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Three Musicians

1921
Pablo Ruiz y Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)

Pablo Picasso had a large ambition for this monumental canvas: to look back at and say farewell to a key period in his own career, when he pioneered the transformative style known as Cubism. The composition is pieced together from paper-thin and angular planes that fit together only inconsistently to generate eye-fooling ambiguities. It is forcefully modern in style.


The subject, however, looks to the past. A three-man band sits at a table in a shallow, stage-like interior. The violinist wears the costume of the trickster Harlequin, and the figure in white with a clarinet or recorder is the melancholy Pierrot—both from the tradition of popular, improvisational theater in Europe. The third figure wears the costume of a monk and plays the accordion. These figures relate to costume designs made by Picasso for the Ballets Russes dance company’s 1920 production of Pulcinella, a modern ballet based on a scenario from an Italian manuscript of 1700.

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Object Details

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