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Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973)

Lot 41: Pablo Picasso , 1881-1973 Arlequin (buste) Oil


November 3, 2008
New York, NY, US

More About this Item


Painted in Spring 1909. Signed Picasso on the reverse Oil on canvas


measurements 28 1/4 by 23 5/8 in. alternate measurements 73 by 60 cm


Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1906 à 1912, vol. II*, Paris, 1942, no. 145, illustrated pl. 73
Maurice Raynal, Picasso, Paris, 1922, illustrated pl. 33
Paul Eluard, À Pablo Picasso, Geneva, 1944, p. 42
Tristan Tzara, Pablo Picasso, Geneva, 1948, illustrated
José Camón Aznar, Picasso y el cubismo, Madrid, 1956, fig. 310, illustrated
Maurice Raynal, Picasso, Geneva, 1959, p. 50
Theodore Reff, "Themes of Love and Death in Picasso's Early Work," Picasso 1881-1973, London, 1973, fig. 64, illustrated
Pierre Daix & Joan Rosselet, Picasso, The Cubist Years, 1907-1916, Boston, 1979, no. 261, illustrated pp. 65 and 239 (titled Harlequin leaning on his Elbow)
Malcolm Gee, Dealers, Critics and Collectors of Modern Painting (dissertation), New York & London, 1981, listed appendix F, p. 44
Josep Palau I Fabre, Picasso Cubism (1907-1917), New York, 1990, no. 352, illustrated p. 126 (titled Harlequin leaning on his left arm)


(possibly) Wilhelm Uhde, Paris
Edwin Suermondt, Aachen (possibly acquired from the above)
Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris (acquired from the above and sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 1ère vente Kahnweiler, June 13-14, 1921, lot 81)
M Winberg, Paris (acquired at the above sale, probably on behalf of Kahnweiler)
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Paris
Enrico Donati, New York (acquired from the above circa 1947)


