The circus world through contemporary art

The relevance that the circus world acquired between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century is reflected in art through an extensive cast of artists who, attracted by the bohemian and eccentric spirit of the circus, they wanted to capture the essence of this wonderful and cathartic visual spectacle that at that time, and especially in Paris, had become one of the great epicenters of social life. From the most identifying iconographic motifs of the circus imaginary to the most disparate emotions that its characters embody, the so-called greatest show in the world was undoubtedly an inexhaustible source of inspiration and experimentation in the development of the artistic avant-garde

Circus-themed Celso Lagar pieces sold at Setdart.
Photograph of Lautrec dressed as a circus character and Chagall's play "Circus" from 1964.

In fin de siècle paris, artists such as Tolousse-Lautrec, Chagall, Picasso or Leger, discovered the possibilities that this great show offered them, opening the doors to a dream world, where fantasy, magic and the desire to recover the lost paradise of our childhood, meant refuge and hope in the face of daily misfortunes. In this way, the circus that from its irreverence and optimism aroused the most primal and genuine emotions, was discovered as the perfect setting in which to unleash the new spirit of modernity and freedom that was championed by the artistic avant-gardes. This space free of social conventions in which it was possible to believe that the world could be otherwise, was also the space where vibrant colors, fast-paced movement, and compositional freedom found a place to come alive.

However, in contrast to this idealized image of the circus world, there were many artists who they reflected the crudest and most sordid face that was hidden behind him. The circus became a metaphor for the human condition where tragedy and comedy became two sides of the same coin. From then on, the feeling of melancholy and nostalgia was identified with the marginal condition of those fascinating characters, who, after the stage lights went out, lived a reality far removed from the splendor of the show. From this point of view, Picasso’s representations are probably the most clairvoyant example of the tragic meaning that enveloped the circus stars, whose picturesque, marginal and transgressive life was identified with that of the artist himself. In this sense, the figure of the clown embodies the artist’s feeling of incomprehension and loneliness like no other. But beyond Picasso, there were many Spanish artists who, like Benjamin Palencia, Antoni Clavè, Maruja Mayo or Celso Lagar, made the circus theme one of the centers of their production.

In the case of Lagar, the circus imaginary acquires a special relevance that gives light to those who will be his most famous works and at the same time, saddest. In them he gives off the feeling of deep loneliness and uprooting that accompanied him since he left his native Andalusia to settle in the city of Paris. After the initial learning that was the discovery of the historical avant-gardes, Lagar, seeks a path of expression of his own marked fundamentally by a Goya and Picassian inspiration visible on the canvas that we will present at auction on the 17th (35162347)

His constant visits to the traveling circuses of Paris and especially the mythical Medrano circus became the chronicle of an interwar society trapped in melancholy and misery, but also, in a autobiographical reflection of the feeling of the artist symbolized here, through the figure of the clown. Lagar portrays the loneliness that the protagonist faces once the show is over in a scene where, surrounded only by the props typical of his work, highlights the silent expressiveness that emerges from both the contrasting chromaticism and atmosphere, as well as from his melancholic gaze.

Ultimately, the circus spectacle turned from the hand of great artists into a reflection of the spectacle of life.

Lot: 35162347. CELSO LAGAR ARROYO (Ciudad Rodrigo, León, 1891 - Seville, 1966).
"Porto du Cirque Medrano"
Lot: 35162347. CELSO LAGAR ARROYO (Ciudad Rodrigo, León, 1891 - Seville, 1966). "Porto du Cirque Medrano"

Some works sold in Setdart

Lot sold in Setdart. CARLES NADAL. "Circus on the beach."
Lot sold in Setdart. ENRIQUE MIRALLES DARMANIN "Circus characters
Lot sold in Setdart. CARLES NADAL. "The circus".