The story of Pierrot and the characters of the Commedia dell’Arte provided inspiration for artists from Watteau to van Gogh to Picasso. However, few have captured the humor of the famed clown’s trials as vibrantly as Jean Georges Vibert, who created this expressive drawing to illustrate a popular story from his La Comédie en Peinture (1902). The object of Pierrot’s affections, Columbine, has been brought to trial by her elderly husband on account of her philandering behavior. While Columbine appears coy and beguiling, Pierrot seems reticent, and both avoid the eyes and wild gesticulations of the defense lawyer, in the guise of Pulchinelle, at left. Columbine’s nervous husband sits wringing his hands at far right, while Pierrot’s nemesis Harlequin whispers slanders in his ear, egged on by a group of drunk soldiers behind them.
This drawing is possibly a preparatory work for two other versions of the composition: a watercolor and gouache now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago that may have been shown at the 1883 exhibition of the society of French Watercolorists (fig. 1)and a sumptuous large-scale oil now in a Private Collection.