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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The largest collection of Paul Cezanne's Card Player paintings to ever be exhibited together opens on Wednesday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
It includes three of five of the French master's famous series depicting peasants of the Aix-en-Provence region in a monumental light rarely used to portray the working classes at the end of the 19th-century.
Gary Tinterow, chairman of the museum's department of 19th-century, modern and contemporary Art, described it as a landmark exhibition, the first devoted to the subject.
"Created in the 1890s while the artist was living at his family's estate outside Aix-en-Provence, these images capture the character Cezanne admired in the people of the region," Tinterow said.
"Together the works chart the development of the series as Cezanne strove to achieve the most powerful expression of his motif."
The exhibition, which runs until May 8, also includes two dozen works from the museum's permanent collection of earlier card playing and smoking sketches, including Dutch and Flemish etchings from the 17th century, and 19th century French prints, often portraying bawdy scenes with a heavy dose of moralizing.
But while aware of an influence by these works, Cezanne, "decided to reinvent the subject by portraying his card players as stoic, monumental figures," Tinterow said.
Alongside the Card Players paintings a series of Cezanne's preparatory sketches and oil paintings are on show.
The exhibit was previously on display at the Courtauld Gallery in London.
According to Barnaby Wright, co-curator of the exhibition in London, a fourth painting belonging to the Barnes Foundation in the United States cannot be loaned out and the fifth is in a private collection which declined to release it for the show.
The peasants of Aix represented to Cezanne something timeless and unchanging. He once said, "I love above all else the appearance of people who have grown old without breaking with old customs."
The painter remained in the region for most of his life, between 1839 and 1906. Just four years before his death he said to Jules Borely, an early biographer of the painter, "I was born here; I'll die here."
In 1913, the Metropolitan Museum was the first institution in the United States to acquire a painting by the artist.
Reporting by David Sheppard in New York, additional reporting by Mike Collett-White in London; Editing by Patricia Reaney