chapter  2
31 Pages

1857, Part II

Making Clown Faces
WithJennifer Forrest

Art history obligingly offered a counter model to Gérôme’s sad clown in Thomas Couture’s Le Duel après le bal masqué, a work that literally and figuratively staged mid-nineteenth-century art as a duel. This is the third in a series of seven Pierrot and Harlequin paintings that, like Honoré Daumier’s saltimbanque paintings, make the face of the clown the site of a process of avowal and derision: avowal of the commercial conditions of art and derision of both oneself and the established order. With his Odes funambulesques, Théodore de Banville effectively made clown faces, verbally disfiguring his victims and placing them in a state of suspended identity. Like Charles Baudelaire in “Une mort héroïque,” Couture, Daumier, and Banville reveal the arbitrariness of social and cultural power systems through the clown.