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The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour Chardin's 'The House of Cards'

Issued May 2021

Jean-Siméon Chardin’s 'The House of Cards' (about 1740–1) from the National Gallery’s Collection, is travelling the UK in 2021 and 2022.

The picture has been chosen for the first year of the Gallery’s three-year Masterpiece partnership with Oriel Davies Gallery (Newtown, Powys, Wales), the Beacon Museum (Whitehaven, Cumbria) and Carmarthenshire Museum (Abergwili, Carmarthen). The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour 2021–23 offers three non-London museums, galleries or art centres the opportunity to partner with the National Gallery for three years and to display one different major work from our collection each year.

For the first time in the Masterpiece Tour’s history, the partner venues have been selected for a three-year period and the paintings for 2022 and 2023 will be chosen jointly by the partners and the National Gallery.

Oriel Davies Gallery

10 July – 25 September 2021

Oriel Davies Gallery kicks off the Masterpiece Tour by presenting Chardin’s 'The House of Cards' alongside two new commissions. A kinetic work by the artist Charlie Cook, which will examine the concept of the ‘fragility of human
endeavour’ and the idea of playful persistence as shown in the loaned painting.

A recent Glasgow School of Art graduate, Charlie Cook uses cabinet making skills to create kinetic works that playfully explore balance. This will be shown alongside Building a Future, a collaboration between Oriel Davies, local communities and illustrator Alyn Smith. The Cardiff‐based artist has been commissioned to create a set of 15,000 cards which will be completed by contributions from local communities and built in the gallery exploring the relationship between dreaming and reality through play.

Steffan Jones‐Hughes, Director of Oriel Davies, said: ‘We’re delighted to have this opportunity to work with the National Gallery and show historical work from the collection as a starting point for a contemporary dialogue with artists and our audiences, making connections between the work and Newtown’s people and places.’

Beacon Museum

1 October – 23 January 2022

'The Beacon Museum – Breaking down barriers to Inclusion.'

'The House of Cards' by Chardin will be a catalyst in creating, supporting and strengthening Social Inclusion and Social Prescribing in the local community. The Beacon Museum will develop and embed an exciting opportunity for new audiences to have a positive educational, social and cultural experience by creating a new arts provision through the delivery of Arts Award.

The exhibition will also actively engage audiences from families and schools through storytelling and handling workshops using artefacts from the collection. The provision of a community arts programme will offer an opportunity to measure the impact of progression and enjoyment through the arts and break down the barriers to accessing culture by developing a new community exhibition within the museum.

Alan Gillon, Learning and Collections Manager, said: ‘Whitehaven is nationally known as a Georgian Gem; the painting will add a new perspective for everyone involved and offer a sense of pride, increased confidence and build ownership and trust in the museum for the future.’

Carmarthenshire Museum

31 January – 1 May 2022

The tour ends at Carmarthenshire Museum with an exhibition created with local partner, Oriel Myrddin Gallery, and a new project group of Creative Curators. The process of developing the exhibition will be as important as the exhibition itself as the Creative Curators will be involved throughout and be encouraged to share skills, research, create activities, and learn about the technical processes of mounting exhibitions.

The theme of Chardin’s 'The House of Cards' and the central pillar of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act – 'the world our future generations will inherit' – will be explored through the museum’s own collections, which uncover how past generations have tried to equip future generations for a better life and leave the world as a better place.

Ian Jones, Head of Leisure for Carmarthenshire County Council, said: ‘We are excited to be a National Gallery Masterpiece Tour partner and want to involve our communities in developing the exhibition as much as possible. The Creative Curators – open to anyone interested in taking part – will have the amazing opportunity to get up close to museum collections and curate the exhibition around the centrepiece from the National Gallery. The partnership with the National Gallery is enabling this opportunity to try out a new way of creating exhibitions, as part of their commitment to promoting understanding, knowledge and appreciation of Old Master paintings.’

National Gallery Director Dr Gabriele Finaldi said, ‘Caught somewhere between curiosity, determination and fragility, the boy in Chardin’s painting is engrossed in his house-of-cards construction. The host museums have conceived some highly original and intensely participatory approaches to how this picture will be displayed in the context of their spaces and collections and I much look forward to working closely with them to reach new audiences outside London.’

Notes to editors

Jean-Siméon Chardin
'The House of Cards (Portrait of Jean-Alexandre Le Noir)'
about 1740–1
Oil on canvas
60.3 x 71.8 cm
© The National Gallery, London

This picture is one of four identified versions of 'The House of Cards' painted by Chardin. It is most likely the last version he painted and was probably exhibited at the Salon of 1741.

