Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
The Collection of Terry Allen Kramer
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Tête d'arlequin

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Tête d'arlequin
signed, dated and numbered 'Picasso 20.12.70.IV' (upper left)
colored wax crayons on paper
25 ¾ x 19 ¾ in. (65.5 x 50.4 cm.)
Drawn on 20 December 1970
Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris (by 1971 and until at least 1978).
Saidenberg Gallery, New York (acquired from the above).
Thomas Ammann Fine Arts, Zürich (acquired from the above, circa 1980).
Acquired by the late owner, by circa 1995.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1977, vol. 32, no. 331 (illustrated, pl. 115).
Paris, Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Picasso: Dessins en noir et en couleurs, April-June 1971, p. 88, no. 166 (illustrated in color).
Nationalgalerie Berlin, Picasso und der Zirkus, September-November 1978.
Zürich, Thomas Ammann Fine Arts, Picasso: Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels, June-September 1988, no. 30 (illustrated in color).

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Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

On 14 November 1970, three weeks past his 89th birthday, Picasso commenced a series of drawings on the theme of Harlequin—the nimble, lusty trickster from the traditional commedia dell’arte, distinguished by his diamond-patterned costume and tricorn hat—that would largely occupy him for the ensuing two months. By mid-January 1971, when he brought the sequence to a close, it numbered more than three dozen sheets in pencil, ink, or colored wax crayon, most of which depict the head of Harlequin at close range, fixing the viewer with a slight smile and a piercing stare. “One can recognize in Harlequin’s features the artist’s own eyes and nose,” Gary Tinterow has written, “a fact which may account for the surprising absence of the customary cubist deformations in the face” (Master Drawings by Picasso, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 1981, p. 228).
Many of Picasso’s favorite avatars—the characters in his theatrum mundi with whom he identified most personally and profoundly—appeared in his work during 1970, including the musketeer, the matador, the lover, and, most simply, the painter, alone or before his model. Harlequin had been Picasso’s alter-ego of choice during the early years of his career, beginning with Au Lapin Agile, 1905 (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 275) and proliferating in the iconography of the Rose Period, where vagabond performing troupes embodied a certain alienated melancholy, creative genius, and bohemian camaraderie. During the First World War and the ensuing decade, as Picasso probed the dialectic of cubism and classicism, Harlequins poured forth from his studio in a multiplicity of manners and moods. “Harlequin is constantly changing, constantly on the move. Agile and crafty, he evades or deflects the rules by his many guises,” Yve-Alain Bois has written. “Whenever Picasso felt inclined to play with several distinct styles at once, he would often summon the theme of Harlequin” (Picasso Harlequin, Milan, 2009, pp. 19 and 26).
After a near-complete absence of four decades from Picasso’s work, Harlequin made a tentative re-appearance in a sequence of drawings dated June-August 1970, entertaining a female nude by dancing or playing the guitar. He took center stage for the final time in the present drawing and its companion sheets, which together represent a nostalgic curtain call for the artist’s erstwhile proxy. Here, working in brightly colored crayon, Picasso depicted Harlequin in the surface-bound, graphic manner of his valedictory years—the forthright, unabashedly child-like pictorial language of a man who knew he had no time to lose. “When I was a child I could draw like Raphael,” he famously declared, “but it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like a child” (quoted in M. Müller, Pablo Picasso: The Time with Françoise Gilot, Münster, 2002, p. 13).

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