Painted circa 1980, Le Clown au visage bleu symbolizes Chagall’s lifelong fascination with the circus. As a child, the artist was captivated by the acrobats in the streets of Vitebsk where he lived with his family. Later, in the 1920s, Chagall would share a box with Ambroise Vollard at Le Cirque d'hiver Bouglione in Paris. Chagall drew immense creative energy from these events, imbuing some of his most important canvases with fantastic depictions that exaggerate the pageantry of the circus. “It’s a magic world, the circus,” Chagall once wrote, “an age-old game that is danced, and in which tears and smiles, the play of arms and legs take the form of great art… The circus is the performance that seems to me the most tragic. Throughout the centuries, it has been man’s most piercing cry in his search for entertainment and joy. It often takes the form of lofty poetry. I seem to see a Don Quixote in search of an ideal, like that marvelous clown who wept and dreamed of human love” (quoted in Marc Chagall, Le Cirque (exhibition catalogue), Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1981, n.p.).
The circus performers in the picture also held personal significance for the artist. To him, they represented the many faces of man's emotional character, both fun-loving and tragic. He once remarked, "I have always considered the clowns, acrobats, and actors as being tragically human who, for me, would resemble characters from certain religious paintings. And even today, when I paint a Crucifixion or another religious painting, I experience again almost the same sensations that I felt while painting circus people, and yet there is nothing literary in these paintings, and it is very difficult to explain why I find a psycho-plastic resemblance between the two kinds of compositions" (quoted in Marc Chagall (exhibition catalogue), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, 2003, p. 106).