GEORGE MARINKO (1908–1987)
Harlequin’s Holiday, about 1940–42
Oil on canvas board, 8 x 10 in.
Signed and inscribed (at lower right): MARINKO; (in pencil, on the back): HARLEQUIN’S HOLIDAY
RECORDED: “Triple Exhibition of Chinese, Russian Painting, Home Front Art Will Open Saturday in Local Museum,” The Abilene Reporter–News, April 12, 1945, p. 10
EXHIBITED: Abilene Museum of Arts, Texas, April 1945, Art for the Home Front
Harlequin’s Holiday unites a trio of Marinko’s favorite preoccupations: landscape, clown imagery, and surrealist elements. The painting shares a palette and a similar landscape with Reconstruction, an oil painting that Marinko exhibited at the Whitney Museum in 1940 and again at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1944, while he was still in the Army. That suggests a date for Harlequin’s Holiday of about 1940–42, just before the artist entered military service. After the war, Marinko made a specialty of landscape paintings in a realist style without the notable surrealism of his 1930s work. In Harlequin’s Holiday the surrealist elements are present but incorporated into a realist landscape. Thus, they are not as immediately apparent as in some of Marinko’s earlier work, for example, Sentimental Aspects of Misfortune (Wadsworth Atheneum). Still, a closer look reveals a number of the kind of “incongruities” that mark Marenko’s work. The left foreground tree hovers in the air, its lower trunk cut in two places with steam coming out of a knothole above. Steam also escapes from two pipes that border the right side of the harlequin’s path as well as from a tree in the near distance. The path itself is fractured and cracked, as if subjected to a small earthquake. The landscape composition contains a series of small dissonances that combine with other details to create a mood of foreboding. A black bird, perhaps a raven or a crow, sits on a signpost in the left foreground. Further along the path, on the left side on a small rise is what appears to be a collection of randomly placed tombstones. The largest of these has a shape that echoes the shape of the harlequin’s hat. The Harlequin himself, outlined in a white fuzzy aura, seems apprehensive as he sets out on his journey. He looks behind as if to assess who or what might be following him.
George Marinko found an enduring fascination in clowns. Sometimes he rendered them realistically; sometimes he explored the angular geometries of stylized masks and pointed hats. The Harlequin is a folk character with obscure origins in the Middle Ages It took modern form in sixteenth-century Italian commedia dell’arte, was adapted by Moliere in France, and became a staple of Victorian 19th-century popular English theater as pantomime and then Christmas pageantry. The character of Harlequin is traditionally a sly, nimble-footed trickster, sometimes the servant of a gentleman. He is customarily dressed in a colorful diamond-checkered outfit wearing a black mask. Harlequin was sometimes paired with Clown, the two of them competing for the same romantic partner. In addition to serving as a staple of the English theater, the character of Harlequin also attracted painters. Depictions of Harlequin or Harlequin with Clown were painted by Cézanne, Matisse, Renoir, and Picasso. A curiosity of Marinko’s harlequin is that he is dressed not as a harlequin, but as a clown. For his “holiday,” he does not wear his distinctive harlequin stage clothes. Instead he wears a white tunic and loose white pants—in short, a clown costume, complete with a tall cylindrical brimless “clown” hat. Is this because he is on “holiday” and not wearing his identifiable work clothes? Or perhaps he is Harlequin as trickster.
Harlequin’s face is a mask. And all the theatrical and fine arts history notwithstanding, it is highly likely that it was the idea of concealment, of wearing a mask that spoke to George Marinko as he depicted his series of clowns and harlequins. As Marinko took pains to explain, the meaning of his art is located in the intersection of his own subconscious and the perception of the viewer.