Acrobats at the Cirque Fernando is one of the most beloved paintings in the Art Institute's already beloved Impressionist collection, and it's easy to guess why. The painting features two innocent-looking, fashionably-costumed young circus performers who are taking their bows before a seemingly adoring crowd. But as you look closer—and as you learn more about the painting—the innocence and beauty is cleverly manufactured.
The two sisters, Francisca and Angelina, were actually part of a roving German acrobatic troupe. And this painting supposedly does capture the performers' nuances. Renoir's own brother Edmond wrote of the painting:
There really is no sense of arrangement. [Renoir] has captured the two children's movement with unbelievable subtlety and immediacy. This is exactly how they walked, bowed, and smiled in the ring.
But despite these truths, the work also has some fictional elements. For one, the girls are not nearly as young as they look. At the time this was painted, the two sisters would have been 14 and 17. Here, Renoir has enhanced their youthfulness and they appear to be closer to 10 and 12. Renoir also refused to paint them as they would have appeared under the circus's gas lights, deeming them too harsh. Instead, he painted them as if en plein air, building up layers of diaphonous paint to give the girls an almost luminous quality. They also—purposefully—match their environment, with their outfits complementing the gold tones of the floor and the oranges that Angelina holds. Renoir also avoided the more unsavory parts of the circus, giving us just a hint of the probably mostly male crowd who comprised the 19th century nocturnal demimonde.
One person who was definitely able to overlook the painting's inaccuracies was the original owner, Mrs. Potter Palmer. She loved the painting so much that she kept it with her at all times, even when she traveled abroad!
Finally, one of the things I discovered in my research is that this is not the only painting is the Impressionist galleries of the Cirque Fernando. Do any Art Institute aficionados know of other paintings that feature this popular 19th-century destination?
Image Credit: Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Acrobats at the Cirque Fernando (Francisca and Angelina Wartenburg), 1879. Potter Palmer Collection.
1 day 19 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago "Real painters understand with a brush in their hand."
Happy birthday to the trailblazing artist Berthe Morisot, a core member of the Impressionists and the only woman to be exhibited in seven of the eight Impressionist group exhibitions between 1874 and 1886.
See two paintings by Berthe Morisot, now on view in Gallery 201.
Image: Berthe Morisot. Woman at Her Toilette, 1875/80. Stickney Fund.
2 days 12 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago John Singer Sargent’s portraits have captivated audiences for over a century. ARTicle takes a closer look at his work, on the week of the American Impressionist’s birthday.
2 days 13 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago FEBRUARY 24—After Dark: Xtra Loud featuring "Hélio Oiticica—To Organize Delirium"
Join us for a special edition of After Dark in the Modern Wing! Dive deep into 1960s Brazil with a performance from legendary psychedelic pop group Os Mutantes. And enjoy special tours of the exhibition Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium, a conversation with Os Mutantes leader Sérgio Dias and the hosts of Sound Opinions, plus a Tropicália-inspired DJ set by recess.
Hosted by The Evening Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago.