Contrary to what the composition of James Tissot’s The Circus Lover might suggest, the real subjects of this painting are the female spectators in the foreground, not the trapeze dandy—a member of the Parisian aristocracy taking part in an amateur circus—in the upper center of the picture. The work is one of 18 large paintings made by Tissot in a series called Women of Paris, which depicts women of various social classes as they might have been encountered around town: taking in the circus, at lunch, on the streets of the city. Tissot is recognized today for his meticulous documentation of Parisian fashion; as you can see in the Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity exhibition, Tissot would often paint different models in the same dress, so enamored was he with contemporary fashion. In the same vein, The Circus Lover is not so much about the circus as it is about the women watching it and what they're wearing.
Two women are seated in the foreground of this amateur circus, forming a gorgeous counterpoint to each other. One faces us with a slightly haughty expression; the other has her back to us. One woman wears a light pink dress, the other a bright red. One fan, cream-colored, is closed and cocked over a shoulder; the other is black and spread across the woman’s chest. It is almost as if Tissot had to represent two women who would serve as the second half of the other; in this way the artist could represent the back and the front of dresses, hats, and fans, always with lavish details.
What Tissot has mainly captured in The Circus Lover, though, is the newfound and hard-won liberty of women in Paris in the late 19th century. While the audience is a mix of men and women—segregated though they may be—these two women, and many others, appear to be unaccompanied. Their clothing suggests utter respectability, but the fact that they are out for an evening unescorted—and even pointedly ignoring the ardent gentleman leaning into their box—showcases the extent to which la Parisienne was becoming a force in French culture. Fashionable, bold, maybe even slightly superior, this new category of women was a critical step in redefining femininity for the modern age. Send in the clowns!
James Tissot. The Circus Lover from the series Women of Paris, 1885. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Juliana Cheney Edwards Collection, 58.45.
10 hours 23 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago COMING SOON—Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–75
The short-lived Tokyo magazine Provoke is now recognized as a major achievement in world photography of the last 50 years. A major international traveling show, which has Chicago as its only North American venue, this exhibition is the first survey of postwar Japanese art to be organized at the Art Institute and draws heavily on the the museum’s collection—more than 60% of the over 200 items on display belong to the Art Institute.
OPENING JANUARY 28—http://bit.ly/2jMlnUx
13 hours 35 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—The Italian–born American artist Josef Stella revisited his native Italy in 1922, where he became fascinated by Renaissance painting. Drawing inspiration from Sandro Botticelli, Stella began to produce decorative, detailed, symbolic compositions, such as A Vision (seen here). Stella was enthralled by the tropical plants he observed at the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York, and he imagined an iconic woman growing out of the earth like the towering flowers on either side of her.
The French–born American artist Gaston Lachaise found his own iconic inspiration for the sculpture, Woman (Elevation), in Isabel Dutaud Nagle, whom he later married, telling her, “I want to create a miracle with it… as great as you.” This sculpture represents Lachaise’s first full-scale expression of the idealized female form that would come to dominate his art. Modernists like Lachaise believed preclassical art possessed a primitive vitality absent from later art forms.
See Josef Stella’s A Vision (1925/26) and Gaston Lachaise’s Woman (Elevation) (1912–15; cast 1927)—on view in Gallery 271.
1 day 9 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—Rodney McMillian: a great society
Our latest exhibition in the Modern Wing represents the last decade of the artist’s work in video. Grappling with the complexities of class, race, and place in America, Rodney McMillian employs elements of performance, public speaking, oral history—and his interest in the science fiction genre—to expose the social and psychological consequences of economic inequality, endemic racism, and the failed promise of freedom and prosperity for all of its citizens. While McMillian's work engages the often stark realities of history and contemporary culture, it is motivated by the potential for alternative realities and future transformation.
See Rodney McMillian: a great society on view in the Modern Wing through March 26.