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A Woman playing Cards with Two Peasants
Hendrick Sorgh
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This painting can be read in two ways. One interpretation suggests that the woman has tempted the man into a game of cards – a metaphor for vice – and the moment shown is when she trumps his trick and reaches out for her winnings. He is the dupe, and the smile on the face of the man in the centre would therefore be one of mockery.

It may be, however, that the deceit is working the other way. Perhaps the amorous opponent has allowed her to win in the hope of gaining her favour. The smile on the face of the observer would therefore be a knowing smirk.

The painting has a pair, Two Lovers at Table, depicting a similar setting in which the woman is clearly demonstrating her power over a lustful and gullible man.

Key facts
Artist Hendrick Sorgh
Artist dates 1610 or 1611 - 1670
Full title A Woman playing Cards with Two Peasants
Group Two Genre Scenes
Date made 1644
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 26.3 x 36.1 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by John Henderson, 1879
Inventory number NG1055
Location in Gallery Gallery A: Paintings after 1600
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Two Genre Scenes

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These two small parlour paintings might represent two complementary variations on the same theme or two contrasting ones. In Two Lovers at Table, a man stares lustfully at a young woman. She gives us a knowing smile, and a brothel-keeper waits in the background. This is a man succumbing to erotic temptation and being exploited by women. But there is less certainty about A Woman Playing Cards with Two Peasants. In it, a woman reaches for her winnings from a male opponent. It may be that she has tempted him into a game of cards but the deceit could be working the other way: perhaps he allowed her to win in the hope of gaining her favour.

The latter interpretation suggests that one painting illustrates the deceit of men, its pair the deceit of women. But if we see the woman as the trickster in both, then each must be a warning to men about manipulative women.

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