When Harpo shows off this painting in his book, he says that it was part of “[his] my do-it-yourself” collection. A lot can be taken from this little sentence. This was Harpo’s painting. He made it for himself. Harpo found great pleasure in painting, and so he did it for his own enjoyment.
Harpo never expected success in painting, nor did he want it. His paintings were merely for his own delight, and he didn’t need another soul to ever look at them. Harpo didn’t paint because he thought he was going to be the next big artist with a great, amazing masterpiece. Rather, he found painting to be a wonderful release. He enjoyed doing it. And as we’ve already seen, that’s the only reason Harpo need to do anything.
The painting is of a red-headed clown, so it is only fair to assume that this is Harpo’s attempt at self portrait. Though this clown does not look like an ordinary clown. It looks like the clown is feeling sad, which is a side of clowns that audiences rarely, if ever, get to see. This is not to say that Harpo was feeling saddened by life, it rather shows that there was a serious side to Harpo that audiences rarely saw. Harpo was a sensitive person, and people who knew him in real life were aware of this. Even audiences who watched him perform could sense it. When somebody has as big of a soul as Harpo did, it is near impossible not to feel it.
But nevertheless, Harpo saw himself as a clown. That was who he was. Childlike and whimsical, Harpo Marx was a big clown to all. Harpo wasn’t an ordinary clown though, and he knew this. He was so much more. This painting is his attempt at saying that.