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Seurat's Circus Sideshow

Thomson, Richard with contributions by Susan Alyson Stein, Charlotte Hale, and Silvia A. Centeno
144 pages
117 illustrations
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Georges Seurat (1859–1891) created just six major figure paintings during his lifetime, one of which, the alluring Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque), has remained the most challenging to interpret since it first intrigued viewers at the 1888 Salon des Indépendants in Paris. Unlike Seurat’s earlier sunlit scenes, Circus Sideshow presents a nighttime tableau depicting a parade—a street show enticing passersby to purchase tickets. With its geometrically precise composition, muted colors, and elements of abstraction, the painting stands apart as a masterpiece of Neo-Impressionism and heralds Seurat’s subsequent depictions of popular entertainments.

This book, the first comprehensive study of Circus Sideshow, situates the painting in the context of nineteenth-century Paris and of the many social changes France was undergoing. Renowned art historian Richard Thomson illuminates the roles of caricature, naturalist and avant-garde painting, and circus advertising; examines Seurat’s use of contemporary aesthetic theory; and discusses how artists ranging from Rouault to Picasso mined the sideshow theme into the twentieth century. Illustrated with Seurat’s related drawings, works by other artists, and period posters and broadsides, Seurat’s Circus Sideshow delves into the history of traveling circuses and seasonal fairs in France, exploring the ongoing appeal of this traditional form of popular entertainment through the fin de siècle. Two additional essays describe the painting’s enthusiastic reception in New York upon its 1929 debut and present the results of a fresh technical examination of the canvas, making this volume the definitive resource on one of Seurat’s most captivating works.

Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque), Georges Seurat  French, Oil on canvas
Georges Seurat
Les jeux du cirque et la vie foraine, Hugues Le Roux  French
Multiple artists/makers
Baissez le Rideau, La Farce est Jouée (Bring Down the Curtain; the Farce is Over), published in La Caricature no. 201, September 11, 1834, Honoré Daumier  French, Lithograph
Multiple artists/makers
September 11, 1834
Here you see the great celebrities of literary, musical, and artistic France; they are thirty-six feet tall measured below sea level (Vous voyez ici les grandez célébrités), from Les Saltimbanques, published in La Caricature, April 28, 1839, Honoré Daumier  French, Lithograph; second state of four (Delteil)
Honoré Daumier
Aubert et Cie
April 28, 1839
Sideshow of "Le charivari" (Parade du charivari), Honoré Daumier  French, Lithograph; second state of three (Delteil)
Honoré Daumier
Caboche et Cie
January 6, 1839
Album Lithographique 1830-1837, Auguste Raffet  French
Auguste Raffet
Gihaut Frères
Zing! Zing! Boom Boom Boom!!! The Show of the Grrrreat Political Tumblers, from "L'Association Mensuelle no. 13", J. J. Grandville  French, Lithograph on chine collé
Multiple artists/makers
August 1833
Le Diable a Paris. . . Paris et Les Parisiens, Vol. II, Andrew Best Leloir  French, Wood engraving
Multiple artists/makers
The Open-Air Sideshow (La Parade en plein-vent), Transfer-printed earthenware, French, Gien
French, Gien
ca. 1850
Study for "Poseuses", Georges Seurat  French, Conté crayon on laid paper.
Georges Seurat
Christ Presented to the People, Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn)  Dutch, Drypoint on japan paper; fourth state of eight
Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn)
Tu Marcellus Eris, Charles Simon Pradier  French, Etching and engraving on chine collé
Charles Simon Pradier
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Fireworks at Ikenohata, Kobayashi Kiyochika  Japanese, Woodblock print; ink and color on paper, Japan
Kobayashi Kiyochika
1881 (Meiji 14)
Grammaire des arts du dessin : architecture, sculpture, peinture, Charles Blanc  French
Charles Blanc
David-Pierre Giottino Humbert de Superville
Grammaire des arts du dessin : architecture, sculpture, peinture, Charles Blanc  French
Charles Blanc
Léon Gaucherel
Place de Clichy, Paul Signac  French, Oil on wood
Paul Signac
Aman-Jean (Portrait of Edmond François Aman-Jean), Georges Seurat  French, Conté crayon on Michallet paper
Georges Seurat
Edmond-François Aman-Jean

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Thomson, Richard, Susan Alyson Stein, Charlotte Hale, Silvia A. Centeno, and Georges Seurat. 2017. Seurat’s Circus Sideshow. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.