Dec 28, 2021
Sep 4, 2013
Dec 28, 2021
Dec 29, 2021

Pierrot in Criminal Court

Pierrot in Criminal Court

c. 1864–70

Thomas Couture

(French, 1815–1879)

Oil on wood panel

Framed: 45.8 x 52.1 x 5.2 cm (18 1/16 x 20 1/2 x 2 1/16 in.); Unframed: 32.2 x 39.2 cm (12 11/16 x 15 7/16 in.)

Bequest of Noah L. Butkin 1980.250



In this painting, Couture used two famous masked characters, Pierrot and Harlequin, to satirize and critique the public and the judicial system of the 19th century. The pathetic Pierrot represents a lower-class fool on trial for stealing food from a restaurant. The stolen items are depicted lying on the courtroom floor as an indictment of his guilt. His accusers sit on the left, while Harlequin, his lawyer, argues theatrically for the defense. The artist's contempt for the legal profession and the court system is plain in the figures of the sleeping judges. A mid-19th-century observer may have sympathized with Pierrot, who for his own survival cunningly subverts authority in order to satisfy his needs.

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