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|BALTIMORE, MD.- See daring feats, exotic acts, and colorful circus characters through the eyes of some of the greatest artists of the 20th century. A Circus Family: Picasso to Léger, on view at The Baltimore Museum of Art February 22–May 17, 2009, features more than 80 prints, drawings, paintings, and books by Pablo Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Fernand Léger, and other European artists fascinated by the extravagant spectacle of the circus and the bohemian lives of the performers outside the ring. This special ticketed exhibition brings together major works from museums and private collections to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the circus during its heyday as a form of popular entertainment.
The BMA recreates the intimacy and excitement of the circus in the first gallery of the exhibition as colorful posters of tightrope walkers, clowns, and can-can dancers by Toulouse-Lautrec and Jules Chéret emerge from a semi-circular canvas tent that corresponds to the 13-meter circus ring typically used in Europe. These vibrant 19th-century posters illustrate the circus as public entertainment, much like Paris’s famed dance halls. A selection of prints and archival photographs provide a realistic look at both the circus performers of the era and their enraptured audiences.
A group of 30 rarely shown works on paper by Picasso from the BMA’s world renowned collection of modern art are on view for the first time with related paintings and sculpture loaned from the Göteborg Museum of Art in Sweden, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Throughout 1904-05, Picasso visited the Médrano Circus in the Montmartre section of Paris, sometimes on a nightly basis. He and many of his contemporaries identified personally with the circus performers as they lived by their skill and talent at the fringes of society. Picasso’s many sympathetic portrayals of circus families reveal the private side of circus life and offer an extraordinary opportunity to see the artist’s development at a pivotal moment in his career.
School of Paris artists such as Gino Severini and Natalia Goncharova reveled in the modernity of dance halls and circuses and found ways to express their excitement in new emerging styles. Juan Gris and Georges Rouault emphasized the links that connected circus performers to the past and to the old commedia dell’arte tradition. Some of the most dramatic works appear in a section of the exhibition devoted to artists associated with German Expressionism. Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, and others focused on the sinister, artificial, and alienating aspects of the circus that implied a broader critique of modern mass society. Swiss artist Paul Klee viewed the circus as an oasis within the bleak, industrial city, providing one of the last remaining opportunities for childlike play.
The exhibition concludes with a selection of works from two books, Henri Matisse’s Jazz (1947) and Léger’s Cirque (1950). Throughout much of its production, Jazz was intended to be named ―Cirque‖ and many images are circus themed. Léger’s Cirque plays on the double meaning of the title (signifying both ―circus‖ and ―circle‖ in French) to launch into a wild celebration of all things circular in the universe and the most circular of institutions, the circus. Through his vivid color and black lithographs, he encourages the reader, ―Go to the circus. Nothing is as round as the circus.‖
The European Circus
Picasso and the Circus
The Acrobat Family Reunited
The BMA has created a special two-sided display that demonstrates the relationship between The Acrobat Family painting from Göteborg, Sweden and the three sketches that were once part of a single sheet of studies. These include the following sketches: Circus Family with Violinist; Sketches of Monkey, and Clown’s Family with Violinist; Monkey; and Sketches of Violinist; Mother Caressing Child with Standing Woman; and Sketches of Cropped Figures. Reassembled, this sheet reveals a great deal about Picasso’s working method and visual thought process. Not only was he thrifty with paper, he also explored variations of expressive details as well as composition on the same sheet. Another major work, The Circus Family (1905), is among the most important Picasso drawings at the BMA. X-ray photographs have revealed that it is the preliminary compositional sketch for the artist’s most famed painting from this period, Family of Saltimbanques (at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC).
Article Credit: http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=28431