chapter  1
32 Pages

1857, Part I

Plays with Sad Clowns
WithJennifer Forrest

In 1972, Haskell cited Jean-Léon Gérôme’s La Sortie du bal masque (1857) as launching the cycle of representations of the artist as sad clown in art and literature in the last half of the nineteenth century, and his identification and reading of the motif has determined the focus of most subsequent scholarly studies. The powerful compositional and thematic staging of Gérôme’s painting – its mark on much work in the visual and popular arts, theater, and literature is palpable for the remainder of the century – could not diminish, however, the perception by other artists of acrobatic performance as an aesthetic model for the modern, one that unraveled the conventions then governing the visual arts and literature.