In a long life devoted to art, Picasso did not simply evolve from one style to another; rather, basic approaches coexisted. In the midst of portraying fantastic specters of the subconscious, he could turn aside and paint a realistic picture which in grace and sensibility neither Ingres nor Raphael could have excelled.
From the beginning, when Picasso first felt the attraction of circus people, they and their mute rites haunted his work. The Harlequin, in particular, was used often as a pictorial character to express the artist's thoughts, to be somehow an embodiment of himself.
Around 1923 Picasso produced a series of Harlequins for which a friend, the Catalan painter Jacinto Salvado, posed. Reprinted here is the grandest, most meditative of Picasso's Harlequins. The clasped hands and masklike face of the melancholy, motionless figure intensify the haunting sadness of the eyes.
Shades of terra-cotta red, rose, blue, and ocher in a transparent net of colors are heavily underscored with black lines, some curved, some straight. Their opposition builds up volume, especially in areas strategically bleached by the light.
As ever, Picasso cherished the line for itself. Ease of drawing was to him a gift that had been heightened by early training. Never hesitating, his hand moved as swiftly, surely, and naturally as a bird flies. Fluid, musical, variegated, it is the line that gives the sense of vitality to the painting.
This Harlequin is now at the Museum of Art in Basel, Switzerland, purchased by popular subscription, an occurrence that pleased Picasso so much he donated five more works to the museum.
One of Picasso's remarks is a precept for all of us: ''My old work no longer interests me. I am more curious about those I have not yet done.''