Harlequin (1888-1890) Paul Cezanne Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Cezanne, within this painting, gives another example of his ability to capture the negative moods of humanity within unusual portraits. We find a Harlequin looking somewhat lonely, walking by himself. The dramatic clothing, used for entertainment, contrasts with the reality of this character's own mood at the time.

The artist would use his son to pose for this piece and produced several other versions as he played around with layout ideas in each one. This piece is particularly similar to Harlequin (1889-1890), just with some of his equipment moved from one hand to the other. Pierrot and Harlequin, in which the two characters are placed together, offers a more upbeat atmosphere, in which the Harlequin strides with far greater confidence. We find in these single figurative pieces, by contrast, that the same figure on his own is devoid of confidence, hunched and lonely. One immediately sees his mask as exactly that, a way of disguising some of his own turmoil and we start to sympathise with his plight in both of these similar paintings. The version in front of us here is sized at 92 x 65 cm and is held within a private collection, where as the alternative piece can be found in the Washington DC National Gallery of Art.

The right hand holds some gloves, perhaps removed as the character walks off after a performance. The head and hat are angled slightly to the side, with lips close together in order to create this idea of melancholy. Artists have never found reflecting negative emotions particularly easy, but a skilled painter with subtle observations can do it with practice. Another interesting aspect of this painting are the bright colour tones which almost remind as of the Fauvists, where tones of purple and blue would clash with oranges, reds and yellows in a manner which was entirely new at the time. Even the carpet takes our attention with its vibrant tones, when normally Cezanne would leave background elements within his portraits to a more subtle finish that avoided claiming too much attention.

The artist had worked alongside the Impressionist for many years before deciding to forge his own path. This allowed him to differentiate his work from others and to create a unique approach which help him to become known as the artist's artist. Besides these Harlequin artworks, other notable pieces to look out for include the likes of The Card Players, Mont Sainte-Victoire and The Large Bathers which underline the breadth of content that he covered across his lifetime. Today he is still loved by the art public across the world as much as ever before and his lasting legacy is entirely understood and taught to new generations each and every year.