John Austen’s Harlequin


The familiar characters of the Commedia dell’arte—Harlequin, Columbine, Pierrot et al—are depicted here by British illustrator John Austen for The Adventures of Harlequin (1923), a prose recounting by Francis Bickley of events in the life of the trickster character. Or a life… Since Harlequin has only ever been a theatrical archetype Bickley has to employ considerable invention to flesh out the details. The enterprise may be a questionable one but I’m always happy to see another book illustrated by Austen, especially when so many of his illustrated editions remain difficult to find. A Pierrot figure appeared in the first of these, The Little Ape and Other Stories, at a time when Austen’s drawing style was closer to Harry Clarke in its use of decorative detail. His style continued to evolve throughout the 1920s. Here it’s closer to George Barbier, the French artist who drew his own Commedia dell’arte trio when illustrating Michel Fokine’s Carnaval for a ballet portfolio, Designs on the Dances of Vaslav Nijinsky.











Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Everyman and Other Plays by John Austen
Harry Clarke and others in The Studio
John Austen’s Tales of Passed Times
John Austen’s Little Ape
John Austen’s Hamlet
The art of John Austen, 1886–1948

4 thoughts on “John Austen’s Harlequin”

  1. A short autobio bit by JA here

    Also found this bit on Alan Odle on Chris Beetles site noting
    >He also exhibited with Harry Clarke, Austin Osman Spare and John Austen at the St George’s Gallery in 1925.

    THAT is one exhibition a Tardis would be worth having for. Right now I’s settle for a link to an catalogue of that date…
    Just another Rogue in Porcelain aka

  2. Thanks so much for the exhibition link!
    *goes into past Feuilletons*
    As you posted these pix already in…2015 *and I responded to them*
    >Checked and re-checked one of my Nicola Bowe books on Clarke; there was a fourth artist in THIS 1925 exhibit that The Studio does not mention: Austin Osman Spare! Unless he was slated to show with them and eventually did not & that is the information that Bowe goes by…
    to which You reply
    >Ah, yes, Spare… Phil Baker’s excellent biography quotes reviews of Spare from The Studio, I’ll have to see if I can find them.

    I’ll check that Baker bio meself when I get home
    (hopefully NOT SEVEN YEARS HENCE)
    *slaps forehead*

  3. Hmm…can’t remember now if I did go and look for Spare in The Studio. I now have those issues downloaded so they’re a little easier to look through.

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