Lot 26
  • 26

Georges Rouault

500,000 - 700,000 USD
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  • Georges Rouault
  • Arlequin
  • Stamped with the Estate mark and inscribed by Isabelle Rouault on the reverse
  • Oil on paper laid down on canvas
  • 24 3/4 by 17 3/4 in.
  • 63 by 45 cm


Estate of the artist

Private Collection, Paris (acquired in 1962)

Sale: Christie's, London, June 42, 1997, lot 44

Richard Nathanson, London

Acquired from the above in September 1997


Paris, Galerie Creuzevault, Georges Rouault,1960, no. 18

Tokyo, Musée National & Kyoto, Musée Municipal, Exposition d'art français au Japon 1840-1940, 1961-62


Pierre Courthion & Isabelle Rouault, Georges Rouault, New York, 1962, illustrated p. 330 (catalogued with incorrect dimensions and illustrated with a border that the artist later removed)


Very good condition. The artist appears to have prepared sturdy paper with a heavy layer of gesso that varies in density throughout to creates the picture's texture beneath the oil paint. There is a vertical crack to the gree at the center left and a horizontal crack at the figure's widow's peak. Small areas of paint separation are most visible in the figure's moustache. Under UV, there is one small, noticable retouching of a loss to the figure's headdress to the right of the widow's peak.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Richly textured and saturated with color, Rouault's bust of a harlequin belongs to the artist's most expressive and beloved series.  The figure of the harlequin originated from 16th century Italian Commedia dell'arte, which portrayed the stock-character clown Arlecchino as the foil of a romantic drama.  While this character was famous as an alter-ego for Picasso during the first-half of the twentieth century, Rouault claimed the character for himself in later years, painting images of the figure that are now universally equated with his art.   

His interest in the world of the circus found its greatest outlet in his art during the 1930s, when Ambroise Vollard had commissioned him to make etchings and woodcuts for the book Cirque de l'étoile filante, published in 1938. These depictions were based on his own childhood memories of the circus, as he remembered them, "Acrobats and horsewomen, sparkling or passive clowns, tightrope walkers and freaks, and my friends, color and harmony, since my earliest childhood I have been in love with you" (quoted in Bernard Dorival & Isabelle Rouault, Rouault, l'oeuvre peint, Monte Carlo, 1988, vol I, p. 153). Rouault combats the potential frivolity of the subject with a Cloisonnist style in which the figures and objects are delineated with black outlines. Evoking the imagery of stained glass imbues the subject with a more profound and spiritual depth. Unlike other artists who employed Cloisonnist techniques, however, Rouault employs boundless expressionistic brushstrokes that deconstruct forms and bring his subject to the edge of abstraction.

Rouault was particularly drawn to harlequins and their expressive potential as subjects for portraiture. These nomadic entertainers represented freedom and naïveté, and were for Rouault a release from his focus on the darker images of life. His series of clown portraits is marked by an emotional immediacy that is unique both within his oeuvre and the spectrum of modern art.  Lionello Venturi writes, "When he paints clowns, however, the grotesque becomes amiable, even lovable... colors grow rich and resplendent, almost as if the artist, laying aside his crusader's arms for a moment, were relaxing in the light of the sun and letting it flood into his work" (Lionello Venturi, Rouault, Lausanne, 1959, pp. 21 & 51).

Gregory Peck purchased the present work when he was 81 years old.  "I have been looking at his work for years," wrote Peck in a letter to a friend.  "Now, at my age, I see a spirituality and power that I never fully appreciated.  Live and learn."