Georges Seurat, Parade de cirque



Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque)

Artist: Georges Seurat (French, Paris 1859–1891 Paris)
Date: 1887–88
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 39 1/4 x 59 in. (99.7 x 149.9 cm)


Seurat's art combines a logical mathematical approach with a delicate poetic style, qualities usually not found in one artist. This fusion produces paintings unlike anything before or after him. He is, to employ a much misused term, unique.

This painting was set in a neighborhood near the Place de la Nation, but in my imagination it happened where Rue Saint-Andre des Arts joins Place Saint-Andre des Arts because that is where we saw street musicians performing one winter night years ago.

The painting features musicians wearing an assortment of hats and a ringmaster, with an assistant, under the glow of gaslights. To the right customers are buying tickets for the main show.  The hazy light links the crowd to the sideshow with soft color and shape. This was Seurat’s first attempt at a night painting.

Seurat's figures are more types than individuals. They are actors in a dream play, isolated from one another they don't breathe, cry, and barely look at one another, even though occupying the same spaces. The figures in "Parade de Cirque" with all the shimmering color and delicate tone, provoke a feeling of sadness. In a way we are all shadows, we hover for a while then evaporate with the fog. The painting is about change, about mutability, about objects, light, time, and humans coming and going.

The central figure is both familiar and alien, like the cone heads in the old Saturday Night Live program. Below is a sketch of the trombone player.

Seurat’s method, which he called chromo-luminarism (we call pointillism), came for his interest in color theory that lead to the application of small dabs or points of complementary colors, when viewed from a distance join with the viewer’s vision to give the impression of another color. In this painting blue–orange–yellow spectrum of dots fuse to give a range of greens, purples and darker colors. The work is dominated by a series of horizontal and vertical lines, suggesting the rhythms of Egyptian reliefs and frescoes.



sideshow Fête de Neuilly-sur-Seine, Le Cirque Corvi, postcard c. 1900

Seurat died on Easter Sunday 1891 and was buried in the family vault at Père Lachaise cemetery. In addition to his seven monumental paintings, he left 40 smaller paintings and sketches, about 500 drawings, and several sketchbooks. Though a modest output in terms of quantity, he was among the foremost painters of one of the greatest periods in the history of art.

For additional information on the artist The National Gallery has a fine section.