Obelisk Art History
The Artists

Armand Henrion
Yes, he only paints clowns

Portrait of Armand Henrion

One of the most difficult aspects of writing about art history is deciding which artists, of many thousands, should be featured. Obelisk works hard to find under-exposed artists, and occasionally I find an artist so obscure it’s like history was actually trying to blot them from the record. With that, let us introduce Armand Francois Joseph Henrion.

Henrion was born in Liege, Belgium on May 30, 1875. We know little about his education, but according to exhibition records he showed his work in Belgian salons and eventually moved to Paris, where he participated in many of the French Salons. His work, as you can see, is very specific, and to many, horrifying. Henrion’s oeuvre consists of close-set self-portraits, in the guise of a clown. He appears to be enjoying himself—smoking, grimacing, winking and laughing.

Let’s address the mime in the room. In contemporary society it’s terrifically popular to loath clowns. The pallad visage of clowns and jesters are tropes in horror media, and ‘killer clowns’ have even appeared in police reports in recent years. But while Henrion’s obsession got him blacklisted by history, at the turn of the century, clowns were not a hated class of performer. Henrion’s makeup and expressions imitated one of the most nuanced and popular clowns in history: Pierrot.

The character of Pierrot is the original sad clown, forever pining for the love of the beautiful servant girl, Columbina. Pierrot first appeared in Molière’s play Don Juan, in 1665, and popped up again and again for the next two hundred years, evolving into an archetype: the lonely fool, who masks his cynicism with indolence and humor. Henrion probably first saw Pierrot performed by the legendary French mime Paul Legrand.

“You know, this fellow is many-sided, a tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure. He would have you believe he is a scientist, a musician, a duke, a polo player. However, he is not above picking up cigarette butts or robbing a baby of its candy. And, of course, if the occasion warrants it, he will kick a lady in the rear—but only in extreme anger!” — Charlie Chaplin


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Reed Enger, "Armand Henrion, Yes, he only paints clowns," in Obelisk Art History, Published August 27, 2017; last modified October 31, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/armand-henrion/.

Armand Henrion was a Belgian artist born on May 30, 1875. Henrion contributed to the Expressionist movement, worked in France and died in 1958.

Clown in a Green Cap, Armand Henrion

Clown in a Green Cap 1900 – 1930

Clown in an Orange Cap and a Monocle, Armand Henrion

Clown in an Orange Cap and a Monocle 1900 – 1930

Clown Laughing, Armand Henrion

Clown Laughing 1930

Clown Smirking, Armand Henrion

Clown Smirking 1900 – 1930

Clown Smoking, Armand Henrion

Clown Smoking 1930

Self-portrait as Pierrot, Armand Henrion

Self-portrait as Pierrot 1930

Self Portrait with Blue Cap, Armand Henrion

Self Portrait with Blue Cap 1930

Self Portrait with Red Cap, Armand Henrion

Self Portrait with Red Cap 1930

Still-life with Pear and Two Apples on a Yellow Chair, Armando Morales

Still-life with Pear and Two Apples on a Yellow Chair 1998

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