Georges Seurat, Parade du Cirque, 1887-88
39.25 x 59 in.
Georges Seurat (1859-1891) was a French Post-Impressionist painter who greatly affected the direction of modern painting at the end of the nineteenth century. Born in Paris, Seurat first studied art at the École Municipale de Sculpture et Dessin and then at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1878. He left school after little more than a year to serve in the military, and when he returned to Paris he opened his own studio. Seurat's earliest work shows the strong influence of Impressionism, but soon afterward we can see his unique voice taking hold. His first major painting was Bathers at Ansières (1884), which shows a mix of Impressionism and the neoclassical training that Seurat received. Seurat's most famous painting is undoubtedly Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884), which is the archetypal example of pointillism, which Seurat invented. Pointillism uses what is known as divisionism (or chromoluminarism), that is it utilizes discrete dots or patches of separate colors, which the viewer then mixes optically, rather than the blended colors that were the convention in prevailing styles. Seurat often painted images of Parisian society, and his final painting remained unfinished at the time of his premature death. Parade du Cirque (Circus Sideshow) makes excellent use of pointillism. It was his first nocturnal scene and his first depiction of popular entertainment. The Circus Corvi was set up in Paris in the spring of 1887 and they would hold free sideshows on the street to entice passersby to purchase tickets; the far right of the canvas includes people on line to buy them. There is a twinkling mystery to this painting; a captivating fog seems to hang over the scene. Pointillism is especially well suited to rendering the lights, which accounts for their twinkling quality. We cannot make out the faces of the performers, enticing us further into the scene. There is also a certain glow produced by the dots of color, particularly noticeable in the reddish aura that surrounds the tree branches. All of these elements produce a painting that is highly engaging and invites the viewer into the act, just as the performers are inviting their spectators into the main show.