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Harlequin with his hands crossed (Jacinto Salvado), 1923

Harlequin with his hands crossed (Jacinto Salvado), 1923


“Harlequin with his hands crossed,” featured above, could well be Picasso’s finest Harlequin. He is not wearing his lozenges. In fact, the colours have bled. Nor is there a mask, except a reminder. Harlequin’s brow is floured.

In the Harlequin featured to the left, no mask is suggested, but the lines are somewhat thicker, barely. The painting is also dated 1923. These two depictions of the Harlequin therefore follow the production of Stravinsky‘s Pulcinella, first performed in 1920. Both characters are zanni, or servants, but Harlequin is the smarter zanno. Picasso’s depictions of Harlequin do not show a theatrical Harlequin. Picasso’s Harlequins are off-stage and the artist’s depictions are portraits of distinguished individuals. It is difficult to associate these Picasso Harlequins with British very comical Harlequinades.

Harlequin as motif: A Family Harlequin

Harlequin is a significant motif in Picasso’s work where he is sometimes pictured with his family. He is also an element of Picasso’s “Mother and Child” motif. In other depictions of Harlequin, a male adult may accompany a child. Picasso also portrayed Harlequin on his death bed.


Picasso was versatile where his techniques are concerned: oil, gouache, watercolours, india ink. Each technique conveys a meaning to the artwork.


The Commedia dell’arte zanni are very smart. They may have a love interest. For instance Arlequin loves Columbine who is also Pedrolino’s love interest. But their main function is to help the innamorati overcome obstacles to their marriage. This requires not only physical agility, but a cunning mind. Zanni have to devise stratagems.


Picasso’s Harlequins dress a little differently from earlier Harlequins. They often wear a collapsed ruff, mixing Pierrot and Harlequin characteristics. This cross-dressing adds piquancy to Picasso’s art. At times, Arlecchino can only be distinguished by his fallen ruff and slender figure.

A World View

In short, a world view is expressed in Picasso’s Harlequins. His Harlequins are consistent with one another. Picasso’s Harlequins do not cry. But they are very human, not marionettes. And they have a family.


I am offering a very small sampling of Picasso’s Harlequins, but they are true representatives of Picasso’s Harlequins. By clicking on the titles of the various artwork, you will be provided with technical details.


Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka (Ballets Russes; 1910-11) shows a somewhat clownish Harlequin-like figure, but it is not Harlequin. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, writers, artists, composers found inspiration in their country’s folklore, which very often was shared by other nations and cultures.

Ballets Russes

Igor Stravinsky and Pablo Picasso were both commissioned to create ballets for Sergei Diaghilev using their respective talents. Picasso drew a number of costumes and designed sets. Both worked on the production of Pulcinella (Polichinelle; Ballets Russes, 1920). It was a Golden Age.

As for Picasso, he found much of his inspiration in the commedia dell’arte and in particular, in the Harlequin.

This is a humble offering.

My kindest regards to all of you.

Jorge Donn (25 February 1947 – 30 November 1992)


© Micheline Walker
3 July 2014