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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

Canasta

Mexican Canasta set with paintings by Ramón Espino Barros (1918-2000).

Mexican Canasta set with painting by Ramón Espino Barros

The backs of this double boxed set for Canasta feature a still life painting by the distinguished Mexican artist Ramón Espino Barros (1918-2000). The cards were printed by Clemente Jacques y Cia., S.A., Mexico in c.1950.

As a young boy Espino Barros loved festivities and dreamed of becoming a bullfighter, but he settled for the safer option of painting. He studied with Carlos Ruano Llopis, a Spanish bull-fight artist who had emigrated to Mexico during the Spanish Civil War. He greatly admired Velázquez, Goya and El Greco and defined his own artistic work as ‘realistic impressionism’. During an interview he explained: “pintar, para mí, es una necesidad de tipo biológico ya que si no lo hago, si no pinto, me siento intensamente frustrado, desgraciado e inútil. Así, cuando pinto, por el contrario, siento que existo en armonía conmigo mismo y con el resto de la creación. Si dejo de pintar me asfixio como pez sacado del agua.”

Right: painting by Ramón Espino Barros (1918-2000) on the reverse of a double Canasta set printed by Clemente Jacques y Cia., S.A., Mexico, c.1950 →

Below: the Ace of Spades has the monogram 'CJ' with a small cockerel's head above. Similar cards of the standard Anglo-American type were subsequently published as 'Naipes Cassino' by Pasatiempos Gallo S.A.

Mexican Canasta set with painting by Ramón Espino Barros, c.1950

Above: double Canasta set with painting by Ramón Espino Barros (born in Jalapa, Veracruz, 1918) on the reverse. Espino Barros is known as a painter of bullfight scenes and Mexican themed paintings. He died in 2000.

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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Mexican Canasta set with paintings by Ramón Espino Barros (1918-2000).

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