A new exhibition conceived and selected by History of Art’s Professor Richard Thomson will open later this month at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
The exhibition, about Georges Seurat’s masterpiece Circus Sideshow (1887-8, originally called Parade de cirque), will open on the 15th of February.
The exhibition includes some 80 works in various media, gathered around the great painting. These include some 15 drawings by Seurat. Also showing is a very varied list of work, ranging from caricatures and prints to large-scale paintings, by artists from Honoré Daumier to the young Pablo Picasso, all around the theme of the circus parade, when performers tried to encourage the passing crowd to pay to see the show .
The work of Georges Seurat has always featured in the courses on late 19th century French art that Richard has been teaching for many years.
Richard said, “Seurat is an interesting artist to teach because, while his subjects - public places in Paris, the city's night-life and the Channel coast - are straightforward and inviting, his technique, with his complex spatial structures, dotted surfaces and schematic figures, can seem quite forbidding. And yet the paintings have a magnetic fascination to which students respond, not least because they are very difficult to interpret, and so prompt much discussion.”
Richard published a monograph on Seurat in 1985, and a decade later was invited by the National Gallery in London to work on Seurat’s first great painting, The Bathers, Asnières, which belongs to the Trafalgar Square museum and cannot be lent because of its fragile condition. With John Leighton, then curator of 19th century art at the National Gallery and now Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland, he curated an exhibition, staged in 1997, which took the Bathers as the centrepiece, surrounding it with its many preparatory drawings and oil sketches, and contrasting it with paintings with which it shared either subject or composition by artists as different as Poussin and Van Gogh.
In late 2013 Richard approached the Metropolitan Museum, New York, which owns the fourth of Seurat's six major paintings, with the idea of doing a similar exhibition concentrating on Circus Sideshow, which is also too fragile to be lent. Again, the idea was to surround the great picture with Seurat's preparatory work as well as the sort of images which would have drawn him to the subject and encouraged him to compose his picture as he did.
In addition, the show would include contextual and historical material to show the visitor what the world of the travelling circus was like in the late 19th century.
The Metropolitan were very keen on the idea, and Richard has been working on the projects since early 2014, visiting museums from Barcelona to Poitiers, Marseilles to Amsterdam, to secure loans.
The exhibition runs until the 29th of May