The Art of Playing Cards

The design of a playing card is iconic. From the Ace of Spades to the Jack of Hearts we can picture each and every one, but did you know many also have their own story to tell?

Playing cards have been enjoyed since the 9th century and have developed significantly into the designs we know and love today. Down the years they’ve been adapted and developed, influenced by the style and movements of the times. But what if they’d have been redesigned by some of the world’s most renowned artists?

The Art of Playing Cards tells the tales of the most iconic playing cards and reimagines how they could have looked if the traditional card had been styled at the height of another artistic movement…

Details in the deck

The Jack of Spades

The Jack of Spades is one of three very special face cards in the deck. Alongside the Jack of Hearts and King of Diamonds, it is the only card depicted as a profile.

All other face cards are more face-on, coining the term “one-eyed Jacks”.

This card is also notable in that it’s one of four face cards that look to the right. All four are black, with the other eight face cards all looking to the left.

The Queen of Clubs

Card games swept across Europe in the 14th century with face cards starting to reflect European royalty and its structure. The king remained but we started to see the introductions of upper and lower marshals.

The French were the first to introduce the Queen, sitting directly below the King in terms of hierachy, where she still sits in favourites such as blackjack and poker.

The King of Hearts

Known as the ‘Suicide King’, it’s a name that isn’t entirely accurate. It is likely that rather than a suicidal king, this is due to the fact that when production of cards increased, the quality of the designs declined as printing blocks wore out.

This led to fading, including the edge of the sword's blade, a design flaw which has stuck.

The Ace of Spades

The Ace of Spades began to enjoy particularly exuberant detailing of company logos and tax stamps, a feature that still holds true to this day.

Such insignias were proof that the relevant tax had been paid.

Since 1862 however, card printers have been able to be more creative with the Ace of Spades and design their own, many of which took the opportunity to promote their brand further.

The back of the card

For over 500 years, the back of cards were plain. It wasn’t until the 19th century when we began to see designs. This was introduced by Thomas De La Rue & Company and it was a real gamechanger.

Not least because it added more creative flair to a deck, but also plain cards picked up smudges easily, allowing players to recognise an opponent’s hand. Patterned cards were much more durable, avoiding smudges and marks, in turn keeping hold of all a player’s secrets.

Pablo Picasso

Spain 1881 - 1973

Picasso was one of the leading figures in the surrealism movement and well known for works such as Guernica, The Weeping Woman and Le Reve. His work collects over $100million at auction today and over his lifetime it’s estimated he produced over 50,000 pieces of artwork.

Inspired by the period from the 1920s onwards, the deck below highlights how the playing card could potentially have looked had playing cards taken inspiration from the movement.

Roy Lichtenstein

USA 1923 - 1997

A trailblazer in the 1960s, Roy Lichtenstein rose to prominence as a key figure in the pop art movement, producing iconic pieces such as Whaam!, Crying Girl and Drowning Girl.

His iconic style is revered the world over, but how would it have changed the landscape of playing cards had Lichtenstein been as inspired by card games as he was by comic books?

Andy Warhol

USA 1928 - 1987

Andy Warhol has influenced everything from the art scene to music, film and has even turned the humble tin of soup into a masterpiece. Famed for his work within the pop art movement, he worked with the likes of the Velvet Underground, as well as producing colourful prints of the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali.

While he mingled with Hollywood royalty, how would the King and Queen of Hearts fare with the Warhol treatment?


United Kingdom 1974 - present

Banksy’s work is often shrouded in mystery and the anonymous artist has been at the very forefront of the street art scene since the 1990s. His work largely depicts political and social commentary and has inspired many other artists beyond Bristol and across the world.

While medieval kings and queens are still pictured on cards of today, could Banksy give them a modern makeover?

The Art of Playing Cards was produced by BetVictor, one of the world's leading online casinos.

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