When he developed the concept for the current work, Zadkine was living in exile in the United States. The Nazi occupation of Paris forced the artist to leave the city that had provided the stage for his artistic growth and success and he relocated to New York while waiting out the tumultuous years of World War II. His creativities fueled by this process of dislocation and confusion, Zadkine went on to create some of the most emotionally resonant works of his entire artistic career during his time in America. As he described of the creation process for Arlequin hurlant, "It is during my forced sojourn in the United States that I conceived this first version of the Howling Harlequin. I roared like a harlequin in my solitude, and no one heeded me. My distress found expression in this sculpture, with which I have never wanted to part, for it is the key to the door of some of my most vivid recollecions" (Quoted in Ionel Jianou, op. cit.).
Zadkine employs the usually lighthearted figure of the Harlequin to express his emotional distress. In a manner not dissimilar to Picasso's use of the Harlequin during his Rose and Blue Periods, Zadkine imbues his figure with the sense of captivity and longing that had haunted him during the war years. As he described of his own artistic process, "In my own researches and findings I have always insisted on plastic and sculptural values, and also on what I call a poetic climate. The object, whether it is a book, a bottle, or a human body, once it is visualized and expressed by means of clay, stone, or wood, ceases to be a document and becomes an animated object in stone, wood, or bronze, and lives its independent life of wooden, bronze or granite object. These animated, independent objects are meant to vibrate through their plastic and poetic symbolism" (quoted in Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves, Eds., Artists on Art from the XIV to the XX Century, p. 430).
Fig. 1, The artist in his studio