This thesis examines the commedia dell’arte character Pierrot through the lens of gender performance in order to decipher the ways in which he complicates and expands understandings of gender and the normative model of sexuality in fin de siècle France. Beginning with a case study of a chromolithograph by Jules Chéret, the first chapter of this thesis traces the perceived relation between Pierrot and the bohemian artist, and the underlying tensions between the male dominated artistic sphere and increasingly emancipated women. In contrast, Chapter II complicates the dominant impression of Pierrot’s association with the artists of bohemian Montmartre, and instead explores the way in which Pierrot is visually appropriated by female actors to challenge established models of gendered behavior and dress through male impersonation on stage. For example, female mime artist Félicia Mallet, through the guise of Pierrot, breaks down the conception of the perceived polarization between femininity and creative production, while also increasing the plurality and complexity of the character Pierrot. Lastly, this thesis concludes with an analysis of a series of postcards from 1900 that capture a romantic encounter between two women dressed as Pierrot and his love interest Columbine. As a result, the postcards question the normative model of sexuality, and further destabilize our understanding of Pierrot’s gender identity. In conclusion, Pierrot acts as a protective mask through which individual artists, actors and writers can explore beyond the boundaries of propriety without severe repercussions.

Degree Date

Spring 5-15-2021

Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Amy Freund

Second Advisor

Randall Griffin

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Bacon Eager

Subject Area

Art History/Criticism/Conservation

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License