

5. Dogs Playing Poker by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge 

As the name implies, this is a painting of four dogs playing poker. While Coolidge painted many other things in his time, Dogs Playing Poker is his most famous work. Coolidge created 8 variations of this painting, all of which were reproduced over time. The Dogs painting series was in the “Bad Art” category but they still received several accolades in his time. The artist was popularly known as “the most famous American artist you’ve never heard of.” People demanded more of his dog series in oil painting. 

In addition to this, TV shows, art forums and theatre productions depicted other dog paintings in series. Also, home decor and kitchenware had prints of them. In 2015, the first painting in the series which is the 1894 dog poker game, sold for $658,000, the most expensive in the series. 

6. Argument Over a Card Game by Jan Steen

In the 17th century, a Dutch artist named Jan Steen painted Argument Over a Card Game. The painting, which became an iconic work of art, was about how a simple card game became a drama and almost led to a fight between some of the players and others in the casino. It was a realistic image of the everyday gambling scene. It’s not a secret that a peaceful game of cards can turn into something else. It is an oil canvas painting that has become one of the most popular ones in the gambling niche. 

Bottomline

The list above makes up an overview of the most famous paintings depicting gambling and their history. Many other paintings aren’t as popular as these but they tell similar stories. The most popular in this list is the Cardsharps by Caravaggio. The story it tells is something that we can relate to in today’s gambling society.