History of circus art. Part II. Parisian circus
The English made a significant contribution to the development of circus in France, but the French circus itself was born in Italy! Italy was and still is the home of many circus dynasties, and Italy was also a staging ground for many travelling circus troupes that apparently due to the difficult political situation, never settled down in that country.
The operations of the circus “Olympic” or “Olympic Circus” (which had changed locations in Paris three times) were inextricably linked to the Franconi family; the majority of its members were the prominent equestrians in the 18th and 19th centuries. The “Olympic Circus” was the first amphitheater in Paris to bear the inscription 'Circus'.
In 1841, a new building opened in the Carre Marigny, replacing the summer chapiteau, and housed the “Circus des Champs Elysees” or “Summer Circus”. The circus building was quite unusual -- Parisian and London predecessors were amphitheaters, while the “Cirque des Champs-Elysées” had a polygonal shape with 16 sides. The capacity of the structure ranged from 4000 to 6000 people (according to different sources); the interior was decorated in Moorish style, and a huge chandelier hung over the circus arena, surrounded by rows of seats. The eastern pediment was topped by an equestrian statue of an Amazon created by the sculptor Jean-Jacques Pradier (1790 - 1852), a French artist and sculptor of Swiss origin. The model was the equestrienne Antoinette le Jars, and as payment for his work the sculptor demanded the right to attend the circus free for life!
At the time, the Champs-Elysées area was becoming one of the most aristocratic neighborhoods in the city. "It was the aristocracy with its love of the equestrial skill that made up the circus catering for the best public.
At the time, the Champs-Elysées area was becoming one of the most aristocratic neighborhoods in the city. It was the aristocracy with its love of the art of riding that made up the circus's chosen audience. The equestrian circus in France was in its heyday and was one of the top places in the hierarchy of entertainment. In those times, equestrians and equestriennes were idols of the public that appreciated their skills in all subtleties.
On November 12, 1859, the “Napoleon” circus (Winter Circus) hosted the first public demonstration of flying trapeze act. An acrobat from Toulouse, Jules Léotard, performed it. He acted in tight pink suit, which instantly became so popular that the modern gymnastic leotard was named 'leotard'. In 1886, a new circus was built at Rue Saint-Honore, 251 on the site of the first Franconi “Olympic circus”. The building was constructed in such a way that the arena could be lowered when necessary to create a pool for water shows. Amusing water dump shows were especially popular, with the characters invariably ending up in the water. The big name performer of the New Circus was the clown George Foottit (1864 –1921). In one of the performances, "Under the whip", which enjoyed, like all others, a great success, Foottit parodied Sarah Bernhardt. Having learned about it, the great tragic actress came to the circus with the intention of causing a scandal, but was conquered by the talent of the English clown. George Foottit was known as the cross-talk genre founder. Between 1889 and 1910, he was performing together with dark-skinned clown nicknamed "Chocolate" (real name Rafael Padilla). The duo had great success; the performers exchanged lines in skits (so-called "entrees") and acted out a circus version of the comedy. Foottit, dressed in brocade clown suit, was the central figure. ‘Chocolate’ would appear without make-up, in a hat, tight tails, short trousers and coloured socks. The roles were distributed as follows: Foottit was the overbearing lord and ‘Chocolate’ was the submissive poor man that got his kicks all the time.
The real sanctuary of clownery in Paris was the Medrano Circus. Ferdinand Wartenberg, a Belgian artist nicknamed Fernando, founded it, and from 1875 to 1897, the institution was called Fernando Circus. Many artists became regular visitors, regardless of their stylistic predilections. The French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists were fond of such spectacles. The circus world, bright and unpredictable, provided the perfect inspiration for an artist, who could find the unusual experience at the amphitheater, beauty and tragedy, and the fullness of human emotions and characters. In addition, the circus "demi monde" provided enormous opportunities for the choice of models. Fernando Circus was depicted not only by Renoir and Degas, but by Seurat and Léger as well, and most of all by Toulouse-Lautrec.
Soon the clown, Geronimo Medrano, became the most prominent person in the troupe; the audience nicknamed him 'Boom-Boom' because of the shout he used to let the orchestra know he needed a drum roll. In 1898, Geronimo Medrano bought the circus and renamed it after himself. Medrano was a hilarious clown, so people came to "laugh at Medrano's". The circus concept remained the same until its closure in 1963. Almost simultaneously with stationary circuses, the first SHAPITOs - travelling circuses - started appearing. The itinerant circus performers were known since the Middle Ages, they performed at fairs and city festivals. However, the masters of the stationary circuses saw a new art form and broadened their horizons by organizing tours for circus troupes, equipping them with carts and conventional demountable constructions made of planks and tarpaulin, in which performances were staged.
The cycle sequel will cover the development of circus in the United States.