Harlequin (1889-1890) 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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Paul Cezanne produced four different depictions of a Harlequin, with some by himself and another where he is with Pierrot. These popular characters have actually inspired a good number of European artists over the years, including Watteau's Italian Comedians and Picasso's Family of Saltimbanques.

Within this example we find the Harlequin stood alone, without any of the comedy and fun that we would normally associate with this character. The outfit is beautiful, bright and attention grabbing. It is only when you start to look at the facial expression of the model that one uncovers a slightly more negative mood. A look of melancholy can be seen, similar to how Cezanne would work with another model which brought about his Boy in a Red Vest series. Pursed lips with a slightly angled face, with both shoulders shrunken capture the same atmosphere here and considering the brightness of the clothing, there is a great contrast in front of us here. Another piece from around the same period features a very similar composition to this, just with minor amendments to the posture of the Harlequin. It was clear that Cezanne was quite motivated by this subject and wanted to release several different versions of it, hoping to find the best finished piece possible.

In this version the figure carries a long pole on his right side, around his waist, where as in the other he holds gloves there and places the instrument on the other side. Interestingly, some research into these four paintings has revealed that the model used for Harlequin was actually the artist's son, also called Paul. His face is covered behind a pale mask which perhaps speaks to us about how internal emotions can be disguised by masks, be it a literal or figurative one. Cezanne was examining the internal strife of this figure who looks lonely when without his companion character, Pierrot. Of the two fairly similar versions, this one has become more famous, perhaps because of its inclusion within the National Gallery of Art in the US, which has ensured a considerable exposure of it to the public for many years.

The painting was acquired in 1929 by Jean-Victor Pellerin before Paul Mellon purchased it in the 1960s. Around two decades later it's ownership was transferred to the National Gallery of Art, where it has remained ever since. This series offers much to our understanding of the artist's career and style, but it may not be quite as famous as highlight pieces from his career such as The Large Bathers, Still Life with Apples and The Basket of Apples. The inclusion of the artist's son as a model for Halequin also adds an extra level of interest to this piece and it continues to receive a positive reaction when viewed in its present location. The US more generally serves this artist particularly well, partly due to the large amount of work that he completed across his career.