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Auction Name: 2021 November 5 American Art Signature® Auction
Lot Number: 67204
Shortcut to Lot: HA.com/8058-67204
Romare Howard Bearden (American, 1911-1988)Harlequin
, Circa 1956
Various papers with paint, ink, and pencil on paper
24-1/2 x 17-1/2 inches (62.2 x 44.5 cm) (sheet)
Signed lower right: Romare Bearden
Halima Taha and Frank Stewart, New York, gift from the above;
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, "The Art of Romare Bearden," September 14-January 4, 2004, no. 16;
ACA Galleries, New York, n.d.;
Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, North Carolina, n.d.
National Gallery of Art, The Art of Romare Bearden
, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2004, no. 16.
Romare Bearden was one of America's great artistic innovators, blazing his own trail in a time of turbulent cultural changes. While his work offers an invaluable view of mid-twentieth-century Black experience, it has also come to occupy a significant place in the wider history of American art. Although he began his artistic career as a social realist, his studies in Europe steered his work in a more abstract and improvisational direction. During this period, Bearden engaged in intense study of the art historical tradition, assimilating themes and, at times, compositional structures of past works.
For Bearden, the medium of collage, which he adopted in the early 1960s, provided the means to this end. Each piece brings together a vast array of materials, patterns, and colors, synthesizing all into an elegant whole. Bearden's intellectual frame of reference is similarly broad and encompasses everything from popular culture, to religion, to classical myth. In both design and spirit, his work celebrates the diversity of the human community. Harlequin
, from 1956, is one of Bearden's earliest known collages, marking a pivotal watershed moment in the artist's career. The work is an amalgamation of all that Bearden absorbed artistically, both at home and abroad, encapsulating Bearden's talent for taking traditional artistic subject matter and refining it into a brand of modernism that is uniquely his own. According to scholar Ruth Fine: "In 1963-64, during a period of extraordinary political ferment in the United States, indeed in the world, Bearden, at age fifty-one, simultaneously made the two most dramatic changes to his work of his career. He returned to figuration, and he shifted from a painting-based art to a collage-based practice. It seems reasonable to speculate that viewing old master paintings in France, Italy, and Switzerland during a 1961 trip with [his wife] Nanette may have inspired Bearden to reconsider working figuratively. His move toward collage is less readily pinpointed.
"In the 1940s collage had been explored by many New York artists, including William de Kooning and Robert Motherwell; the latter was in the Kootz Gallery stable with Bearden. Moreover in 1951 Motherwell edited The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, which highlights collage and which Bearden likely would have known. Also of note, in October 1961, just two years before Bearden began his landmark work in collage, MoMa mounted The Art of Assemblage, an exhibition of 252 pieces including Dubuffet's Portrait of a Man, 1957, made of butterfly wings and watercolor, collages by [George] Grosz and [Hannah] Höch that incorporate magazine advertisements and halftone illustrations respectively, in Motherwell's in Grey with Parasol, dating to the Kootz Gallery years, and thirty-five works by Kurt Schwitters. The show would not have gone unnoticed by Bearden.
"Bearden was working in collage by the time this exhibition took place, however, so its function would have been a supportive rather than an inspirational one. Assuming Harlequin
is accurately dated to about 1956 (which seems likely based on formal relationships to A Walk in Paradise Gardens), it is the earliest of his collages we have seen. A dynamic and colorful image that subtly suggests the title figure, Harlequin
is composed of an array of papers: fragments from one of Bearden's watercolors or drawings from the late 1940s, identifiable by the webs of black calligraphic lines; colored construction paper of the sort children still use in art class (and which was employed by many abstract painters, including [Jackson] Pollock and [Mark] Rothko); and a medium-weight, relatively smooth, creamy-white sheet. To this paper substructure Bearden added details in paint, ink, graphite. Harlequin's vigorous facture is consistent with contemporaneous abstract expressionist methods and its motif reminiscent both of Picasso's paintings from the early part of the century and the circus pictures by American artists as diverse as Walt Kuhn and John Marin. Indeed, Bearden's own attention to the subject may be tracked back to Mad Carousel dating to 1946, the year Samuel M. Kootz mounted an exhibition entitled The Big Top.
"Distinctive in its combination of subject and process within Bearden's oeuvre, Harlequin
beautifully conflates his multiple concerns at this pivotal moment. Other circus-inspired collages dated to 1961, such as Circus (Circus: The Artist's Center Ring) presumably were part of or related to Bearden's Cordier & Warren exhibition of that year. Very different in facture from Harlequin
, their spare compositions lack painterly expressionism and suggest Bearden's admiration for Matisse's radical 'cut-outs' (as his collages dating from the 1930s through the early 1950s are called), as well as the glorious 1947 pochoir book, Jazz, which subject undoubtedly would have attracted the younger artist. Whether or not the circa 1956 date is accurate for Harlequin
, firmly dated works such as Circus: The Artist's Center Ring and Number 9, both dated to 1961, and North of the River of the following year inform us without question that collage played a role in Bearden's art before his revolutionary works of 1963-64." ("Romare Bearden: The Spaces Between," The Art of Romare Bearden, Washington, D.C., 2003, pp. 27-8)
Floated and framed under acrylic. Buckling throughout the sheet. 2 inch hard crease in the lower left corner. 1 inch hard crease in the upper right corner. Mild skinning to the sheet verso, from previous framing. White residue in the extreme corners, visible verso. Scattered water stains verso, not visible recto. 1/4 inch burn hole in the center of the sheet.
Framed Dimensions 33 X 25.5 Inches
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