The clown can be seen as a representation of the human condition: an expression of our emotional lives facing whatever we are facing. 

Clowns seem to have faded over the past several decades. They became a faint simulacrum of what they are.





Send In the Clowns, a Stephen Sondheim song for A Little Night Music, 1973, recorded in 1973 by Frank Sinatra.


In this song, the clowns refer to us in our foolish mode even if they represent us in almost every mode that we are.


When Covid-19 began its invasion, clowns re-emerged from the margins.  They seem to me to be circulating among us again.


Send in the clowns, the songster sings. Don’t bother, my dear:  they are here.


They have accompanied us for millennia in different disguises and their persistence I find a reason for optimism. I was afraid of the clown and loved him and sympathized with him when I was a child.

Same now.



Bring Down the Curtain, the Farce is Over, from La Caricature, September 1834, lithograph. 

Honore Daumier, 1808-1878, French. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.  A caricature of King Louis Philippe as he lowers the curtain, wearing greasepaint and a Pierrot costume, on the French Parliament.

Sideshow (Parade):  Pierrot Presents His Companions, Harlequin and Polichinelle to the Crowd, 1846, oil on wood.

Octave Penguilly-L’Haridon, 1811-1879, French.  Loaned by the Musees de Poitiers to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2017

Pierrot and Harlequin, pen and ink and gouache. 

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, Spanish.  ?MOMA, NY

One of many on the this theme by this artist

Harlequin, 1889-90, oil on canvas. 

Paul Cezanne,1839-1906, French.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Fairground Sideshow (Parade), c. 1892, oil on cardboard laid down on parquet board. 

Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947, French. Private collection.

Pierrefort, 1897, colour lithograph. 

Henri-Gabriel Ibels, 1867-1936, French.  Private collection on  loan to the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2017.  Poster made for a print and poster dealer, Pierrefort.



Circus, lithograph printed in 4 colours, no date. 

Henri-Gabriel Ibels, 1867-1936, French.  Exhibited at the Phillips Collection in 2020

Grimaces and Misery-The Saltimbanques, 1888, oil on canvas in five sections.

  Fernand Pelez, 1848-1913, French.  Loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017 by the Petits Palais, Musee de Beaux Art de la Ville de Paris. 

A magnificent painting to point up the misery in which circus performers lived and worked.  The clown is the centerpiece of a line-up of performers.



Seated Harlequin, 1901, oil on canvas, lined and mounted to a sheet of pressed cork. 

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, Spanish.  I don’t recall where I saw this painting, one of several in which the painter explored this character.






At the Lapin Agile, 1905, oil on canvas. 

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, Spanish.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

The museum’s notes say:  a self-portrait of Picasso with his recent lover, Germaine Pinchot, the former lover and obsession of Picasso’s friend, Carles Casagemas who killed himself in 1901. 

Sideshow (Parade), 1907-10, watercolour, oil, ink and pastel on paper, laid down on canvas.

Georges Rouault, 1871-1958, French.  Centre Pompidou loan to the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2017





Clown in Top Hat, 1907, watercolour and gouache on wove paper mounted to paperboard.  Georges Rouault, 1871-1958, French.  Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia





Clown Making Up, 1910, oil on canvas. 

John Sloane, 1871-1951, American.  Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Harlequin, 1919, oil on canvas. 

Andre Derain, 1880-1954, French.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC



Soir Bleu, 1914, oil on canvas, and details below.

Edward Hopper, 1882-1967, American.  Whitney Museum of (North) American Art, NY. 

A tribute by the artist to France which also formed him.


Painting (Fratellini), 1927, oil and aqueous medium on canvas.

Joan Miro,  1893-1983, Spanish. Philadelphia Art Museum. 

A representation in faintly legible motifs of the body of the acrobatic clowns, the Fratellini Brothers, who the artist saw at work in the Paris of the 1920s

Clown with a Black Wig, 1930, oil on canvas.

Walt Kuhn, 1877-1949, American.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Fratellini Clown, 1937-38, oil on canvas. 

Francis Picabia, 1879-1953, French.  Private collection on loan to MOMA, NY in 2017.

Two Clowns, 1940, oil on masonite. 

Walt Kuhn, 1877-1949, American.  Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington

Clown with Folded Arms, 1944, oil on canvas. 

Walt Kuhn, 1877-1949, American.  ?Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

Colored Clown 1958, oil on canvas board. 

Charles Sebree, 1914-1985, American.  Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Philadelphia

Clown, 1959, oil on canvas. 

Kenneth Noland, 1924-2010, American.  ?Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington




Clown and the Mirror, watercolour, unknown date.

  John Lear, 1910-2008, American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Clown Torture, 1987.  Part of a colour video with sound. 

Bruce Nauman, American born 1941.  On  loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum from a private collection in 2018


Just when you think the clown is of little interest to artists,  a young woman decides to investigate the work of clowns.


The Opus of a Clown, 2020; no other details. 

Heather Palmer, Post-Baccalaureate, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art








2 thoughts on “Clown

  1. Such ambiguous characters, clowns and in all their various manifestions; always a sense of ‘otherness’ that is often more disturbing than not. I’m suddenly thinking of Marcel Carne’s marvellous film Les Enfants du Paradis

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tish.

      Yes, ambiguous. But more than we are, I am wondering? I do think they are a kind of archetype of our species in all of our goings on and squirelling about with one exception: I don’t think they are associated with war or fighting of any kind.

      Over the years, they seem to have been made simpler, more party-type animals, ‘fun’. No more parties now and I swear I go out walking and see clowns in passing figures. Of course, so much pain and melancholy about now, too. Sarah

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