Friday, January 02, 2009

The Harlequin

Family of Saltimbanques by Pablo Picasso, 1905

I've always been drawn to this picture. I believe the first time I encountered it was in an art history class when I was a freshman in college.

For most of my life, I was never much interested in clowns. My mother-in-law collected them because, she said, they are beings who hide their deep emotions. She was always secretive; her emotions were never on the surface. Mine often are, though I invest a lot of energy in keeping them hidden.

I think I've always loved this painting, not because it portrays clowns, but because the loneliness of all the subjects is so well portrayed. In fact, I would say that the painting reflects my inner life, the sense of separateness from others I have always felt. Even as a small child, I would watch others play rather than participate in the play.

It has been said that Harlequin is the image of Picasso himself. Jung said that artists' who paint themselves in this disguise reveal a subconscious wish to "juggle with everything while remaining aloof and irresponsible."

Artists must have a sort of coolness when they create, a distance that might be taken for aloofness or irresponsibility. A certain objectivity is necessary in order to create a true picture.

This portrait of inner loneliness fascinated Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favorite poets, He asked the owner of Family of Saltimbanques in 1928 if he might live in the same room with the painting. Rilke later revealed that the fifth of his Duino Elegies was inspired by it:

But tell me, who are they, these acrobats, even a little
more fleeting than we ourselves--so urgently, ever since childhood,
wrong by an (oh, for the sake of whom?)
never-contented will? That keeps on wringing them,
bending them, slinging them, swinging them,
throwing them and catching them back; as though from an oily
smoother air, they come down on the threadbare
carpet, thinned by their everlasting
upspringing, this carpet forlornly
lost in the cosmos.


ggw07 said...

Note the circus theme including it's dark side explored by the magnificent film director, Federico Fellini in "La Strada," with his talented wife, Giulietta Masina and Anthony Quinn

Light and Voices said...

Rainer Rilke is one of my favorite poets too.



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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

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