The Two Saltimbanques (Harlequin and Companion)
1901 by Pablo Picasso
The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow
The French word saltimbanque means performer, as is clear from the dress and painted faces of these two figures. There is often something peculiarly melancholy about portraying performers when they are not performing; characters are made up, dressed as the part, yet their faces give us none of that smile or expression of entertainment that we might expect. They are caught off guard, wistful, normal, countering expectation thus appearing strangely as some sort of cause for concern. Here, painted faces are heavy in supporting hands; distracted, the Harlequin unconsciously plays with ear and lip, turning away, while the other stares blankly and unfocused into space. The two are hunched, not necessarily morose, but certainly resigned to their positions. They are huddled, pushed together it seems round the circular table; they are mirror images, all elbows and forearms, yet seem completely disregarding of one another. However, this disregard is not necessarily hostile, it is the ease of comfortable indifference, the comfort of many glasses of wine in the same company. This in itself perhaps lends itself to the quiet and understated atmosphere of the painting, sadness perhaps but also possible boredom or simple absorption in thought. Picasso’s characteristic abstraction of face and figure, though not obvious, is visible behind this early portrayal; the figures are like cut outs, outlined and concentrated on. They juxtapose the painterly wine glasses in approach, stylistically and appropriately absorbing our attention.