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Little is known about the subject of this work, but the painting is similar in style and composition to a number of frontal views of the heads of male and female clowns painted by the artist in 1937 and 1938. Rouault rarely painted portraits, preferring instead to use the human figure as a symbol of certain moral qualities or, more generally, to express the sufferings of mankind. The woman in this painting wears modern dress, but the treatment of her head distantly recalls traditional religious pictures, particularly Byzantine icons.

August 2004