As such, this double portrait – which would once have been affixed to the lid of a snuff box – subverts the genre, pointing less to the fragility of human endeavour and more to the bonds of friendship.

We are grateful to Jacqui Ansell, Senior Lecturer Christie’s Education, for her commentary on men’s fashion which has been incorporated into this catalogue note.


The two boys shown building a house of cards in this portrait miniature by Johann Anton de Peters are evidently friends or, more likely still, brothers. The gesture between the two – with the boy on the right reaching out to the one on the left, who in turn places his hand on the other’s shoulder – is one of clear affection.

The clothes worn by the two, combined with the elegant chair on which the boy on the right sits, suggests that they are wealthy children, likely of an aristocratic background. In fact, these two boys wear the finest of formal dress – identical to the clothing that would have been worn by their fathers. The three-piece suit is fully developed here, with the brocaded cuffs of the lilac silk jacket matching the golden...


Read more

We are grateful to Jacqui Ansell, Senior Lecturer Christie’s Education, for her commentary on men’s fashion which has been incorporated into this catalogue note.


The two boys shown building a house of cards in this portrait miniature by Johann Anton de Peters are evidently friends or, more likely still, brothers. The gesture between the two – with the boy on the right reaching out to the one on the left, who in turn places his hand on the other’s shoulder – is one of clear affection.

The clothes worn by the two, combined with the elegant chair on which the boy on the right sits, suggests that they are wealthy children, likely of an aristocratic background. In fact, these two boys wear the finest of formal dress – identical to the clothing that would have been worn by their fathers. The three-piece suit is fully developed here, with the brocaded cuffs of the lilac silk jacket matching the golden silk fabric of the waistcoat.

The boy in blue velvet has silver cuffs trimmed with large buttons, with a cravat tied into a bow at the neck. The young gentleman in violet wears falls of fine lace. He looks as though he is wearing a stock, which consisted of a stiffened collar fastened by a buckle at the back, with a ruffle sewn onto it to make a fine display, matched by ruffles at the wrist. The fashionable lace of the period is much finer in pattern and texture than the late seventeenth century equivalent, in line with the move to Rococo sensibilities from the fleshier forms of the Baroque.

By the 1720s very long full-bottomed wigs had been replaced by ‘campaign wigs’ where the ends were tied into knots at the front sides. An alternative was to tie the wig into a single tail – or ‘queue’ – at the back with a black ribbon. When it became fashionable to powder the wig to create the white/grey seen here the powder would fall on the shoulders and soil the clothing. By the 1730s it became usual to put the tail of the wig into a black silk drawstring bag to keep the powder from the clothing – as seen here.

Although the boys are dressed as young men, they are engaged in the childhood pursuit of building a house of cards. In France at this time, the subject of a boy constructing a house of cards had a rich hinterland. Often, it was chosen in genre paintings as a subject as a means of conveying an allegorical message. Inevitably the card castle will collapse over time, reminding us that childhood is brief.

The artist to have popularised it as a subject, although he did not invent the theme himself, was Jean Simeon Chardin, who treated the subject on no fewer than four occasions. Chardin’s paintings, however, differ in the fact that only one boy is ever shown building the house of cards and it in his absorption in his task that the focus of the painting resides. Disseminated via the medium of engraving, Chardin’s treatment of the subject was wildly popular and, although their meaning remains contested, verses appended to some versions of the engraving seem to point at the theme’s significance. One such moralising inscription, which features in Pierre Fillouel’s 1737 engraving after Chardin, instructs the viewer not to mock the youth’s attempt to build something that will ultimately be impermanent, instead warning that older men often construct schemes that are far more ridiculous.

But, in this case the sitters are not absorbed in the construction of their house of cards, as Chardin’s are. Instead, De Peters shows them looking out at the viewer and communicating their affection for one another. It may be that this portrait is a comment ultimately on friendship. In eighteenth-century France, the construction of a house of cards was often a game that was partaken by children in a group. Taking turns, each child would add another card to construct the house; the loser was the child who added the card that knocked it over.[1] Here, the two boys seem to be shown constructing one such house together. Each boy has a set of cards at his hands. When combined with the gesture of intimacy between the two, it may be that the portrait is a reflection on constructive endeavour, with the message being that it is by working together that the house of cards (or in French, château de cartes – castle of cards) is created. As such, this double portrait – which would once have been affixed to the lid of a snuff box – subverts the genre, pointing less to the fragility of human endeavour and more to the bonds of friendship and co-operation by which achievements are made. Life may be short but art – as they say – lasts long. The artist has captured a fleeting moment in time, and in fashion.

Ivory Registration: M5VU3XRG

This work has been registered by Philip Mould and Company as qualifying as exempt. Please contact laura@philipmould.com if you have any further queries. 



[1] Scott, K. (2012) ‘Chardin and the Art of Building Castles’, in Carey, J. (ed.), Taking Time: Chardin’s boy Building a House of Cards and other Paintings. London: Paul Holberton, pp. 36-53.

Receive information about exhibitions, news & events.

We will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.

Receive information about exhibitions, news & events.

We will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.
Close

Basket

No items found
Close

Your saved list

This list allows you to enquire about a group of works.
No items found
Close
Mailing list signup

Get exclusive updates from Philip Mould Gallery

Close

Sign up for updates

Make an Enquiry

Receive newsletters

In order to respond to your enquiry, we will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.

Close
Search
Close
500 Years of British Art