Joseph Grimaldi (18 December 1778 - 31 May 1837) was an English actor, comedian and dancer, who became the most popular English entertainer of the Regency era.
His style of clowning had its origins in the Italian "commedia dell'arte" of the sixteenth century, but in the popular Harlequinades of the early nineteenth century he emerged as the founding father of modern day clowns.
Born in London to an entertainer father, Grimaldi began to perform as a child, making his stage debut at Drury Lane in 1780. He became successful at the Sadler's Wells Theatre the following year.
Towards the end of the 1790s, Grimaldi starred in a pantomime version of Robinson Crusoe, which confirmed his credentials as a key pantomime performer. Many productions followed, but his career at Drury Lane was becoming turbulent, and he left the Theatre in 1806.
Grimaldi's association with Sadler's Wells came to an end in 1820, chiefly as a result of his deteriorating relationship with the Theatre's management.
After numerous injuries over the years from his energetic clowning, his health was also declining rapidly, and he retired in 1823. He appeared occasionally on stage for a few years thereafter, but his performances were restricted by his worsening physical disabilities.
In his last years, Grimaldi lived in relative obscurity and became a depressed, impoverished alcoholic. He outlived both his wife and his actor son, Joseph Samuel, dying at home in Islington in 1837, aged 58.
Every year since 1946, on the first Sunday of February, the capital's clowning fraternity meets at the Holy Trinity church in Dalston, East London, to remember fellow clowns who have passed on and the man who invented the modern clown.
Medium Format - Darkroom printing