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Friday, July 14, 2017

Armand Henrion

Self-portrait of a Laughing Clown and
Self-portrait of a Clown Who Cries, Armand Henrion
Just about every painter who ever lived has tried his or her hand at painting a self-portrait. And those for whom we have no record of their self-impression self-expression, probably tried doing so, hated it, and destroyed the evidence. Now, try to imagine an artist who painted virtually nothing but self-portraits. Although it may sound like I'm leading up to a discourse on Rembrandt or van Gogh, these guys would stand as rank amateurs in the shadow of the Belgian-French painter, Armand Francois Joseph Henrion. Okay, all together now, "WHO?"
Compared to his self-portraits, his posters were a mere sideline.
Self-portrait in a
Fisherman's Cap,
Armand Henrion
That's a very good question and I wish I had a good answer, but the biographical details of Armand Henrion's life as a painter, especially the early years, are sketchy at best. We know that he was born in the Belgian city of Liège in 1875. Henrion was a draughtsman, poster designer (above), and painter, of portraits, figures, genre scenes (below right), nudes, land-scapes, and animals (almost none of which survive). Armand Henrion is best known for his Pierrot portraits and Self-portraits as a clown in the Realist, Impressionist and Expressionist style. He is con-sidered a figure and portrait painter from the French School, eventually becoming a naturalized citizen of France. Henrion's self-portraits, even in whiteface, (he painted hundreds of them) are especially useful for artists today in that they amount to a virtual encyclo-pedia of human expressions and emotions (albeit somewhat exaggerated).

The Laundry, Armand Henrion
Henrion's formal education is completely un-known. He was a regular exhibitor at Salons throughout Paris and Belgium. He became know for his small portraits which captured the facial expressions of clowns laughing, singing, smoking (pipes and cigarettes) and other mime reactions. The vast majority of his clowns are self-portraits but he also painted Pierrot, a stock character of mime and Commedia dell'Arte, which was the French equivalent of the Italian Pedrolino. The noticeable feature in Henrion's Pierrot clown portraits is their naiveté. They are seen as a trusting fool, always the butt of pranks. Like Pierrot, they are portrayed as moonstruck (a lunatic), and oblivious to reality.

His face must have hurt after an hour or two of posing.
Henrion had an all-consuming fascination with the character of Pierrot. Henrion portrayed himself as this comic trickster, who traditionally did not wear a mask, but instead applied heavy white face makeup. Many artists, from Jean-Antoine Watteau to Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, and Aubrey Beardsley were also captivated by Pierrot, often considering him a kind of mirror image of themselves. Henrion's literal transformation of Pierrot into himself presents a unique twist on the legacy of this character. Henrion explored nuances of humor in his works which encompass the facial expressions conveying such qualities as the tongue-in-cheek, the retort, the comeback, the riposte, and the droll comment. Henrion's animated, gestural style in the creation of the small, jewel-like, depictions matches the feelings they convey of a light-hearted sense that life is to be enjoyed.

An Encyclopedia of facial expressions.
Pierrot was a trusted servant who played tricks on people, a clown who, unlike most Commedia dell'Arte characters, wears no mask. Instead, he supplements a layer of heavy white make-up, then wears a white costume complete with a frilly white collar and baggy pantaloons, plus a tight fitting bandana. Henrion's all-consuming fascination with portraying himself as Pierrot in many guises--the happy clown, sad clown, surprised clown, grimacing clown, angry clown, smoking clown, smug clown--is interesting conceptually. He was the portraitist who literally paints a face on himself that he later paints again on canvas as once removed. During his lifetime, Henrion found an enthusiastic patron and supporter in Leon Gerard, a Parisian gallerist. Today Henrion's paintings are much sought-after by museums and private collectors alike, both in his adopted France and abroad. Arman Henrion died in 1958 at the age of eighty-three.

Would you buy chocolates
from this clown?

WW II Soldier, Armand
Henrion. Yes, he did paint
others besides himself.


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