The inspiration for Gilbert's composition lay in the revival of a one-act play at London's Lyceum theatre entitled Comedy and Tragedy, written by his namesake W. S. Gilbert and starring his friend, the American actress Mary Anderson. Night after night the sculptor would view the play. Describing the genesis of his sculpture, Gilbert later wrote, 'I conceived the notion of harking back to the Greek stage upon which masks were always worn, and I conceived a stage property boy rushing away in great glee with his comedy mask, and on the way being stung by a bee... The youth seen from one position through the open mouth of the comic mask exhibits hilarity, but from the opposite side he is seen glancing at his wounded leg, and his expression assumes one of pain and sadness.' It is in this dichotomy, the comedic grin of the actor's mask and the anguish of his real facial expression, that lies the sculpture's biographical subtext. At the time he modelled Comedy and Tragedy, Gilbert led a dual existence, acting the successful artist by night, whilst, by day suffering from severe anxiety caused by professional, financial and domestic difficulties. Comedy and Tragedy has consequently come to be regarded as one of Gilbert's most poignant and complex works.
R. Dorment, Alfred Gilbert: Sculptor and Goldsmith, ex. cat., Royal Academy, London, 1986, pp. 116-118, nos. 22-24; R. Dorment, Alfred Gilbert, New Haven and London, 1985, pp. 131-134; I. McAllister, Alfred Gilbert, London, 1929, p. 88
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