Georges Seurat (French, 1859–1891)
Oil on canvas
39 1/4 x 59 in. (99.7 x 149.9 cm)
Bequest of Stephen C. Clark, 1960 (61.101.17)
Circus Sideshow (or Parade de Cirque) is one of six major figure paintings that Seurat produced during his short career. More compact than his other mural-size compositions, and more mysterious in its allure, Seurat's first nocturnal painting debuted at the 1888 Salon des Indépendants in Paris. On a balustraded stage, under the misty glow of nine twinkling gaslights, a ringmaster (at right) and musicians (at left) play to a crowd of potential ticket buyers, whose assorted hats add a wry and rhythmic note to the foreground.
Seurat made on-site sketches in the spring of 1887, when Fernand Corvi's traveling circus was set up in a working-class district of Paris, near the place de la Nation; he then developed the composition through several preparatory studies. Circus Sideshow represents the first important painting Seurat devoted to a scene of popular entertainment. In effect, it sets the stage for his last great figure compositions, La Chahut of 1889–90 (Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo) and Circus of 1890–91 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris).