The New Harlequin Game
By the mid-19th century, commedia dell'Arte characters were recast by Romantic novelists and poets—including Charles Baudelaire, Gustave Flaubert, and Georges Sand—to express tragic sentimentality and disillusionment. At the same time, the most popular characters in France—the coquettish Columbine, the melancholy Pierrot, and the trickster Harlequin—increasingly appeared in vaudeville theaters, street pantomimes, the circus, and other crowd-pleasing, lowbrow entertainments, such as the dice game featured here. In The New Harlequin Game, the players roll against the mischievous, untrustworthy Harlequin, whose sack claims their money if they roll the number seven. The directions, written in both Flemish and French, conclude, "The last player remaining wins and robs Harlequin of his treasure and furthermore takes all that he finds still on the numbers." The simplified, flat, crudely rendered figures characteristic of inexpensive woodcuts like this one began to appeal to avant-garde painters in the 1850s.
The New Harlequin Game (Het nieuw Arlequin Spel/Le Nouveau jeu d'arlequin), 1800/50. The Art Institute of Chicago.