Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | Trapeze artist from the Cirque Fernando [Trap├ęziste du Cirque Fernando]

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
artist France 1864 – 1901

Trapeze artist from the Cirque Fernando [Trap├ęziste du Cirque Fernando] 1890 oil on cardboard on cardboard
69.0 (h) x 46.0 (w) cm
Reference: Dortu P.372 Private collection

In his article ‘Cirques, théâtres, politique’, for La Revue indépendante of January 1888, the Symbolist writer and critic Félix Fénéon lamented the parlous state of the Parisian stage. It seemed to him that both patrons and performers were less interested in the quality of the theatrical performance and more concerned with the sexual prowess of the thespian. The circus was a different matter: ‘what is left is our circuses’, Fénéon declared;[1] and he was to radically proclaim that he considered the circus as an art form rivalling painting. Of all of Paris – its grand vistas or tawdry backstreets, elegant manners, or dark encounters – for Fénéon the circus was the ‘place of truth’.[2] It revealed, to Parisian and tourist alike, something of the French character.

By the 1890s Paris had four large circuses. The Cirque d’été by the Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées was open from April to October and seated 3500 patrons. Catering for the cooler months, from November to April, was the Cirque d’hiver on the boulevard des Filles-du-Calvaire. Situated in a more fashionable venue on the rue St Honoré was the Nouveau-cirque, which was blessed with good facilities for the audience, ensuring a more elegant crowd, as well as for the performance, including the facility to be flooded for aquatic spectaculars. Cirque Fernando (from 1897 known as the Cirque Medrado, after its new owner, an ex clown) on the boulevard Rochechouart was the venue for this painting by Lautrec. He was one of a number of artists drawn to the circus, including Jules Chéret, Georges Seurat, James Tissot, Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, his artistic hero.[3]

In Trapeze artist from the Cirque Fernando [Trapéziste du Cirque Fernando] Lautrec skilfully captures the energy and strength of the trapezist mid performance – she remains stationary with her hands on her hips and gazing at the floor, yet the figure is full of muscular energy. An athlete of beautiful proportions, her body is painted in rich pinks and whites. The tumble of brilliant red hair – so favoured by Lautrec – completes her spectacular look.

The sketchy brushwork and washes of paint on cardboard prefigure Lautrec’s radical method of painting, seen in Woman seated on a sofa [Femme assise sur un divan] 1897.[4]

JK

[1] This is a revised version of the author’s text, originally published in Jane Kinsman, Paris in the late 19th century, with Marc Bascou, Ted Gott et al., Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1996, p. 34. Félix Fénéon, ‘Calendrier de Décembre 1887: Cirques, théâtres, politique’, La Revue indépendante, January 1888, republished in Joan U. Halperin (ed.), Félix Fénéon: Oeuvres plus que completes, 2 vols, Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1970, vol. 2, p. 720. See also Joan U. Halperin, Félix Fénéon: Aesthete and anarchist in fin-de-siècle Paris, Harvard and London: Yale University Press, 1988,
p. 209.

[2] Halperin, 1988, p. 209.

[3] Eric Darragon, ‘Pégase à Fernando. A propos de cirque et du réalisme de Seurat en 1891’, Revue de l’art, no. 86, 1989, pp. 44–57; see also Barbara Stern Shapiro, Pleasures of Paris: Daumier to Picasso, Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1991, chapter 6, ‘Circuses and fairs’, pp. 167–180.

[4] See p. 252.

In his article ‘Cirques, théâtres, politique’, for La Revue indépendante of January 1888, the Symbolist writer and critic Félix Fénéon lamented the parlous state of the Parisian stage. It seemed to him that both patrons and performers were less interested in the quality of the theatrical performance and more concerned with the sexual prowess of the thespian. The circus was a different matter: ‘what is left is our circuses’, Fénéon declared;[1] and he was to radically proclaim that he considered the circus as an art form rivalling painting. Of all of Paris – its grand vistas or tawdry backstreets, elegant manners, or dark encounters – for Fénéon the circus was the ‘place of truth’.[2] It revealed, to Parisian and tourist alike, something of the French character.

By the 1890s Paris had four large circuses. The Cirque d’été by the Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées was open from April to October and seated 3500 patrons. Catering for the cooler months, from November to April, was the Cirque d’hiver on the boulevard des Filles-du-Calvaire. Situated in a more fashionable venue on the rue St Honoré was the Nouveau-cirque, which was blessed with good facilities for the audience, ensuring a more elegant crowd, as well as for the performance, including the facility to be flooded for aquatic spectaculars. Cirque Fernando (from 1897 known as the Cirque Medrado, after its new owner, an ex clown) on the boulevard Rochechouart was the venue for this painting by Lautrec. He was one of a number of artists drawn to the circus, including Jules Chéret, Georges Seurat, James Tissot, Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, his artistic hero.[3]

In Trapeze artist from the Cirque Fernando [Trapéziste du Cirque Fernando] Lautrec skilfully captures the energy and strength of the trapezist mid performance – she remains stationary with her hands on her hips and gazing at the floor, yet the figure is full of muscular energy. An athlete of beautiful proportions, her body is painted in rich pinks and whites. The tumble of brilliant red hair – so favoured by Lautrec – completes her spectacular look.

