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The Art of JAMA
March 24/31, 2015

Clown With Folded ArmsWalt Kuhn

JAMA. 2015;313(12):1192-1193. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.11653

The American painter and impresario Walt Kuhn (1877-1949) was a lifelong fan of the circus. His favorite painter was Paul Cézanne, but the subjects of Kuhn’s portraits had more in common with the clowns, actors, and dancers painted by Antoine Watteau, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Some of Kuhn’s subjects were circus performers, and others were models who wore makeup and costumes from the artist’s extensive wardrobe. In Clown With Folded Arms, the subject wears the face paint of an auguste clown, the circus goofball who usually gets most of the laughs. One of the most famous auguste characters was Lou Jacobs (1903-1992), who was also trained as a contortionist. Jacobs originated the classic midget car act, which required him to wedge his 6-foot 1-inch frame into a 23-inch automobile. On cue, Jacobs would drive his car into the center ring, honking the horn, and pull up to a gas pump. As the car’s engine sputtered and backfired, Jacobs would extricate his body and oversized shoes and then lean over the tiny car to remove its radiator cap. When the cap came off a trick snake sprang out, and the audience went wild.

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