One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) set the tone for modern and contemporary art as we know it. He is remembered most for cofounding Cubism with fellow artist Georges Braque. A master of all mediums and forms of expression—from painting to drawing, prints, collage, sculpture, ceramics, and theatre design—his prolific career spanned his entire life. A genius of painting, Picasso’s works are featured in the new publication, The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings.
Seated Harlequin (1901) falls into Picasso’s Blue Period. One of six café scenes Picasso painted in Paris at the age of 21, the work shows the influence of Degas, Manet, Van Gogh, and Lautrec’s paintings on the subject. Picasso’s own interpretation features the melancholy clown Pierrot from the Italian commedia dell’arte. Pierrot is often portrayed in a state of grieving, having lost his love Columbine to the character Harlequin. Painted in somber tones of blue, Picasso’s Pierrot most likely represents his friend Carles Casagemas, who had at the time recently committed suicide. The characteristic costume of Pierrot, with his painted white face and ruff, were later additions. The wallpaper plays tribute to Van Gogh’s La Bercuse. Seated Harlequin (1901) is available in both a print and poster at store.metmuseum.org.
Van Gogh’s portrait of Augustine Roulin, titled La Berceuse, was painted in 1889. Picasso’s dealer in Paris, Ambroise Vollard, had acquired this painting and its influence can be seen in Seated Harlequin.
Following his Blue Period, Picasso transitioned into a Rose Period, in which his work warmed in color and further utilized themes of clowns and circuses. Continuing the story of the Italian commedia dell’arte, Picasso’s 1905 work At the Lapin Agile features Picasso himself as the character Harlequin. It is no coincidence that he cast himself in this role. Seated next to him is his recent lover Germaine Pichot, who was the unrequited obsession of his late friend Carles Casagemas. The handling of her face is possibly influenced by the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec, seen around Paris at the time. Pictured in the background playing the guitar is the patron of the painting and owner of the Montmartre cabaret, Le Lapin Agile.
Henri de Toulouse Lautrec’s graphic lithograph, Divan Japonais, 1892–93, very likely resonated with Picasso when he painted Germaine Pichot.
Discover more of Picasso’s works in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings.
The lead image is Reading at a Table by Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973) 1934, oil on canvas from The Met collection.