The Island of Comedians (1971)

The Island of Comedians, an oil and acrylic on board completed in 1971 by Claude Harrison (1922–2009), hangs at the gallery at Lancaster’s old town hall.

Harrison is known for his mysterious works, often employing masked harlequin figures set against dreamy landscape scenes. Although it is not an easy piece to interpret, what seems quite clear is that no one is laughing. The subjects seem more affected by tragedy than comedy, despite the gaiety and jollity of their dress.

What today passes for comedy is often just lewdness; when once upon a time, an audience demanded wit, they now accept coarse language and rudeness, each comedian trying to outdo the rest in shocking and offending. The laughter grows louder, yet hollower. People would sooner smirk at smut then enter the joy of heaven. Now there’s a tragedy; there’s an island of fools.