Chagall’s Circus: A Kaleidoscope of Color and Movement

Marc Chagal, Le Grand Cirque, 1956, Oil on canvas, Private Collection

Marc Chagall, celebrated for his enchanting and dreamlike artworks, took an extraordinary leap into the vibrant world of the circus, creating a series of masterpieces that transcend the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Through his unique lens, Chagall captured the spirit, energy, and magic of the circus, creating a visual symphony that continues to captivate art enthusiasts worldwide.

The Circus as Inspiration

Chagall’s fascination with the circus was deeply rooted in his personal history. Born in Russia in 1887, he spent his early years surrounded by the lively performances of traveling circuses that visited his hometown. These childhood memories served as a wellspring of inspiration, fueling Chagall’s later artistic exploration of the circus theme.

Marc Chagal, The Horse Rider 1949-53 Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

A Kaleidoscope of Color

Chagall’s circus paintings are characterized by a riot of colors that dance across the canvas. His unique use of bold, vivid hues creates a sense of whimsy and fantasy, transporting viewers into a realm where gravity seems optional, and reality takes on a dreamlike quality. The circus performers, animals, and acrobats become characters in a fantastical narrative.

The Blue Circus 1950 Marc Chagall 1887-1985 Presented by the artist 1953 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N06136

Acrobats in Flight: Defying Gravity

One of the recurring motifs in Chagall’s circus series is the depiction of acrobats soaring through the air. These gravity-defying figures embody a sense of liberation and transcendence, reflecting Chagall’s belief in the power of art to elevate the human spirit. The fluidity of movement and the harmony between performers evoke a sense of joy and celebration.

Circus Animals: Symbolism and Whimsy

Chagall’s circus menagerie includes a cast of whimsical animals, from prancing horses to winged creatures. These animals are not mere spectators but active participants in the circus spectacle. Through his imaginative lens, Chagall imbues the animals with symbolic meaning, inviting viewers to interpret their roles within the intricate tapestry of the circus.

Love and Romance Under the Big Top

The circus, for Chagall, became a metaphor for love and romance. His paintings often feature amorous couples suspended in mid-air, locked in a tender embrace. These depictions go beyond the physical acts of the circus and delve into the emotional and poetic dimensions of human connection, echoing Chagall’s belief in the transformative power of love.

Chagall’s Unique Artistic Language

Chagall’s circus series showcases his distinctive artistic language, blending elements of Cubism, Fauvism, and Surrealism. His ability to merge diverse styles creates a visual vocabulary that is uniquely his own. The dreamy, fantastical quality of his circus paintings reflects not only the artist’s personal experiences but also his profound optimism and belief in the transcendent nature of art.

Enduring Legacy and Contemporary Impact

Decades after Chagall’s exploration of the circus theme, his works continue to resonate with contemporary audiences. The timeless allure of the circus, coupled with Chagall’s imaginative interpretations, ensures that these paintings remain a source of inspiration and wonder. Exhibitions featuring Chagall’s circus series draw crowds eager to experience the magic and emotion encapsulated within his canvases.

Marc Chagal, Circus Horse 1964

Conclusion: Chagall’s Circus – A Visual Feast

Marc Chagall’s circus series stands as a testament to the artist’s ability to transform ordinary subjects into extraordinary realms of imagination. Through a kaleidoscope of color, movement, and symbolism, Chagall invites viewers to step into a world where the boundaries between reality and fantasy dissolve. The circus, in Chagall’s hands, becomes a visual feast that transcends time, offering a perpetual celebration of the human spirit and the boundless possibilities of artistic expression.

Isaacs A Van Amburgh, the Aminal Trainer

Isaac A. Van Amburgh was a 19th-century American entertainer known for his performances with wild animals, particularly lions and tigers. He gained fame for his daring and often controversial acts in which he interacted closely with these dangerous animals in front of live audiences.

Isaac van Amburgh and his Animals Inscribed 1839

Oil on canvas | 113.7 x 174.8 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 406346, Royal Collection

Van Amburgh’s performances were a precursor to the modern concept of animal training and the use of exotic animals in entertainment. He would enter cages with ferocious animals, often using a combination of fear, dominance, and conditioning to control them during his acts. His feats included putting his head inside a lion’s mouth, commanding multiple lions and tigers at once, and engaging in mock battles with them.

