Musée d'Orsay: Posters : The Circus

Posters : The Circus

Georges SeuratCircus© Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Seurat died in March 1891. He left the large painting The Circus, the most important of his works kept in French collections, unfinished. This painting, faithful to the neo-impressionist technique of the master, testifies to an original source of inspiration : that of the circus poster and the work of Chéret, unrivalled master of the colour poster, who himself worked a lot for circuses and hippodromes.

This exhibition of around fifty posters from the Musée de la Publicité highlighted - through the recurring motifs of the horsewoman, the clown, the liontamer and the ring - the multicoloured dynamism of an art that found its best interpreter in Chéret and in which painters took up an interest. A first group of often anonymous works recalled the equestrian origins of the circus since the end of the 18th century. Seurat's painting proposed a representation of the circus as perceived in the 19th century : a closed world of joie de vivre. The impression of a global vision is derived from a process well-known to poster-designers : the juxtaposition of a series of motifs, in a single picture, cover the whole of the performance.

The final wing of the exhibition aimed at showing the convergence between the style of the late Seurat, whose more nervous drawing willingly relies on broken lines, and Chéret's graphics, which can be perceived in the acute layout of letters, in the scumble of shadows, in the rendering of the hands and the flamelike hair.

This documentary exhibition presented the fin de siècle iconography of the circus, an inspiration for writers and painters, starting from the recent art of poster-making, then in its golden age. It thus enlarged the debate recently highlighted by the "art and advertising" exhibition, and also called into question the relationship between painting and popular art.


Réjane Bargiel, Musée de la Publicité and Ségolène Le Men, researcher for the CNRS, Musée d'Orsay

9 April - 1 July 1991
Musée d'Orsay

Enlarge font size Reduce font size Tip a friend Print