Shortly after acquiring this painting, Duncan Phillips wrote to Edith Halpert of The Downtown Gallery: "The [purchase of the] Pippin ‘Dominoe [sic] Players' is certainly no mistake and in this case the wisdom of my immediate decision was confirmed on receipt of the picture.”
The intimate interior setting of Domino Players is characteristic of Pippin. He drew on memories of his own childhood, of family members and friends at their everyday activities—caring for children, praying, quilting, smoking, playing games—and created a portrait of African American family life in the pre-World War II era.
Pippin placed two members of his family in the center of activity. The one at the right may represent his mother, Christine, wearing a polka-dotted blouse, while a woman who may be Pippin’s grandmother smokes her pipe and observes the dominoes game. The dominoes spill toward the family matriarch, a former slave who claimed to have witnessed the hanging of John Brown in 1859. The dominoes build a wall—woman-to-woman, generation-to-generation. The boy, perhaps Pippin himself or his younger brother, John, appears lost in contemplation. He is the only male member of this group, placed protectively between two strong women. The cold whites, grays, and blacks of the barren room are complemented by the colors of the quilt and the vibrant reds placed strategically throughout the painting. The solid horizontals of the floor and table slant upward, and the doorway, window frames, and walls provide a firm vertical support for the figures.
The serenity of the scene and the Sunday evening demeanor are disturbed by the exaggerated size of the sharp open scissors on the blood-red scrap of cloth, the ferocious teeth-like flames of the coal fire, and even the tongues of red flame in the oil lamps. All are presented as disproportionate signs of danger as only a child would perceive them.