Erasmus the Clown / Erasmus de Clown


Erasmus the Clown continues our interests in portraiture, the representation of conflict and the space between private and public, explored through a number of artworks and exhibition projects since 1997.


The main inspiration for the installation Erasmus the Clown is the painting Clown (1940 - 41) by the Dutch artist Charley Toorop (1891 – 1955). Now hanging in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo in the Netherlands Toorop’s painting depicts a pensive clown filling almost the whole canvas, painted in red and yellow and white. The background shows Rotterdam in ruins, derived from a photograph by Eva Besnyö taken after the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam by the Luftwaffe on 14 May 1940, during the German invasion of the Netherlands. The actual clown depicted in the painting was ‘Bumbo’, a circus performer who fled to Bergen (NL) where Toorop worked and lived with her sons.


The role of the clown in the video is performed by our son Erasmus who was born in Rotterdam in 1999 and is passionate about theatre and acting. It is also he who addresses the public in a letter that reveals the web of references that informed the making of Erasmus the Clown. This letter is printed in the form of a newspaper that is offered free to the exhibition’s visitors.


A new version of Erasmus the Clown was shown in the Chabot Museum, Rotterdam, that is dedicated to the work of Henk Chabot. Charley Toorop was a close friend of the artist Henk Chabot, and the two artists shared many values. Erasmus de Clown’s central themes of portraiture, the representation of conflict and the space between private and public echo Henk Chabot’s concern with representation of the affliction of war, evident in the exhibition ‘Mens, Dier Polder’ that is presented in the context of Commemorative Year 2015 during which the May 1940 bombardment of Rotterdam is remembered, and freedom is celebrated.


Situated in the Chabot Museum, the public Visual Research Studio that we occupied between Oct 2015 and Feb 2016 was a creative base for explorations around the subject of the refugee, and where we welcome exchanges with the Museum’s public. We aimed to find out more about the mysterious Bumbo, the clown whom Toorop painted after he fled the bombarded city of Rotterdam.


The 'Erasmus the Clown, a Gathering' event brought together international art organisations and Masters of art and curating students to explore ideas of remembrance and commemoration in art, at TENT Rotterdam and the Chabot Museum. Students worked collaboratively to develop proposals for a monument or memorial that took into consideration the cultural, social and political dimensions of imaginative new forms of art that could be publicly sited or performed.


Museum visitors received a badge and a newspaper containing the letter directed to the public, written by Erasmus the Clown.



The Visual Research Studio was funded by the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture, Sir William Gillies Bequest.

Chabot Museum, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

11 October 2015 - 28 February 2016


Video, sound track and a written component in the form of a letter to the audience from our son Erasmus, who plays the Clown. Continuing our interest in portraiture, the representation of conflict and the space between private and public. Initial version presented at The Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture, Edinburgh, 29 March - 04 May 2014

ERASMUS THE CLOWN