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  HARLEQUINS РУ DE EN

In Pougny's painting, only the painting itself matters - the colour masses and their composition. The plot, motif plays an exclusively auxiliary role.
In 1912, having returned from Paris and joined the "Union of Youth", 22-year-old Pougny was aware of all the latest trends, including the tendency to emancipate painting from the role of copying what was seen, which at that time photography was already coping well with. He thought a lot about art and in 1915 at the exhibition "0,10" quite consciously supported Malevich with the propaganda of suprematism. It seemed that the root of painting had been found. Nevertheless, in 1921 Pougny drew a line under his suprematist experiments, left the non-objectiveness and returned to figurative painting. Actually, he never completely abandoned it, especially in his ink drawings. Figurativeness meant for him a tie to life, pure suprematism seemed to him too dry, and therefore unpromising. Malevich would also return to figurative painting, but later - in 1928.

In 1929, masks appeared for the first time in Pougny's small still lifes, sparingly composed of a few objects. There are two kinds of them: a voluminous white mask for the whole face and a simple black "figure eight". In 1929-30 he made at least five still lifes with masks. At the turn of 1931-1932 Pougny drew his first harlequin, hidden under a mask - with a mandolin, in a headdress similar to a triangle. A couple of years later, the Harlequin at the easel and the Harlequin with brushes and palette would follow. These characters bear distinct features of ersatz self-portraits; he did not make a single ordinary self-portrait after his departure from Russia in 1920. In 1933-1936 Pougny creates five horizontal still lifes with a set of different masks - human, animal and devilish. Then follows a break, and only seven years later - in 1943-1944 the artist again turns to this motif. He makes several images of harlequins in a mask - breasted and full-length. From then on, he painted them every year until his death (1956), so that the harlequins became his trademark (he made at least 70 of them in total). At first he varies the shape and colour of the mask: white - red - black, sometimes chequered. Most of the harlequins hold a cigarette or a white pipe in their mouths - like Pougny himself, an inveterate smoker. After 1943, Pougny's painting style stabilises and he paints harlequins regularly, with pictorial ideas going round and round in circles, repeating themselves. Perhaps the artist simply rests his soul, turning to this subject from time to time. In some harlequins the mask merges with the face, the border is indistinguishable. Others have one mask on their face and another mask at the ready in their hand. In others the mask is simply marked with a black stripe, as if the eyes were blotted out by censorship. If the harlequin has taken off his mask, he necessarily sits with his back to the spectator.

All of Pougny's narrative is only an occasion or a seasoning for painting. But it seems that in harlequins with mask the plot is more than just an excuse to arrange the colours on the canvas. Pougny was a withdrawn man, had no close friends, although he kept himself with others exceptionally friendly and correct. "Kind, modest and quiet boy. Truthful, but little frank" - wrote about 13-year-old Ivan his tutor in the Cadet Corps.
Pougny made his last two harlequin paintings in the last year of his life. The lifeless masked hero hangs head down from a chair, slumped on his back. The author's title of the composition is "Arlequin Crève". One of these two works, with severe craquelure, was acquired by Pougny's friend and publisher of his catalogue raisonné Günther Wasmuth from Tübingen. The other was inherited by Xana's carer Marguerite Sadeler, after which the painting went under the hammer.

1929-1930. Still Life with Mask. Oil, canvas. 27 х 35 cm. State Russian Museum, inv. ЖС-1304 1933-1934. Mask and Palette. Oil, canvas. 27 х 34,5 cm 1931-1932. Harlequin with Mandolin. Oil, canvas. 65 х 49,5 cm 1934. Harlequin. Oil, canvas. 46 х 38 cm
1944. Harlequin in a Red Mask. Oil, canvas. 40 х 24 cm 1944. Polichinel with Pipe. Oil, canvas. 21 х 22 cm 1944-1945. Harlequin Head. Oil, canvas. 23 х 26 cm 1946-1947. Harlequin in a Black and Red Mask. Oil, canvas. 22,5 х 22 cm
1948. Harlequin with Violin. Oil, canvas. 36 х 20 cm 1951. Reading Harlequin. Oil, canvas. 19 х 14 cm 1955-1956. Dead Harlequin. Oil, canvas. 37 х 28 cm 1955. Dead Harlequin. Oil, canvas. 43,5 х 32,5 cm