This work is recorded in the Maurice Garnier Archives.
In the present work, there is a tension between the clown's colorful make-up and his despondent expression. Whilst the attire he adopts during his performance projects an impression of happiness, joy and exuberance, behind this façade the character is clearly enveloped by feelings of despair. Underneath the thick layers of pan-stick and eccentric accessories, the man behind this character, his sorrows and his hardships, remains hidden from public view. This concept has been taken up by a number of contemporary artists in recent years, most notably Zeng Fanzhi, in his celebrated Mask series. Here, the Chinese artist explores the conflict between superficially composed appearances and true identity in the modern world, as he painted numerous types of people wearing blank, expressionless masks that conceal the faces and emotions of the figure portrayed. The present lot depicts the clown Emile who was celebrated in his day, and this depiction of him would form the basis of a lithographic print in 1968.
Bernard Buffet enjoyed a remarkable rise to fame during the 1940s and 50s, quickly gaining an international reputation that would soon rival that of his contemporary, Pablo Picasso. Born in Paris, he enrolled at the city’s École Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts at the age of just fifteen, where his unique artistic talents were soon recognized by his teachers. In the years following the cessation of the Second World War, he became known as one of the most exciting figurative painters in France, a reputation enthusiastically promoted by the writer and art critic Pierre Descargues, who became one of the young artist’s earliest and most ardent supporters. On the occasion of his first solo-exhibition in 1947, the Musée National d’Art Moderne bought one of Buffet’s still life-paintings for its collection, and the following year he was awarded the prestigious Prix de la Critique at the age of just twenty. Buffet’s distinctive style, characterized by stark, angular black outlines, stylized figures and areas of flat color, made him a unique artistic voice in Post- War France, and earned him a place among the elite artistic personalities of the day. This reputation was cemented in 1955 by the art review Connaissance des Arts, when it decreed him the greatest post-war artist in France.
Beginning in 1955, the artist undertook an extensive exploration of the theme of the travelling circus, painting melancholy portraits of clowns, trapeze artists, animal performers and acrobats as they entertained an invisible audience. In these paintings, the mournful expressions of the characters clash with the exaggerated makeup and flamboyant costumes they wore, projecting a contemplative atmosphere that belied the traditional view of the circus as a gleeful, jubilant form of entertainment. Viewed in the context of Post-War Europe, these figures were seen as symbolic reflections of the internal suffering and angst hidden by so many people following the conflict, as they attempted to continue with normal life in the wake of such tragedy.