This famous painting at the Musée de l'Orangerie was an order André Derain received from Paul Guillaume. Derain chose to depict two characters from the Italian theatre known as the Commedia dell’Arte: Harlequin in his colourful chequered costume and bicorn hat, and Pierrot in his white frock with ruff, head covered by a black calotte. Amongst the painters, Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) had already taken an interest in this theme of saltimbanques that had been popular since the 16th century.
Nonetheless, Derain created an original work: Harlequin and Pierrot, with one knee raised and both playing the guitar, appear against a neutral background in a never-ending dance like marionettes or puppets. Their gazes do not meet and they have serious expressions on their faces. Therefore the painting is suffused with a certain melancholy quality. Derain prepared for this work by making several preliminary drawings. He also paid close attention to the small still life in the bottom right of the painting that anchors the composition. The figure of Pierrot was finally recognised as a portrait of Paul Guillaume.
This painting appeared several times during the lifetime of its sponsor. It can be seen in a photograph of his flat on Avenue de Messine. Derain alluded to this painting in the background of a portrait of Domenica Guillaume that he painted between 1928-1929 and that is conserved at the Musée de l'Orangerie.
Provenance: Paul Guillaume; Domenica Walter