This work is recorded in the Maurice Garnier Archives.
Painted in 1961, Clown au chapeau noire fond rouge portrays a tragicomic clown: a figure in a costume stands facing the viewer, engaging us with a melancholic gaze that is at odds with the cheerful character of his attire; the exaggerated make-up on his face contrasts sharply with his forlorn expression. The present work evokes a tradition which had been central to much of the art of the avant-garde. In the first half of the 20th-century, clowns, acrobats, and musicians had become symbolic figures in the works of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Georges Rouault. In those years, the figure of the circus performer was often used as a representation of the marginalized, story-teller figure of the artist himself, evoking the hardships of his vocation, but also the charm and magic of his art, as he conjures new imaginary worlds into existence, immersing the viewer in his narrative web. This work presents the theme of the clown in the unmistakable style of Buffet: the figure is outlined with dramatic black lines, combined with flat areas of vivid color, adding to the picture's charged atmosphere.
Buffet first turned to the subject of clowns and the circus in 1955. Though a seemingly light-hearted and entertaining subject matter, the flamboyantly attired clowns and acrobats were depicted with the same solemn, melancholic expressions that can be seen in the present work. Instead of presenting a comedic extrovert, Buffet has portrayed a vulnerable, introverted image of the clown; his theatrical and cheerful mask is dropped, exposing a more human element to the portrait of the entertainer.