About this artwork
Gifford Beal often depicted life’s exuberant side, focusing on festive places such as the circus, where many people spent their leisure time. Located near Times Square and built in 1905, the New York Hippodrome was an enormous entertainment venue. Here, Beal captured a moment during rehearsal, as a stage crew prepares for the evening show. Together the vivid colors, the figures’ exaggerated and strenuous poses, and the dramatic stage lights convey the event’s pageantry. The empty seats and trapeze bars suggest the excitement to come, when spectators and acrobats fill the theater.
Beal’s portrayal of a group of circus clowns in the foreground includes one figure who appears to be in blackface, visceral evidence of the racist stereotyping that permeates American culture. Performers in blackface were regular fixtures of theater, circus, and vaudeville productions throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century. These routines relied on comedy, derision, and distortion to normalize negative perceptions of African Americans, assert white superiority among performers and viewers, and perpetuate inequality.
Currently Off View
- Arts of the Americas
- Gifford Beal
- At the Hippodrome
- United States
- Oil on canvas
- Signed and dated lower center: Gifford Beal 15
- 88.6 × 118.8 cm (34 7/8 × 46 3/4 in.)
- Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection