Georges Rouault, a devout Catholic who lived a solitary life, created a body of work unique in its mystic Expressionism. Throughout his career, but particularly in the 1930s, he was fascinated by circus people, often depicting them backstage. One day, he wrote of an old clown he had seen: “I saw clearly that the ‘Clown’ was me, was us . . . almost all of us . . . This rich, sequinned costume is given us by life.” The painting is remarkable for its subject, because Rouault rarely painted circus artists in performance. In the ring, a female equestrian and other acrobats are performing; an athlete, hands on hips, dominates the centre of the composition. The upper corners of the canvas are set off, evoking the big top, as though we viewers were spectators in the seats. The thick black outlines around the shapes and areas of colour are characteristic of his style, which recalls stained glass, an art form in which he had apprenticed.