This is the first of several works in which Beckmann explored the theme of carnival, traditionally a cause for celebration, which the artist instead turns into an exploration of the isolation and loneliness of the human condition.

The picture was painted in Frankfurt, where Beckmann had been living in exile from his family after suffering a complete mental and physical collapse in 1915 while working in the army medical corps. The Harlequin is a depiction of Beckmann's art dealer, Israel Ber Neumann; Pierrot is his friend's wife and Beckmann himself appears masked and dressed as a clown lying at their feet. The spiky shapes, claustrophobic setting and acidic colouring reveal Beckmann's debt to Gothic art. However the mood of soullessness and spiritual dereliction is his own and even a trumpet or candle appears like a menacing object of torture in this work.


First owned by Beckmann's art dealer, Israel Ber Neumann; private collection circa 1925; Galerie Axel Vomel, Dusseldorf by 1938; Gunther Franke, Munich, 1938; Klaus Hegewisch, Hamburg, 1971.

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