A. Herstand and Company, New York
Private Collection, Seattle
Gagosian Gallery, New York (by 1995)
Acquired from the above in 1996
Avignon, Palais des Papes, Pablo Picasso: 1969-1970, 1970, no. 134 (not signed)
Rafael Alberti, "Picasso en Avignon," Paris, 1971, no. 193, illustrated
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1969, vol. 31, Paris, 1976, no. 543, illustrated pl. 172 (illustrated without the signature)
Klaus Gallwitz, Picasso at 90: The Late Work, New York, 1971, no. 304, pp. 192-193
"Dans Le Cadre du XXIVe Festival d’Avignon Pablo Picasso: 1969-1970," Cahiers d'Art, Paris, 1970
Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot, Marie-Laure Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, no. 1117, illustrated p. 454
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, no. 69-550, San Francisco, 2003, p. 287
One of the great achievements of Picasso's late career is his vibrant Arlequin au baton, painted at the end of the year in 1969. As in the case of this figure, the cast of gallant characters that populated the artist's pictures during the 1960s and 1970s were personifications of the artist himself (see fig. 1). The musketeer, the man with the pipe, and most significantly, the harlequin, were all alter-egos, intended to recapture the lost virility of Picasso's youth. For this composition, Picasso resurrected a figure who had personified melancholia in his paintings from the beginning of the century. He has now transformed the bitter-sweet clown of 16th century Italian theater into a valiant warrior of the late 20th century.
Of all the heroic personae in Picasso’s repertoire, the harlequin is one of his most poignant. This subject first emerged in his production at the beginning of his career, when harlequins and characters of the Commedia del'Arte populated the paintings and drawings of the Rose period and the stage curtains that he designed for the Ballets Russes in the 1910s. But in Picasso's final years, these figures "made their last appearance, as the slender silhouette of the mercurial Harlequin moved aside for a stocky, masked character aggressively brandishing a stick" (Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot, Marie-Laure Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 455). No longer the waifish, melancholic figure who languished in Picasso's paintings at the beginning of the century (see fig. 2), the harlequin here is more closely related to the swashbuckling musketeer. Waving his long, phallic baton high above his head and clasping a prickly shrub in the other, he is now Picasso's blatant emblem of masculinity at its most potent.
Picasso’s inspiration for this figure and other masculine warriors of his late paintings can be traced to his Spanish childhood and his familiarity with Cervantes’ Don Quixote. But the harlequin also signified for him the golden age of painting and allowed him to escape the limitations of contemporary subject matter. Here was a character that embodied the courtly mannerisms of the Renaissance gentleman, and Picasso now resurrected him for a 20th century audience. The artist’s rendering of this image was also his tribute to the work of two painters he had adored throughout his life: Diego Velázquez, whose portraits of 17th century Spanish nobility and sword-wielding monarchs (see fig. 3) were clear sources of inspiration for the present picture, and the Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn, whom Jacqueline Roque credited as being a key influence on Picasso’s art of this period. It was through these reinterpretations (see fig. 4) and investigations of the Old Masters that Picasso reaffirmed his connection to some of the greatest painters in the history of art.
Brigitte Léal has considered what it meant for Picasso to be painting these historical characters in the late 20th century. She considers the cultural signficance of the musketeer, and her analysis is equally applicable to the harlequin in the present painting: "It was not without humor that Picasso created these characters, whose amorous adventures he chronicled in his etchings. Imagine painting musketeers in 1970! They were ornamental figures whose clothes were a pretext both for the blaze of blood red and golden yellow and for the resurgence of a newly found Spanishness" (Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot, Marie-Laure Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 458).
Fig. 1, The artist, photographed by Edward Quinn in January 1972.
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Au Lapin Agile, oil on canvas, 1904-05, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fig. 4, Diego Velázquez, Philip IV, 1644, oil on canvas, Frick Collection, New York
Fig. 4, Pablo Picasso, Homme à la Pipe, 1968, oil on canvas, sold, Sotheby's, London, February 7, 2006, lot 55
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