There were five versions of The Card Players produced during the 1890s at Aix. The Louvre version, reproduced below, with two players (and a bottle between them to mark the center of the symmetrically balanced composition) could be looked on in the abstract as a magnificent rendering of solid forms, given their appearance of structure by the gradated areas of the thinly applied color. But the fact remains that these are not abstractions but peasant card players in his native Provence. Whether by the sheer veracity of his study of facial planes or through some feeling of kinship with the solid countrymen he was portraying, Cézanne has made them live.
c. 1890-92 (140 Kb); Oil on canvas, 17 3/4 x 22 1/2 in; Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Cézanne is an artist's artist. He was obsessed with form rather than content, so subject matter was always secondary to the act of painting itself. He wanted the methods and skills of the painter to be more important than the image. That meant the subject of the painting couldn't be so dynamic as to overshadow the artist's act of creation. The more he concentrated on this, the less viewer-friendly his works became. But that suited his personality just fine. His goal was not to have a mass audience or sales appeal, it was to satisfy himself.

Cézanne was a brooding, complex man, given to rages, grudges and depressions. He had few friends, and those he had he alienated. Even when success finally caught up with him, he was dogged by feelings of inadequacy. The most famous of his friends was his schoolmate and writer Emile Zola, who was everything Cézanne wasn't -- charming, eloquent, sociable and successful at an early age. Zola was art critic, novelist and Cézanne's mentor. The artist looked at him for strength but gave nothing in return. Zola got tired of placating Cézanne's ego, and in later years, when Zola wrote The Masterpiece of an unfulfilled artist who eventually killed himself, Cézanne was convinced that the author had him in mind. He was so egocentric and so paranoid, he assumed everyone would know Zola was writing about him. The reality was that no one knew about him at all, but the novel still destroyed their friendship.