Famous Painting of a Clown

Updated March 23, 2017

Clowns have long been a popular subject for artists, who have been drawn to their brights colours and unusual poses. However, many famous paintings of clowns have played off their identity as symbols of joy and fun, showing them instead as sad, tormented figures.

"Clown Band," by Bernard Buffet

The famed French expressionist painter Buffet made clowns, who shared his same colourful, joyful sensibility, a frequent subject of his abstract paintings.

"Au Cirque," by Pierre Bonnard

Impressionist painter Bonnard set several of his paintings at the circus, all of which showed clowns performing under a big top in bright colours.

Various, by John Wayne Gacy

Serial killer John Wayne Gacy performed as a clown for many years before being arrested. While in prison, he painted a series of clown portraits, all of them grim in tone, that have become collectors' items.

"Waery Willie," by Emmet Kelly

Depression-era painter Kelly was creator of the iconic "Weary Willie," a sad clown whose melancholy reflected the national mood.

"The Harlequin," by Pablo Picasso

During his rose period, Picasso painted many clowns, who he dressed in bright colours and posed in abstract shapes. Many of his later clown paintings, including "The Harlequin," make the clown appear dolorous or sickly.

"The Clown," by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

French artist Toulouse-Lautrec often painted performers who were part of Parisian nightlife. Often he painted them when they were not working but were still dressed in their costumes, raising questions about the performers' identity as entertainers.

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About the Author

Michael Wolfe has been writing and editing since 2005, with a background including both business and creative writing. He has worked as a reporter for a community newspaper in New York City and a federal policy newsletter in Washington, D.C. Wolfe holds a B.A. in art history and is a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.