Circus

Circus

 

A rich world.

An institution using a minimum of spoken words in favour of gestures and activities for thrilling entertainment and laughs under a lit circular dome(s)

 

using interaction with animals;  human athleticism;  expressions of the human condition; magic (sleight of hand or body); gender bending; musical performance, colour.

 

 

Many artists painted clowns and circuses.

For some, the circus translates human dream world into our real world.  Sometimes artists incorporate circus elements into their paintings as a memory or keepsake or reminder.

Some use circus characters and symbols to reflect a stage of their lives, or of ours.

 

 

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At the Lapin Agile, 1905, oil on canvas. 

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, Spanish.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

The museum’s notes say:  a self-portrait of Picasso with his recent lover, Germaine Pinchot, the former lover and obsession of Picasso’s friend, Carles Casagemas who killed himself in 1901.

The first and only Picasso painting in Paris in 1905.

 

 

The Little Family, c. 1933, cotton and wool with silk; probably woven by Atelier Delarbre.

  Designed by Georges Roualt, 1871-1958, French.  Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

 

 

 

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Le Beau Temps (Fair Weather), oil on canvas, 1940. 

Man Ray, 1890 – 1976, American, worked in France.  Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The artist’s tribute to his attachment and debt to France when he left for the United States at the beginning of WW2.   He kept this painting all his life.

 

 

 

 

The Juggler (The Magician), oil and inlaid mother of pearl on board, 1956. 

Remedios Varo, 1908-1963, Spanish.  MOMA, NY

 

 

 

Sextant in Dogtown, 1987, acrylic and oil on canvas. 

David Salle, American born 1952.  Whitney Museum of (North) American Art, NY

 

 

The real circus has all but splintered in many countries.

In many countries, the use of animals for entertainment is out. I remember elephants, horses, dogs and one of the large felines – tigers, I think – jumping through hoops of flames.

The cost of travelling circuses has become prohibitive.

 

 

 

Circus elephants, 1932, oil on canvas.  John Steuart Curry, 1897-1946, American.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC from whose website this photo

 

 

 

There are still acrobatic companies who travel.

 

 

It is reported that clowns have increased in number in some countries. 

 

Including the political kind of which a recent example was the three-ring circus incited by 45 against the Congress of the US on January 6, 2021:

 

 

 

President Trump Becomes a Wonder Woman, Unifies the Country and Fights Rocket Man, 2017, acrylic on canvas.

Peter Saul, American born 1954.  Loaned by a private party to the New Museum, NY in 2020

 

 

 

Carousels still operate in some cities:  bleak, cold, often poorly attended set down temporarily in a place to which they are not connected with anything around:

 

 

Near 47th and 7th Avenue, New York, Winter 2020

 

 

The Circus is so rich a language and so close to the human bone that it had and continues to have close links with other institutions:

 

Carnival and its every-January 1 expression in Philadelphia:  the Mummers Parade:

 

 

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Carnival Evening, 1886, oil on canvas.

Henri Rousseau, 1844-1910, French.  Philadelphia Art Museum 

 

 

 

New Year’s Eve (Mummers), 1954, oil on canvas. 

Paulette Van Roekens, 1898-1988, American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

The Anglo-American expression of Halloween seems to have grown more elaborate as the old circus traditions have declined:

 

 

 

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Punched Clown, 2018, acrylic on canvas.

Peter Paone (American, born 1936) from an exhibition about Halloween at the Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA in 2019

 

 

 

Fashion, particularly couture, sometimes displays its circus inspiration:

 

 

 

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Creations of Rei Kawakubo, Japanese born 1943, at the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2017.

 

 

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Two carousel-themed creations 

Manish Arora, Indian born 1947, on display during the Metropolitan Museum’s annual Costume Institute exhibition in 2019.

 

 

 

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The painted record of the old circuses remains.

 

 

 

Tripod Vessel with Acrobats Balanced on Rim, c. 200 ACE, earthenware with unfired pigments over slip.  Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 ACE).

Acrobats, dancers, jugglers and musicians travelled rural areas bringing entertainment to wealthy rural landowners.

 

 

 

 

Sideshow (Parade de Saltimbanques), 1860-64, oil on wood. 

