Art Philosophy - Chardin - The House of Cards

The beauty of this little painting is so delicate and understated, that it can be easy to miss.

The walls of The National Gallery are home to countless other paintings which are larger, more complex, more intense, more striking . . . more iconic.

But, the philosophy of this picture - and how it uses such simplicity to convey something truly profound - makes it really worth spending some time with.

The House of Cards - Jean Simeon Chardin - 1736-7 - National Gallery, London

Initially, we simply see a young boy - relatively carefree - playing with his folded cards.

He has already built the foundations of his "house" - and is clearly on the verge of adding an upper layer, with the card in hand, and those folded on the right of the picture.

But, look a little closer.

Notice the way the young boy is dressed. How his clothes, and admirals cap, seem somehow too grown up for his age. (Even considering the era this painting was created in).

And what about the expression on his face? Is he really so carefree? Or does he seem more contemplative? Perhaps even a little forlorn?

Finally, we see the open draw at the bottom of the picture. It is empty? Or does it contain more cards for the young boy?

It is impossible to know for certain.

But, what is clear, is that this painting is not just representing a childish game.

Rather, it can be read as a kind of metaphor for the fragility and uncertainty of life itself.

You see, the young boy has so far built his house to it's current height - much as he himself has managed to survive to his present age.

And, of course, with the additional cards in front of him, there is every prospect that he will add many more layers still - building his house of cards higher.

(Which, again, can be seen as symbolic of his own life too - with the promise of many years ahead of him, to grow into an adult.)

But, none of this is guaranteed.

Because, just like life itself - the house of cards is fragile.

With every added layer, there is the risk that the house will come crumbling down.

But even if it holds steady - who is to say when the cards will all have run out?

After all, the open draw could contain a hundred more. Or, it could be empty.

And again, this is a reference to the boy's life too. (In fact, it speaks of all our lives).

He is clearly still in his "foundation" years. Still innocent. Still with a lot of growing to do.

And, we hope, still looking forward to many more years in his own "house of cards".

But the promise of life is no different to those cards on his table.

The more we grow, the more fragile our existence becomes.

And, though we continue to add our upper layers - we live with the risk that our own house of cards could crumble at any moment.

Life's "open draw" could contains many more years.

Or none at all.

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