Le Clown amoureux
is a bold and resplendent example of the creative energy and sense of theatre which Chagall never ceased to find in the subject of the circus. The artist developed a fascination with the circus during his formative years in Vitebsk, and later in Paris, where he frequently attended performances in the company of Ambroise Vollard. The theme was of great significance to him as a poetic, visionary experience—a transcendental parallel to real life which indulged his imagination and propensity towards pure, lyrical escapism: "It is a magic world, circus, a timeless dancing game where tears and smiles, the play of arms and legs take the form of a great art"(Marc Chagall, Le Cirque
(exhibition catalogue), Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1981, n.p.). This most poignant of themes was to recur often throughout Chagall’s oeuvre.
Lionello Venturi has alluded to the highly emotive quality with which Chagall imbues the circus theme: "Chagall’s images of circus people...are at once burlesque and tender. Their perspective of sentiment, their fantastic forms, suggest that the painter is amusing himself in a freer mood than usual; and the result is eloquent of the unmistakable purity flowing from Chagall’s heart. These circus scenes are mature realisations of earlier dreams"(Lionello Venturi, Marc Chagall
, New York, 1945, p. 39).
For Chagall, the temporary quality of the circus and its combination of joy and drama represented a symbol of life itself. He identified with the emotions played out in a circus performance, and the magic of the circus, his artistic vision and life all merged into a single world of fantasy. As the artist once stated: "These clowns, bareback riders and acrobats have made themselves at home in my visions. Why? Why am I so touched by their make-up and their grimaces? With them I can move toward new horizons. Lured by their colors and make-up, I dream of painting new psychic distortions" (quoted in Jacob Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 197).