The sketchy brushwork and washes of paint on cardboard prefigure Lautrec’s radical method of painting, seen in Woman seated on a sofa [Femme assise sur un divan] 1897.[4]

JK

[1] This is a revised version of the author’s text, originally published in Jane Kinsman, Paris in the late 19th century, with Marc Bascou, Ted Gott et al., Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1996, p. 34. Félix Fénéon, ‘Calendrier de Décembre 1887: Cirques, théâtres, politique’, La Revue indépendante, January 1888, republished in Joan U. Halperin (ed.), Félix Fénéon: Oeuvres plus que completes, 2 vols, Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1970, vol. 2, p. 720. See also Joan U. Halperin, Félix Fénéon: Aesthete and anarchist in fin-de-siècle Paris, Harvard and London: Yale University Press, 1988,
p. 209.

[2] Halperin, 1988, p. 209.

[3] Eric Darragon, ‘Pégase à Fernando. A propos de cirque et du réalisme de Seurat en 1891’, Revue de l’art, no. 86, 1989, pp. 44–57; see also Barbara Stern Shapiro, Pleasures of Paris: Daumier to Picasso, Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1991, chapter 6, ‘Circuses and fairs’, pp. 167–180.

[4] See p. 252.

In his article ‘Cirques, théâtres, politique’, for La Revue indépendante of January 1888, the Symbolist writer and critic Félix Fénéon lamented the parlous state of the Parisian stage. It seemed to him that both patrons and performers were less interested in the quality of the theatrical performance and more concerned with the sexual prowess of the thespian. The circus was a different matter: ‘what is left is our circuses’, Fénéon declared;[1] and he was to radically proclaim that he considered the circus as an art form rivalling painting. Of all of Paris – its grand vistas or tawdry backstreets, elegant manners, or dark encounters – for Fénéon the circus was the ‘place of truth’.[2] It revealed, to Parisian and tourist alike, something of the French character.

By the 1890s Paris had four large circuses. The Cirque d’été by the Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées was open from April to October and seated 3500 patrons. Catering for the cooler months, from November to April, was the Cirque d’hiver on the boulevard des Filles-du-Calvaire. Situated in a more fashionable venue on the rue St Honoré was the Nouveau-cirque, which was blessed with good facilities for the audience, ensuring a more elegant crowd, as well as for the performance, including the facility to be flooded for aquatic spectaculars. Cirque Fernando (from 1897 known as the Cirque Medrado, after its new owner, an ex clown) on the boulevard Rochechouart was the venue for this painting by Lautrec. He was one of a number of artists drawn to the circus, including Jules Chéret, Georges Seurat, James Tissot, Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, his artistic hero.[3]

In Trapeze artist from the Cirque Fernando [Trapéziste du Cirque Fernando] Lautrec skilfully captures the energy and strength of the trapezist mid performance – she remains stationary with her hands on her hips and gazing at the floor, yet the figure is full of muscular energy. An athlete of beautiful proportions, her body is painted in rich pinks and whites. The tumble of brilliant red hair – so favoured by Lautrec – completes her spectacular look.

The sketchy brushwork and washes of paint on cardboard prefigure Lautrec’s radical method of painting, seen in Woman seated on a sofa [Femme assise sur un divan] 1897.[4]

JK

[1] This is a revised version of the author’s text, originally published in Jane Kinsman, Paris in the late 19th century, with Marc Bascou, Ted Gott et al., Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1996, p. 34. Félix Fénéon, ‘Calendrier de Décembre 1887: Cirques, théâtres, politique’, La Revue indépendante, January 1888, republished in Joan U. Halperin (ed.), Félix Fénéon: Oeuvres plus que completes, 2 vols, Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1970, vol. 2, p. 720. See also Joan U. Halperin, Félix Fénéon: Aesthete and anarchist in fin-de-siècle Paris, Harvard and London: Yale University Press, 1988,
p. 209.

[2] Halperin, 1988, p. 209.

[3] Eric Darragon, ‘Pégase à Fernando. A propos de cirque et du réalisme de Seurat en 1891’, Revue de l’art, no. 86, 1989, pp. 44–57; see also Barbara Stern Shapiro, Pleasures of Paris: Daumier to Picasso, Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1991, chapter 6, ‘Circuses and fairs’, pp. 167–180.

[4] See p. 252.



Image detail: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec La Goulue entering the Moulin Rouge [La Goulue entrant au Moulin Rouge] 1892
The Museum of Modern Art, New York Gift of Mrs David M. Levy