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March of the Clowns

Albert Bloch (American, 1882-1961)

March of the Clowns, 1941

  • Oil on canvas mounted on composition board
  • 36 x 40 in. (91.4 x 101.6 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Oscar and Regina Gruss Memorial Fund, 2001-42

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March of the Clowns

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March of the Clowns

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In March of the Clowns, Albert Bloch creates a parade of uncanny clowns--at once comical and sinister--celebrating Hitler's defeat. In his prophetic vision of the war's end, painted in 1941, Bloch mocks the Fuehrer (the leader in German) by reducing him to a tiny and ridiculous doll. Looking shocked and startled, Hitler hangs from a swastika that is surmounted by a victorious Jewish star. Other cultural symbols appear as well, including an arch (a symbol of power and triumph), a cross (representing Christianity), a crescent moon and star (representing Islam), and festive-looking skeletons, often associated with the Mexican Day of the Dead. The parade's spectators include Popeye, Olive Oyl, Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse, and other American cartoon characters from the 1920s and '30s.

Music plays an integral role in Bloch's work, and one can imagine hearing the bombastic marching tune emanating from this absurd parade. The lead clown plays the bassoon, spewing smoke that obscures the surroundings. The scene is at once grandiose, silly, and deeply disturbing.

Bloch probably painted this picture before the United States entered World War II. The cartoon characters may represent America looking on helplessly from the periphery or perhaps Bloch's own feelings of isolation and powerlessness as he watched the war unfolding overseas.