Cubism is still largely discussed as a discipline of form lacking the panoply of meanings that enrich previous art. Arlequin (buste), however, is one of those rare paintings that reveals how deeply Picasso embedded his visual pyrotechnics in the history and humanism of world culture.
Stylistically, Arlequin occupies a moment of exceptional balance in the rapid, erratic development of analytic cubism. Painted in the spring of 1909, around six months after the critic Louis Vauxcelles first derided Braque's use of "cubes," Arlequin nestles between the flat, heavily-outlined planes of Picasso's "African" works following Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) and the densely-sculptural style he used to depict his lover, Fernande Olivier (fig. 1), in both paintings and a plaster bust during the summer and fall of 1909. Arlequin represents a point of remarkable resolution between these two dramatically accented styles. Its almost amber tonality largely avoids the strong contrasts of light and dark hues Picasso so frequently employed and may reflect his collaboration with Braque as the two artists invented cubism. Arlequin's closer-keyed values create an unusually harmonious image, one that is further unified by Picasso's brushwork. Each color is laid on with loose strokes that complement the lack of strident hues and allows the light underpaint and interspersed touches to brighten the entire canvas. The effect is a luminous field of subtle tones rippling through the layers of the composition. This impression of unity and fluidity anticipates the fluctuating fields of Picasso's final and most abstract analytic paintings in 1911, such as MoMA's Ma Jolie.
This interplay of facets almost effaces the presence of harlequin, yet this figural image unlocks the diverse context of ideas Picasso addressed in the painting. The most profound is the least obvious. Separate from his identify as harlequin, Picasso's man strikes a pose that echoes the most important source of Picasso's art. Leaning on a table with his right arm and wedging his left arm between another tabletop and his chin, the man mimics the posture common to one of Cézanne's most famous series - the smoker (Le Fumeur, 1890-92, Venturi 688, Hermitage, fig. 8). Whether seated alone or among other men smoking or playing cards, these Cézannes are paradigms of his late style. They instill Cézanne's informal subject of a common man with a gravitas that would be deadening without the casual slant of the man's body. This calm, meditative subject is perfectly in tune with Cézanne's practice (fig. 2), as he slowly built the relationships of the figure to its surroundings and constructed the passages of pigment that knit the surface together.
Picasso's Arlequin adopts these very qualities of pose and painting from Cézanne, whose pictures had been widely exhibited in years after his death in 1906. Yet, Picasso's dialogue with Cézanne does not end with this revolutionary way of picture making. The deepest link is the sense of the artist's role that both shared, the intermingling personal expression and objective vision that embedded each artist's self-expression in radically new pictorial modes. Here, the painting's explicit subject finally becomes relevant. Cézanne had painted a number of memorable images of this commedia d'arte performer, most notably Pierrot and Harlequin (1888, Pushkin). He was drawn to him not so much for the diamond-patterned costume (however well suited it was to his style) but rather for the conception of the artist he signified - the artist as an itinerate wanderer little valued by society and dependent on his self-reliance to pursue his craft. This conception of the artist underlies not only Picasso's Arlequin but also his earlier images of harlequin (such as At the Lapin Agile, 1904-05, fig. 4) and explains his master stroke of assimilating Cézanne's smoker and harlequin to create an image of melancholy mediation on the arts. Of course, many of Picasso's early harlequins are recognizably self-portraits, and they reflect Picasso's sense of self-pity during the years he worked to establish his reputation in France. Arlequin steps back from that explicitness, generalizing the face and immersing it in the ethereal field to create a detached image resonant of Cézanne's. While distancing the image from the particularity of Picasso's appearance, this treatment opens the door to other associations in Picasso's life. Across his career, Picasso painted relatively few pictures of men, yet a considerable number of these are concentrated in the years 1909 and 1910. They shift from generic males to specific portraits, and most of the latter depict those directly involved in promoting his career, especially dealers. Possibly the first of these was a portrait of Clovis Sagot (fig. 7), and it, like Arlequin, was painted in the spring of 1909 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg). Picasso's portrait of Sagot employs a denser version of Cézanne's ordered strokes, but it shows a man who not only fits the rumpled dress of Cézanne's smokers but, in the high crown and narrow, turned-up brim of his hat over a broad nose and triangular face resembles a version of Picasso's harlequin brought to life. As one of the first dealers to sell Picasso's art in Paris, Sagot played an important role in building his reputation. By painting Sagot's portrait in 1909, Picasso was not only searching anew for a dealer (in following months he portrayed another past agent, Ambroise Vollard (fig. 9), and his future champion, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), but also probably revisiting those difficult years when he felt as neglected as harlequin and found his direction in the somber introspection of Cézanne. Enrico Donati, who owned the painting from the late 1940s until his death earlier this year, recalled that he first saw a Cubist harlequin hanging in an exhibition of cubism at the Musée d'art moderne in Paris in 1947 or 1948. He was so captivated by Picasso's art that he went straight from the museum to Picasso's gallery, where he met Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and promptly bought the present picture for the twelve thousand dollars he had in his pocket. A perfect chance encounter for Donati, an artist much admired by the founder of Surrealism, André Breton, and a good friend of Marcel Duchamp. As a Surrealist, perhaps Donati shared Picasso's statement during his years of involvement with the movement that "What forces our interest is Cézanne's anxiety" -- a view Picasso may well have already held when he painted Arlequin in 1909.
We would like to thank Prof. Michael FitzGerald for writing the catalogue note for this work. Enrico Donati (1909-2008) was one of the last of the great generation of Surrealists who began their careers in the 1930s and 40s. Donati was born in Milan and, as a young man, earned a doctorate in Sociology. His passions, though, were music and art. He subsequently studied musical composition at the Milan Conservatory and painting at the École de la Rue de Berri in Paris, and from 1936, committed himself wholeheartedly to painting. After immersing himself in the Parisian avant-garde, he left for New York in 1939 following the outbreak of war. In 1942, he had his first one-man exhibition at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, which effectively launched his artistic career. That same year, he met and became lifelong friends with the father of Conceptualism, Marcel Duchamp, and the founder of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, who inducted him into the expatriate circle of Surrealists then living in the United States. Breton wrote of Donati's work, "I love the paintings of Enrico Donati as I do a night in May" (A. Breton, Preface, Paintings by Enrico Donati (ex. cat.), New York, 1944). Donati's art mined the rich veins of Surrealist thought from anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms set in otherworldly landscapes to brilliant abstractions created from poured paint mixed with wildly unorthodox materials such as coffee grinds and vacuum cleaner dust. In addition to pursuing his own art, Donati lectured on art at Yale University in the early 1960s. He was a unique artistic voice and a passionate promoter of the art of his era.

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