Enter Harlequin


I am noticing diamond patterned decorative pillows, one here, one there, and they seem to hold trend-importance.  Their underlying inspiration has touched painters, filmmakers, writers and sculptors within the decorative arts. The colours being employed are also turning my attention to that same cultural design source, in a word, Harlequin.

Cotton pillow from Littlephant, original edition www.agathachristie.com/characters/harley-quin

Harlequin, according to Agatha Christie, is an immortal who appears and vanishes, and when he appears in her stories, her personal favourites, he assists in preventing death. Christie’s Harley Quin shows up at key moments in the life of Mr. Satterthwaite, a sophisticated society gentleman with exceptional perceptive abilities. Quin offers a key idea that will help him find the source of impending danger in the events about to unfold. “The Mysterious Mister Quin” and “The Harlequin Tea Set” are delightful tales with a shimmer of the supernatural.

Derby Porcelain Harlequin wearing hat 1770-80, Gardiner Museum, velvet pillows The Little Top

Harlequin originates in the beloved travelling theatre troupes of the 1700’s known as Commedia Dell’arte. Their bright costumes and exaggerated archetypal characters were preserved in porcelain figures, notably those from the Meissen workshops. Our own Gardiner Museum, just south of Bloor Street on Queen’s Park Circle, has an extensive collection of this prized chapter in the history of the decorative arts.

Meissen Harlequin Ancien 1744 courtesy Gardiner Museum, meadowblu.com,  Harlequin pillow

Agatha Christie also shares her enthusiasm for the finer things through Hercule Poirot, the famous detective. Poirot is a great admirer of the Commedia dell’arte porcelains. In ‘The Affair of the Victory Ball’ the six players involved in the murder are costumed to match a set of the porcelain figures. Poirot expands on the personalities of the characters as the story unfolds.

Wenzel Neu Pierrot 1764, geodesic harlequine abstraction from meadowblu.com

Each character of the comedy troupe has a distinct costume. Harlequin’s has diamonds. Pierrot is usually dressed in an un-patterned white tunic with giant pompom buttons. This Meissen Pierrot is tinted a linden green shade, an interior design colour to watch. Further to design, some Commedia inspired pillows are geared for children’s rooms. Others enjoy the sophistication of silk velvet and subtle abstractions that the aesthetic Mr. Satterthwaite would appreciate.

Jumbo Pompom Fringe courtesy Samuel and Sons, Les Enfants Du Paradis 1934

Oddly enough, pom poms are appearing as interior design details of late, giant ones like Pierrot’s. Samuel and Sons has a magnificent jumbo pompom trim. They feature it in a white on white setting that references lovelorn Pierrot, up to his neck ruff in the ruffled pillow trim.

Room from Samuelandsons.com, Pierrot courtesy Gardiner Museum

A lounge setting from Samuel and Sons is more livable than theatrical, yet the cushion incorporates diamonds from Harlequin and border bands from Pierrot, like this classic white, charmingly restrained costume, from the Gardiner collection.

Meissen 1750 Putto in Harlequin Costume,
Gift of George and Helen Gardiner

The colours favored for Harlequin and Pierrot costumes are showing up in the new living room colour schemes, an important clue to the next post.

View Comments (2)
  • I love the sense of whimsy that the harlequin patterns and figurines conjure up! Just what we need to move us forward into Spring. The large pom pom fringe is so appealing, so fun yet sophisticated and rich. We could all use a little fun, fantasy and whimsy right now. Thank you, Lois!

    • I just noticed that Prada agrees with the importance of this graphic theme. Their spring collection is based around a harlequin pattern, so they agree with you on the season!

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