Lot 124
  • 124


250,000 - 350,000 GBP
309,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Georges Rouault
  • Pierrot
  • signed G. Rouault (lower right)
  • oil on paper laid down on canvas


Stephen Hahn, New York
George & Hilde Hofrichter, USA (acquired from the above by the 1970s)
Thence by descent to the present owner

Catalogue Note

'I'm Pierrot,' said David Bowie, 'I'm Everyman.'

Jean Rook, 'Waiting for Bowie and Finding A Genius Who Insists He's Really a Clown' in Daily Express, 5th May 1976

Painted in 1937-38, Pierrot is a superb example of one of Georges Rouault's most expressive and beloved series. Inspired by Ambroise Vollard, who had commissioned him to make etchings and woodcuts for the book Cirque de l'étoile filante (published in 1938), Rouault’s interest in the world of the circus found its greatest outlet in his art during the 1930s. Rouault was particularly drawn to the clown Pierrot and his expressive potential as a subject for portraiture. A pensive and melancholy stock character from the Commedia dell'Arte who pines for the love of Columbine, in the 19th Century the character of Pierrot was lifted out of this circumscribed world and into the larger realm of myth. Popularised in depictions by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee and Jacques Lipchitz, as well as Rouault, the figure of Pierrot became an alter-ego for the artist; an alienated, avant-garde philosopher fraught with existential anguish and scarred by amorous disappointments.

For Rouault, these nomadic clowns represented innocence, soulful sensitivity and naiveté, and were a release from his focus on the darker images of life. His series of Pierrot portraits is marked by an emotional immediacy that is unique both within his œuvre and the spectrum of Modern art. Lionello Venturi writes, ‘When he paints clowns, the grotesque becomes amiable, even lovable [...] colours grow rich and resplendent, almost as if the artist, laying aside his crusader's arms for a moment, were relaxing in the light of the sun and letting it flood into his work’ (Lionello Venturi, Rouault, Lausanne, 1959, pp. 21 & 51).

In the present work, Rouault combats the potential frivolity of the clown as a subject with a Cloisonnist style in which both the figure and the stage set with red curtains behind him are built up using thick sweeping strokes of impasto in jewel-like colours and delineated with bold black outlines. Evoking the imagery and feel of a traditional stained glass, Rouault's Pierrot is thus imbued with a profound and spiritual depth. Rouault employs boundless expressionist brushstrokes that add his quintessential texture and deconstruct forms to the very edge of abstraction.

The present work has remained in the collection of the Hofrichter family since its acquisition in the early 1970s. Distinguished collectors with an eye for quality, George and Hilde Hofrichter enjoyed a close personal and business relationship with Stephen Hahn, from whom they also acquired stellar works by Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning and Jean Dubuffet.