Perls Gallery, New York
Arthur Sachs, Santa Barbara
Justin K. Thannhauser, New York
Private Collection (acquired from the above by the family of the present owner during the 1950s and thence by descent)
Acquired in 2006 the present owner
Picasso’s key focus in 1904-1905 was his ambitious painting La Famille des Saltimbanques which, at more than two meters high, marked his first attempt at a large-scale painting. That composition, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., presents six circus performers huddled together in an ambiguous landscape. The tragicomic character of the overweight jester, also featured in the present work, anchors the composition as a patriarchal figure among the family of circus performers. Picasso worked through the image of the jester in a series of significant studies, often melding the visage of his friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, into that of the clown. Bouffon et jeune acrobate is one of the largest and most fully-worked from the series and boasts a brilliant red palette that marks a decisive break with the cooler tones of the preceding Blue Period. The young acrobat in this drawing resembles the boy at the center of the large oil, and this sketch implies a filial relationship not evident in the final work.
The present work is closely related to another pastel, in the Cone Collection in the Baltimore Museum of Art. In that slightly smaller picture, the figure of the boy is positioned on the right, but the profile and position of the jester remains the same. E.A. Carmean, Jr. has described the large jester as "one of the most familiar of the saltimbanque cast." Of course, Picasso was not the first artist to find inspiration in the lonely lives of traveling performers, and other modern artists including Daumier, Cézanne, Degas, Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec had all explored the creative potential of this theme. Marilyn McCully has argued that "while other artists before him […] had taken up the subjects of these performers, what Picasso accomplished was to turn the theme of saltimbanques into his subject. The poetic world that they inhabited and that he depicted became the stuff of what Coquiot would later - principally with reference to the change in Picasso’s palette - describe as his Rose Period" (Marilyn McCully, Picasso in Paris, 1900-1907, London, 2011, p. 142).
The first owner of this picture was Princess Mechtilde Christiane Maria von Arco Zinneberg Lichnowsky (1897-1958), the German novelist, dramatist, lyric poet and editor and also one of the first collectors of Picasso's work. Born in Bavaria, Princess Lichnowsky was married to the German abassador of the court of George V and lived in London from 1912-14. Lichnowsky returned to the Prussian court during the Great War and later resided in France. Following her husband's death in 1928, she married longtime British friend Major Ralph Harding Peto and returned to London, where she scandalized the British aristocracy with her collection of avant-garde art, including the present work by Picasso.
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