Carnival 2017 – Art Inspiration

Carnival is kind of like the spring version of halloween. It is typically celebrated in late February and early March, during the pre-Lent period.   

Carnival by Pablo Picasso 
Carnival (Karneval) by Lyonel Feininger

Based on heathen customs, such as Greek and Roman spring festivals and ancient German winter solstice, modern carnival festivities are relate to Catholic tradition. Carnival marks the beginning of 40 days of fasting. Essentially, it is one final binge before you have to clean up your act.

Black and white negative, Carnival, Nice by Paul Nash

If you are looking to put on your favorite costume, have a few (too many) drinks, and go to a parade there is sure to be a carnival celebration around. Rio de Janeiro is infamous for their celebrations. New Orleans is the place to celebrate in the States, which by the way call it Mardi Gras instead of Carnival. In Europe, Venice, Cádiz, and Notting Hill in London are all known for their parties.

Carnival in Naples by Carlo Cisventi

Cologne is the place to celebrate carnival in Germany. Rose Monday (Rosenmontag) is even a public holiday in several federal states. According to the Cologne City Tourism website, carnival is almost as old as the city itself, and has been celebrated for over 190 years.  

Carnival, Cologne by Leonard Freed


  • Rose Monday (Rosenmontag): 27th February, 2017
  • carne vale = Farewell to meat!
  • The Cologne carnival motto is “Jede Jeck es anders” (Every fool is different)   


Carnival in Berlin N III by Jeanne Mammen

Carnival is notorious for bright colors, masks, face paint, and clowns. Parade floats help create to the larger than life atmosphere taking over cities. It is no wonder that the larger than life celebration is often the subject of art.

Study for a Clown by George Condo

George Condo was one of many artists inspired by Cologne’s Carnival celebration. He went to Cologne to attend Carnival in the early eighties, and his more recent work also includes clown and carnival motifs.    

Clown Painting by George Condo

In an interview with purple Magazine, Condo stated, “I have this kind of German sensibility of accepting the much more outrageous aspects of human nature…People in New York told me, like in 1983, that people in Germany would appreciate the crazy clowns in my work…. So I went and arrived there on the day of the carnival. Even the driver of the train was wearing a mask. It was wild. I loved arriving in Germany like that…I realized there are two kinds of art. There’s the kind of art that you can see it’s funny that he painted that; and there’s what he painted is funny.”

Carnival 1920 by Max Beckmann 1884-1950
Carnival by Max Beckmann

Several German Expressionist painters were also influenced by the galore of madness and jest during Carnival, such as Karl Hofer, Max Beckmann, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.  While in exile in Amsterdam for his “degenerate” art, Max Beckmann painted the several carnival themed paintings. The irony of painting celebrations while being forced into isolation should not be lost on the viewer while looking at Beckmann’s work.

Karneval by Max Beckmann

The early modernist Marc Chagall was inspired by the whimsical beauty of the Nice carnival. He portrayed the festivities in his painting, Bataille de Fleurs (Carnaval of Flowers), 1967.  

Carnival of Flowers by Marc Chagall 

Chagall’s carnival paintings utilize colors to evoke light, creating dream-like images- the landscapes bend objects are floating.

The Carnival. Study for backdrop for Scene II of the ballet Aleko by Marc Chagall

Similar to the circus, carnival is a unique subject matter, because it represents intentional excess. Everyday people are involved. People intentionally over indulge. They take on new characters. There is something special about this unusual form of chaos. With the circus you expect the bizarre, hence the term “circus freaks”. 

The Night Carnival by Marc Chagall

🤡🌹Enjoy this upcoming Rose Monday! 

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