Friday, April 22, 2011

Georges Seurat - Le Cirque

Georges Seurat, Le Cirque, 1890
(Musee d'Orsay)
This was Georges Seurat's last painting that he exhibited at the Salon des Independants in 1891 in its unfinished state. He died a couple of days after hanging the painting.  This painting contains all the elements Seurat was interested in and experimenting with,  but we don't know how much further or in which direction he might have gone from here since he died so young, leaving behind his own version of optical blending of color called pointillism.

Jules Cheret, Hippodrome de la PorteMaillot,
Paris Courses,
Le Cirque is a very good example of how Seurat incorporated popular imagery and interpreted the condition of modern society into his work.  He could have looked to one of  Jules Cheret's posters advertising the Paris Courses at the Hippodrome de la Porte Maillot, or a Ball at the Moulin Rouge,  for this  particular painting; some of the figures and colors are almost exact replicas.  Seurat was known to have admired how Gustave Courbet used popular culture as a source for fine art.  This was a time when posters were starting to be used for the advertisement of popular entertainments and Cheret's posters would have been all over Paris.  What Seurat accomplished by breaking down barriers was cause for criticizim for bringing in too much popular culture to his work.

Theatrical subject matters like the circus were also a favorite with Degas, who also might have had an influence on Seurat's selection of this particular motif.

This painting with all its upward moving diagonals and warm colors, all of which would have suggested a happy and uplifting experience, in actuality could have been a critique of spectatorship.  The audience seems to be unresponsive to the spectacle that was taking place in front of their eyes.  This was a time when people of all classes were looking to find entertainments in a city like Paris that in itself had become a spectacle as T. J. Clark called it in his book, The Painting of Modern Life. 
Seurat applied Henry Chevreul's theory of the balancing contrasting colors to create harmony by painting a blue frame to the predominantly yellow color of  this picture.

Observing how Seurat has flattened the picture plane even more than his previous works and the different  points of perspective offered within the painting and the juxtaposition of the different concerns throughout the history of art being incorporated in his own unique vision makes me wonder what was next if he had lived a longer life.

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