After experimenting with a variety of styles in the year following his arrival in Paris, Picasso developed a style properly his own in autumn 1901. He painted six canvases, all about the same size, with either a single figure or a couple seated at a café table, that together constitute one of the greatest achievements the twenty-year-old artist had yet accomplished. The paintings derive from the 1870s café scenes of Degas and Manet, as reworked by Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Lautrec in the 1880s and 1890s. For this one, Picasso borrowed the flowery wallpaper from the background of Van Gogh's La Berceuse (1889, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996.435), which he would have seen at the Galerie Vollard.
Picasso revised the painting a great deal before settling on the final arrangement: he first depicted Harlequin without ruffs at the neck or cuffs; a large glass stood on the table where the match striker now appears; Harlequin's bicorne hat originally rested behind his right hand; and the floral wallpaper was more extensive and not hidden by the high banquette.
By 1901 Harlequin was a ubiquitous figure in popular culture. He usually carried a baton, or slapstick, and wore a black mask. However, Picasso gave his Harlequin a white face and ruffs: the attributes of Pierrot, the melancholy, cuckolded clown who inevitably loses his love, Columbine, to the nimble and lusty Harlequin. Many writers have suggested that the pensive mood of this picture and the series to which it belongs were the result of Picasso's brooding on the suicide of his friend Carles Casagemas, who, like Pierrot, was unrequited in love.
Inscription: Signed and dated (in red paint, lower left): Picasso/ 1901
[possibly William Uhde, Paris, until ca. 1906; sold to Suermondt]; Edwin Suermondt, Aachen (by 1906–1912 or 1913); [Der Neue Kunstsalon (Max Dietzel), Munich, by 1913; consigned in 1913 and sold by 1916 to Thannhauser]; [Heinrich Thannhauser, Munich, by 1916–at least 1918, and probably until 1922, stock no. 5041; sold to Rosenberg]; [Paul Rosenberg, 1922; sold in May 1922 for Fr 18,000 ($1,700) to Quinn]; John Quinn, New York (1922–d. 1924); his sister, Julia Quinn Anderson, New York (1924–30 or slightly later); her daughter, Mary Anderson, New York (until 1936; sold in May 1936, together with Seurat's "Les Poseuses," through Mrs. Cornelius J. Sullivan, to McIlhenny); Henry P. McIlhenny, Philadelphia (1936; in November 1936 to Wintersteen); his sister, Mrs. John (Bernice) Wintersteen, Villanova, Pennsylvania (1936; sold in December 1936, through Cesar M. de Hauke of Jacques Seligmann & Co., to Clifford); Mr. and Mrs. Henry Clifford, Radnor, Pennsylvania (1936–60; sold in July 1960, through M. Knoedler & Co., to MMA)
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Actor Telly Leung, known for his work on Glee and star of the upcoming Broadway production of Allegiance, takes visitors on a tour of his favorite works of art in the Museum as he gains inspiration for his performance at the Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration on May 22.
Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Chairman of the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art, spoke with Associate Email Marketing Manager Jennette Mullaney about Seated Harlequin, a masterpiece painted by Picasso when he was just nineteen years old.
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