Honore Daumier, 1808-1879, French.  Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2017.   

Three musicians in front of a circus tent painted with ‘The Fat Lady’

 

 

 

 

The Strong Man, c.1865, oil on wood.

Honore Daumier, 1808-1879, French.  Phillips Collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2017. 

 A barker shouts out the qualities of a ‘Strong Man’

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Saltimbanques, 1866-67, crayon on paper. 

Honore Daumier, 1808-1889, French.  Loaned by the V&A, London to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017

 

 

 

 

Sideshow (La Parade des Saltimbanques), c.1877, oil on wood. 

Loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2016 by the Musee Grobet-Labadie, Marseille

 

 

 

 

Il Santimbanco, 1879, oil on canvas. 

Antonio Mancini, 1852-1930, Italian.  Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

 

 

Saltimbanques -The Side Show Orchestra, c. 1884, oil on paper laid down on canvas. 

Jean-Francois Rafaelli, 1850-1954, French.  Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

The Fair at Neuilly, oil on canvas, 1884. 

Léon Dehesghues, 1852-1910, French.  Private collection, Baltimore, MD loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017

 

 

 

Saltimbanques, 1887, oil on canvas. 

Bernard, 1868-1961, French.  Loaned by the Museo de Bellas Artes Juan Manuel Blanes to the Metropolitann Museum of Art, NY in 2017. 

 A gift to Vincent Van Gogh with whom the artist had shared other paintings also.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Circus Side Show and details, 1887-88, oil on canvas.

Georges (Georges-Pierre) Seurat, 1859-1891, French. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

A representation of Corvi’s travelling circus, this painting was met with a negative reception at the Salon des Independents in 1888 because of its pointillist technique.

The artist never discussed this painting and effaced his signature after the exhibition by adding to the decorative elements at the edge.

This painting, taken to MOMA’s inaugural show in New York in 1929, was later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

 

Detail of Avenue de Clichy (Street, Five O’Clock in the Evening), 1887. 

Louis Anquetin, 1861-1932, French.  Loaned by the Wadsworth Athenaum, Hartford, CT to the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2016

 

 

 

 

Affiches Americaines, 1882-87, Corvi, We’re Here!, colour lithograph. 

Charles Levy, printer.  Musee Carnavalet on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2017

 

 

 

 

Tight-Rope Walker, c.1885, oil on canvas. 

Jean-Louis Forain, 1852-1931, French.  Art Institute of Chicago loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2017

 

 

 

 

The Fair at Montrouge, 1885, oil on canvas. 

Gabriel Boutet, 1845-1900, French.  Private loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2017

 

 

 

 

Fair at Night (Sideshow), c.1888, oil on canvas. 

Louis Hayet, 1864-1940, French.  Loaned by the Amis de Petit Palais, Geneva to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grimaces and Misery-The Saltimbanques, 1888, oil on canvas in five sections.

  Fernand Pelez, 1848-1913, French.  Loaned in 2016 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017 by the Petits Palais, Musee de Beaux Art de la Ville de Paris. 

A magnificent painting to point up the misery in which circus performers often lived and worked.  The clown is the centerpiece of a line-up of performers

 

 

 

 

Fair at Night, 1888-89, oil on cardboard, laid down on wood.

Louis Hayet, 1864-1940, French.  Loaned by the Musee Camille Pissarro, Pontoise to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2017

 

 

 

 

Fairground Sideshow (Parade), 1892, oil on cardboard laid down on parquet board. 

Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947, French.  Loaned by a private owner to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017

 

 

 

 

The Saltimbanques, Cirque d’Hiver, 1892, colour lithograph. 

Henri Gray, 1858-1924, French.  Loaned by the Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers University to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017

 

 

 

The Corvi Circus, c.1893, gouache, watercolour and pencil on paper. 

George de Feure, 1868-1941, French.  Loaned in 2016 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017 by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA

 

 

 

 

Circus, 1924, oil on academy board. 

Pierre Bonnard, 18671947, French.  The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

 

 

 

 

Mademoiselle Olympe, 1893, pastel over charcoal on paper. 

