The Harlequin is one of the most emblematic paintings of the Museu Picasso, a painting that that shouldn’t be missing from any anthology of the permanent collection. Apart from its importance within the group of the most outstanding works of the museum, the painting is important for us because it was the first gift that Picasso donated to the Art Museums of Barcelona, the city where he was formed and became consolidated as an artist. The museum is now celebrating the centenary of that pioneering donation in 1919. Picasso had produced the painting two years before in Barcelona, during his stay between June and November 1917, on the occasion of the performance in the Teatre del Liceu of the ballet Parade with the company of the Russian ballet of Serguei Diàghilev. The painter had designed the costumes and the stage curtain of the show, and accompanied the company on their tour, already falling in love with the person who would become his first wife, the dancer Olga Khokhlova.
Pablo Picasso. Harlequin (Leonide Massine). Barcelona, 1917. Oil on canvas. 116 x 90 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Aportació de l’Ajuntament de Barcelona, 1963. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 10.941
Precisely the young blonde with a melancholy pose in a suit of blue, green and salmon pink who was the model for The Harlequin, was the choreographer and lead dancer of the company of Diaghilev, Léonide Massine, who had become a good friend of Picasso in Rome. The sketches for the work and the major similarity with the face of the Muscovite dancer corroborate this, even though Josep Palau i Fabre assured that Picasso rejected the fact that the painting was a portrait of Massine.
Estudi preliminar de l’obra. Pablo Picasso. Harlequin’s head (Léonide Massine). Barcelona, (juny-juliol del 1917). Gouache on cardboard. 30,4 x 22,7 cm. .Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Donació Pablo Picasso, 1970. MPB 110.231. Fotografia, Gasull Fotografia
The iconography of the Harlequin, one of the archetypal characters of the Commedia dell’Arte, was already recurring in Picasso’s work, above all during the Rose Period. Picasso did this portrait in a figurative style, almost touching on academicism, in a moment in which the artist combined cubist works with other more classical ones. The Barcelona Harlequin, on the other hand, adapted perfectly to the predominant artistic tastes in Barcelona in the moment of its execution. The painting was incorporated in the museum from the moment of its opening in 1963, given that Picasso’s works that already belonged to the municipal museums were included in its collection.
The museum is celebrating the centenary of Picasso’s donation with various activities. We have held a roundtable exploring the evolution of the figure of the Harlequin in Picasso’s work on 14th May, with the participation of Malén Gual, conservator of the museum’s collection; Vicent Llorca, director of the magazine Zirkòlika; Raffaele de Ritis, specialist in circus and the Commedia dell’Arte; and Ferruccio Soleri, Harlequin actor in the Teatro Piccolo of Milan from 1959 to 2017; moderated by the director of the museum, Emmanuel Guigon.
Also throughout this week, on the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th, as well as on 18th May, coinciding with the International Museum day, the museum’s public will encounter characters from the Commedia dell’Arte in the rooms of the permanent collection and on the ground floor, as well as from the circus carrying out acrobatics, dances, juggling and puppets. The artists invited include Circ Xic, Aurora Caja, Zero en Conducta, Dídac Cano, Kari Panska and the Russian dancers from Shansa.
The celebration will come to a close throughout the Sunday morning of 19th May in the plaça Sabartés (with free access) with activities for the whole family with various circus workshops given by the Papallona Circus, mask workshops by Anna Chwaliszewska, a drawing workshop given by Anna Tamayo and a costume workshop by Sansha. You will also be able to see a show at midday in which diverse characters from the Commedia dell’Arte such as the Harlequin, the Colombina and the Pierrot and other circus characters will do their own thing in the square.
Written by the museum