A young boy stands at a small wooden table, which is covered with green baize. Leaning forward slightly with his forearms resting on the tabletop, he is fully absorbed in the task of constructing a house out of playing cards. The first storey has already been completed and he is about to begin the second. The boy is Jean-Alexandre Le Noir, whose father, Jean-Jacques Le Noir, was a furniture dealer and cabinet-maker. A close friend of Chardin, who had witnessed the artist’s marriage in 1744, Jean-Jacques Le Noir had commissioned several paintings from him, including a portrait of Madame Le Noir (now lost and known only from an engraving).

The theme of a child building a house of cards was familiar to Chardin’s contemporaries from 17th- and 18th-century images, which were often accompanied by moralising verses. When an engraving of Chardin’s painting was made by François-Bernard Lépicié in 1743, the caption under the image included the lines: ‘Dear child on all pleasures bent / We hold your fragile work in jest / But think on’t, which will be more sound / Our adult plans or castles by you built?’ But even without the addition of the verse, the symbolism of the delicately balanced cards – signifying the fleeting and fragile nature of human endeavour – would have been clear.

Cards were also associated with gambling, but this does not appear to be Chardin’s concern here, despite the presence of a chip and a coin on the table. These seem to be of no interest to the boy (who anyway does not have a companion with whom to gamble) and were most likely left over from an earlier game of piquet. Nor does the boy have any interest in the value of the cards themselves. Indeed, he is looking at the blank reverse of the card he is holding. As stated in the catalogue of the 1741 Salon, the boy is simply ‘enjoying himself making a house of cards.’

The fact that this house of cards is only one storey high may be of significance. Contemporary paintings of this theme typically show the cards to be two or more storeys high – and thus at greater risk of collapse. It has been suggested that the incomplete house could be a metaphor for the child, who is not yet an adult. But there may also be more immediate family associations. As a maker of fine furniture, Monsieur Le Noir may have hoped that his son would follow him into the business. The boy’s card building is perhaps not just a game but may also be an exercise in methods of construction. ‘Noir’ means black in French, and the prominent display of two upright folded black suit cards (the spade and club) – whose tripartite shapes echo the boy’s black tricorne hat – is perhaps intended to suggest an association between the Le Noir family name and a profession based upon creating structures that will endure.


The National Gallery is one of the greatest art galleries in the world. Founded by Parliament in 1824, the Gallery houses the nation’s collection of paintings in the Western European tradition from the late 13th to the early 20th century. The collection includes works by Bellini, Cézanne, Degas, Leonardo, Monet, Raphael, Rembrandt, Renoir, Rubens, Titian, Turner, Van Dyck, Van Gogh and Velázquez. The Gallery’s key objectives are to enhance the collection, care for the collection and provide the best possible access to visitors. More at

The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour

About Oriel Davies Gallery

Oriel Davies Gallery is a key public art gallery of Wales, based in Newtown, Mid Wales, presenting world‐class, thought provoking and challenging art by national and international artists in an environment that is welcoming, engaging, informative and free. The gallery and exhibition spaces are family‐friendly, physically accessible and ideal for experiencing contemporary art.
More at

About the Beacon Museum

Situated on the harbourside of the historic Georgian town of Whitehaven, the Beacon Museum tells the story of historical Copeland, which boasts two-world heritage sites and includes stunning coastline as well as dramatic Lake District landscapes.

At the Beacon Museum you can watch Norse silver being unearthed, become a crew member on a trading ship, play Roman board games, discover what life was like in the 19th century, present a weather forecast, and revisit favourite childhood memories. Science lovers can delve into the living heritage of the west Cumbrian nuclear industry in the interactive Sellafield Story exhibition.

From Pre-history, Iron Age discoveries, Roman occupation, Norse silver to Victorian trading ships, a vibrant collection of historic objects and artwork is accompanied by a blend of local and touring exhibitions throughout the year.

Additionally, the ongoing Beacon Sparks project will bring the museum to life through a series of digital interactives from touch screens, virtual reality experiences and downloadable trail apps of the town, harbour and West Cumbria.

The project aims to revitalise the visualisation of local history with subjects including history, art and science transformed for visitors to learn and enjoy.

About Carmarthenshire Museum

It was the palace of the Bishops of St Davids for 400 years and now home to the county museum for just over 40 years. Carmarthenshire Museum has been closed since 2020 for extensive restoration works, which is a project continued beyond the palace and out into its historic park setting. The museum reopens summer 2021 following major improvements to accessibility and transformation of ground floor galleries. Its vision is as a place for conversations, to tell stories and discover objects from the past that help us all connect with and understand our history.

Press enquiries

For further press information please contact the National Gallery Press Office email and 020 7747 2865.
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For further press information for Oriel Davies Gallery, please contact Steffan Jones-Hughes on 07498 570217/01686 625041 or email

For further press information for Beacon Museum, please contact Alan Gillon, Learning and Collections Manager on 01946592302 or e-mail  

For further press information for Carmarthenshire County Museum, please contact Carmarthenshire County Council Press Office on 01267 224900 or e‐mail