Henri-Gabriel Ibels, French, 1867-1936.  Loaned to the Metropolitan Museum, NY by the Zimmerl Art Museum at Rutgers University in 2017

 

 

 

Somersaulting Acrobatic Dancers, 1911, woodcut. 

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1880-1938, German.  MOMA, NY

 

 

 

 

Painting No. 4 (A Black Horse), oil on canvas.

Marsden Hartley, 1877-1943, American.  Philadelphia Art Museum 

Strictly speaking a painting referring to the integration and peaceability of Nature.  But it looks like circus to me.

 

 

 

The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Shadows, 1916, oil on canvas. 

Man Ray, 1890-1976, American. MOMA, NY

 

 

 

 

Two Women Acrobats, 1916, watercolour and graphite on wove paper. 

 Charles Demuth, 1883-1935, American.  Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia from whose website this photo

 

 

 

 

Two Trapeze Performers in Red, c. 1917, watercolour and graphite on wove paper. 

Charles Demuth, 1883-1935, American.  Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia from whose website this photo

 

 

 

 

On a Circus Theme, 1917, oil on paperboard. 

Albert Gleizes, 1881-1953, French. Not sure where this is

 

 

 

 

The Circus, 1920, oil on canvas. 

Max Pechstein, 1881-1955, German. Baltimore Art Museum

 

 

 

Detail of Tightrope Walker, 1923, colour lithograph printed in two colours. 

Paul Klee, 1879-1940, Swiss.  Solomon R. Guggenheim, NY

 

 

 

 

Animal Trainer, 1923, enamel paint on canvas. 

Francis Picabia.  Loaned by the Pompidou, Paris to MOMA, NY in 2017

 

 

 

 

Acrobat with Two Dogs (Clown), 1924, oil on canvas. 

Georges Roualt, 1871-1958, French.  The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

Circus Girl Resting, 1925, oil on canvas. 

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, 1889-1953.  Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University, Alabama on loan to       . 

This painting was included in an exhibition organized by the State Department in 1946 (‘Advancing American Art’) to display American art and the artistic freedom of its artists.

  The exhibition became controversial and this image the exemplar of what people decided was the lack of artistic skill and forward-looking boldness etc.

 

 

 

 

Lucky Daredevils, (The Thrill of Death), 1931, tempera on panel. 

Reginald Marsh, 1898-1954, American.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

High Wire  Act, unknown date, watercolour on heavy woven paper. 

Robert Riggs, 1896-1970, American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia, photo from its website

The artist attended Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circuses when they travelled to Philadelphia in the 1930s.

 

 

 

High Trapeze 2, c. 1934, lithograph on woven paper.

Robert Riggs, 1896-1970, American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia from whose website this photo.

The artist loved circus from childhood and began making lithographs from 1933 onwards while attending Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circuses when they travelled to Philadelphia.

 

 

 

 

Trained Horse Act, undated, watercolour.

Robert Riggs, 1896-1970, American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia from whose website this photo

The artist attended Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circuses when they travelled to Philadelphia in the 1930s.

 

 

 

 

Athlete in Whiteface, 1934, oil on canvas. 

Walt Kuhn, 1880-1949, American.  Philadelphia Art Museum

 

 

 

 

The Acrobat, 1942, oil on canvas. 

Willem de Kooning, 1904-1997, American born the Netherlands. I don’t recall where this is

 

 

 

 

Stage Beauties, 1944, oil on canvas. 

Morris Hirshfield, 1872–1946, American born Poland.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

Performers, 1947, oil on canvas. 

Philip Guston, 1913-1980, American.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

Figure on a Tightrope, oil on canvas, 1947. 

William Baziotes, 1912-1967, American.  ?MOMA, NY

Influenced both by Symbolism, the artist painted semi-abstract images with multiple references.

 

 

 

 

 

Juggler, 1949-50, oil on academy board. 

Abraham P. Hankins, 1904-1963, American.  The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

Study for Circus at the Edge of a City, c.1991-1992, monoprint. 

Edith Neff, 1943-1995, American.  Private collection on loan to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Circus

    1. Thank you, Luisa! So lucky I am to remember the circus and to be going round museums all the time!

      Sarah

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