Art and the solitary

The Clown
Rouault’s portrait of a clown is a self-portrait and yet a portrait of all of us. As Rouault himself said of the painting, “The clown?… but that’s me … that’s you … almost all of us.” The sadness looking out on the world, the ironic laughter dissolving into melancholy, the clown as different, outsider, stranger, solitary. Rouault is not depicting a fool, though the clown must play the fool to entertain others. He must play the fool and become complicitous with people, with society. Like the Italian pagliacci figure, he is on the brink of tears, not of self-pity or of loneliness and estrangement but over the cruelty and ignorance of others. The fool of the tarot is not conscious of what he ventures into, but the clown is painfully conscious of the role he must play in society. That is what makes him like “almost all of us.”