Moreland says of Norman Chandler, “The great artists have always decided beforehand what form looks are to take in the world, and Norman is pure Picasso — one of those attenuated, androgynous mountebanks of the Blue Period, who haven’t had a meal for weeks.” [CCR 55/52-53] Earlier, Mr. Deacon had introduced him to Moreland and said, “This lad would have made a charming Harlequin.” [CCR 21/13-14]
Powell may have synthesized Norman Chandler from various dancers and actors like Billy Chappell, Frederick Ashton, and Robert Helpmann, all of whom could claim the undernourished appearance. Similarly, the image that Moreland conjures recalls more than one Picasso painting.
During his Blue Period (1901-1905) Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) often painted those on the edges of society. He had a great love of circuses and portrayed clowns, acrobats (saltimbanques), and other performers, including a number of versions of harlequin. The harlequin above from the Blue Period, his sad, thoughtful expression contrasting with his clown’s costume, catches the androgynous charm that Moreland and Deacon saw. The Old Guitarist is a more striking example of the attenuated, malnourished look.
By 1905, Picasso was transforming from his sad blues to the brighter Rose Period. The harlequin, standing at the bar of the Lapin Agile, is a self portrait. The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History provides an explication of the other characters.
Later in life Picasso reputedly said, “But when I am alone, I do not have the effrontery to consider myself an artist at all, not in the grand old meaning of the word: Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya were great painters. I am only a public clown–a mountebank.” The Italian author Giovanni Papini claimed that Picasso told him this in an interview in 1951; however, Picasso did not actually call himself a mountebank. The flamboyant deceiver was Papini; the interview never occurred.