Lot 63
  • 63

Pablo Picasso

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
5,989,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Pablo Picasso
  • Bouffon et jeune acrobate
  • Signed Picasso (lower right)
  • Gouache and charcoal on paper
  • 23 3/4 by 18 3/4 in.
  • 58.2 by 47.5 cm.


Princess Mechtilde Lichnowsky, London (by 1927)

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


Berlin, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Pablo Picasso, 1927

New York, Jacques Seligmann & Co., Pablo Picasso Blue and Rose Periods 1901-1906, 1936, no. 23, illustrated in the catalogue


Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. I, Paris, 1967, no. 284, illustrated pl. 122 (catalogued with incorrect dimensions)

Pierre Daix & Georges Boudaille, Picasso, The Blue and Rose Periods: A Catalogue Raisonné 1900-1906, London, 1967, no. XII. 28, illustrated p. 265

Paolo Lecaldano, The Complete Paintings of Picasso: Blue and Rose Periods, London, 1971, no. 186, illustrated

Lorraine Lévy, Picasso, London, 1991, no. 25, illustrated p. 149

Catalogue Note

Bouffon et jeune acrobate is a vivid and rare example from the artist's beloved Rose Period. The work acknowledges Picasso's roots in Symbolism and the psychological resonance of his early portraiture, even as it looks forward to the increasing formal revolutions that would follow. Though Picasso had depicted some of his cast of circus characters as early as 1901, it was not until 1904 - by which time he had moved permanently to Paris - that the circus and its motley troupe became the central theme in his work. The world of the circus provided fertile ground for Picasso’s Symbolist concerns that had given rise to the preceding Blue Period works. Once he became more established in the art-scene of Montmartre, the circus continued to inspire him and he made weekly visits from his studio in the Bateau Lavoir to the nearby Cirque Médrano. Picasso celebrated the dichotomy between the effusive on-stage personae of these performers and the struggles of their personal lives. 

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.