This genre scene, which was painted circa 1670-74, is one of the most elegant and engaging works surviving from Pieter de Hooch's Amsterdam period. In the interior of a grand house, a group of figures are gathered around a table playing a game of cards. The officer in the right foreground shows his hand of cards looking directly out of the picture as he does so, seemingly acknowledging the presence of the viewer and inviting us to watch the course of the game. The seated female figure is carefully considering the next card she will play while the sumptuously attired woman on the left has sprung from her chair, caught up in the excitement of it all. A canal-side scene, bathed in warm summer sunlight can be glimpsed through the doorway to the right and provides a contrast to the more animated proceedings at the table.\n\nPictures such as this, though painted in Amsterdam, have their origin in the interiors that De Hooch began to paint in Delft in the mid-1650s. It was in Delft, where the artist lived for no more than six or seven years, that his art underwent a gradual transition where the effects of light and space were to take on increasing importance. De Hooch was a native of Rotterdam and his earliest pictures are tavern and guardroom scenes dependent on the genre pictures of Rotterdam painters such as Ludolf de Jongh and Hendrick Martensz. Sorgh. He moved to Delft, temporarily in 1652, and on a more permanent basis in 1654/5. Here he would have come across the pioneering church interiors of architectural painters such as Gerard Houckgeest, Emanuel de Witte and Hendrick de Vliet, whose use of multi-point perspective and diagonal views coupled with an interest in light and atmosphere resulted in interiors of great naturalism and informality. Here too he is likely to have seen the work of Carel Fabritius (1622-54), the talented pupil of Rembrandt, whose originality was praised by his contemporaries but who tragically died in the explosion of the Delft powder magazine in 1654. As Peter Sutton has observed, however, "... De Hooch's achievement was more than a mere sum of influences and responses. In the late 1650s he was a true innovator. creating a new type of genre painting with spatial order and naturalism. His serene images of homes and courtyards seem casually observed and informal yet are carefully and cogently composed with a sophisticated understanding of perspective and fine observation of aerial truth. Several of these quietly revolutionary paintings continue the themes that he had favored in his early works, namely merry companies, with drinking and gaming soldiers and their hostesses; however, gone are the dimly lit stables and taverns, replaced by sunlit middle-class interiors, gardens, and courtyards. The beauty and order of these spaces and suffusion of the light rejuvenate the old themes" (see Sutton, under Literature, 1998, p. 26).\nDe Hooch's most celebrated contemporary in Delft was Johannes Vermeer, whose Young Woman at the Viginals, painted at a similar date to the present work, is also included in this sale (lot 7). De Hooch entered the Delft Guild in 1655, two years later than Vermeer, but he was three years older than the latter and is likely to have arrived at his mature style earlier. From the late 1650s until De Hooch's departure for Amsterdam in 1660/61, both artists inspired one another but it was probably De Hooch as the older artist who, initially at least, exerted the greater infuence. De Hooch's decision to leave Delft was no doubt prompted by the prospect of a larger market for his paintings in the thriving commercial centre of Amsterdam. Here he responded to a wealthier, more aspirational clientele, by increasingly producing pictures depicting more sumptuously dressed figures in more luxurious interiors, and painting on a larger scale than he had tended to do in Delft. Although an unevenness and later falling off in quality characterises the Amsterdam period, from his arrival in the city through into the mid-1670s De Hooch was still capable of painting individual pictures that rival the best works of his Delft years.\nThe subject of soldiers and women playing cards was treated by De Hooch on a number of occasions thoughout his career; an early example of circa 1655 is in Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, inv. no. 2841 (see Sutton, Literature, 1980, p. 77, no. 11, plate 9A), while later Delft period treatments of the subject can be found in a Swiss private collection (Sutton, op. cit., p. 81, no. 25, plate 22) and The Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace (Sutton, op. cit., pp. 81-82, no. 28, plate 26) and an example painted in Amsterdam, dating from circa 1675-80, is at Saltram House (National Trust), Plympton (Sutton, op. cit., pp. 111-112, no. 126, plate 129).\nIn its overall composition this picture most closely resembles De Hooch's Merry Company with a man and two women in Manchester City Art Galleries, Manchester (Sutton, op. cit., p. 102, no. 86, plate 89; and Sutton, 1998, no. 36), which is smaller than the present work and probably pre-dates it by a matter of five years or so. The Manchester picture includes an almost identical marble fireplace to the left of the composition, a similar, centrally positioned table upon a marble tiled floor and beneath a brass chandelier with, to the right, a view through another room to a sunlit exterior.\nThis painting is recorded in the collections at Penrice Castle in the late 19th Century but is likely to have been there much earlier. It is possible that it was acquired by Thomas Mansel Talbot, who had inherited from his father at the age of eleven the estates of Penrice and Margam, formerly the property of his paternal grandmother, Mary Mansel. He made a number of Tours of the continent, the first in 1769, and amassed a huge collection of antiquities, buying from both Gavin Hamilton and Thomas Jenkins, as well as commissioning works from a number of contemporary sculptors, which were displayed at the newly built classical orangery at Margam Abbey (1787-90) and the villa at Penrice Castle (1773-79), both by Anthony Keck. He also purchased a number of Old Master pictures, but his interest seems to have lain principally with artists of the Italian School, and he is known to have acquired only a small number of Dutch pictures. It is perhaps more likely, therefore, that the De Hooch was acquired by his son, Christopher Talbot, who purchased numerous Dutch and Flemish paintings during the 1830s and 1840s.\nSigned upper left on the mantel: P.d.Hoogh.f.