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.
8 hours 19 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago CLOSING SOON—Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem
Two major figures in American art and literature aim to make the black experience visible in postwar America.
Closing August 28—http://bit.ly/2aQrnYd
12 hours 48 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago It is believed Van Dyck never intended for the early stages of his etchings to be circulated and was surprised by their immediate popularity in the art market. Finding success at a time when artists didn’t usually show works in progress, these “unfinished” prints helped set the stage for the more recent popularity of works that reveal the creative process. See the prints that altered conventions in Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and the Portrait Print—closing August 7.
1 day 7 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago #TBT 1983: The museum held an exhibition for the collection of Jalane and Richard Davidson, Chicago collectors of contemporary American realist drawings. Acknowledged at the time for collecting against prevailing art world trends, they amassed a comprehensive collection of work spanning the careers of both well-known artists—like Jack Beal, pictured here with Jalane herself and a portrait he made of her—and lesser-known Midwestern artists. The entire Davidson collection was bequeathed to the museum and saw another exhibition devoted to it in 1999.