While he was praised for his audacity and showmanship, there was also criticism and concern about the treatment of the animals in his care. Many animal rights advocates and observers questioned the ethics of subjecting these creatures to potentially harmful and stressful situations for the sake of entertainment.

Van Amburgh’s popularity waned in the latter half of the 19th century as public sentiment shifted towards more humane treatment of animals. His performances are remembered as a reflection of the attitudes and entertainment preferences of his time, as well as a catalyst for discussions about the treatment of animals in captivity.

Some Additions to the Collection

A few more photogrphic post cards have been added this year so far. The first selection represent some aspect of Travelling Menageries and Circuses.

The Alphonso family were well known aerialists. A notable speciality act was having three cyclists balancing above the lion’s den on narrow cycleways. whilst below the trainer would put the lions through several tricks. The date is probably 1904 when they were at Madison Square Gardens in New York.

A rather puzzling Carte de Visite by W L Shrubsole, date unknown. Bsed at 5 Davey Place and at Victoria staion in Norwich. William Lewis Shrubsole, 82 Chapelfield Road, Norwich and was known to be photographing between 1890 – 1910. Little is known of his landscape art.

Is though, this an image of the elusive ‘Mrs Wombwell (Ann Morgan)? Norwich has connections to the Menageire, via the wife of E H Bostock, who was from Norwich.

A scarce postcard representing the Tower Circus ring at Blackpool in England. A full description of Frank Matcham’s interiors can be found on the NFA website.

A popular colour postcard of the lion cages at Blackpool Circus and Zoo. Date unknown, poor quality reproduction.

In at Number 11: George Wombwell Biography – The Real Wombwells (Vol III)

Posted on November 22, 2019 by admin

At last the project is complete! The third and final part has just been published. It went straight into the Top 100 Best Sellers of Circus Books at No. 11!

In addition, the covers of all three volumes have been updated to the one above. Look out for the distinctive red covers and the subtitles ( volumes I to III, Events at Warwick, The Greatest Showman and The Real Wombwells)

In paperback:

Kindle ebook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/George-Wombwell-1777-1850-Wombwells-ebook/dp/B081QKS46H/ref=sr_1_2?crid=3UY6MCZVGPSIN&keywords=shaun+villiers+everett&qid=1574437347&sprefix=shaun+vill%2Caps%2C135&sr=8-2

This volume also contains many previously unpublished images from the Wombwell Collection and a menagerie events calendar between 1800 and the late 19th century. It is a major addition to the genealogical map of menageries families in the UK and beyond.

Post Free

George Wombwell’s NEW Royal Appointment

After 172 years, George Wombwell’s visit to Windsor Castle is to be celebrated at a family event day at the Castle! Queen Victoria’s Circus will be a true family affair, with circus acts and stuffed elephants and even a lion tamer!

Date: Saturday, 14th September 2019

reproduced by kind permission of the copyright owner, 2019

A storyteller wil relive, on the very spot, the menagerie’s visit during 1847. Lots of events and children can also join the circus for a day! I trust you know somebody that might want to attend, especially if they have never been to Windsor Castle. It’s all included in the standard price tickets.

A programme is being produced which includes the above image. I have permission to reproduce it here. It is a very rare image of the day at Windsor Castle in 1847. I’ve only ever seen one in many years of searching for it.

I think George Wombwell would appreciate the involvement of children as it was his wish to let everyone see the beasts of the wild, no matter how poor they were at the time. There are many instances of newspaper reports of George allowing whole school classes in to see the menagerie for free.

The website is here

Bostock and Wombwell Band Wagon

A Grand Bostock and Wombwell bandwagon in USA parade at Circus World Museum, Wisconsin where many Victorian Menagerie items are on display/stored. Any B&W items were probably from Frank Bostock’s collection.

Colour printed postcard, verso: This elegant vehicle dates back to 1882 England. A remarkable feature of this wagon are the six-foot diameter rear wheels. The Wombwell name dates back to 1805 when it was used on a travelling menageire. Photo:Jim Morrill

End of Days: Last Performance Soon by Ringling’s and Barnham’s Circus

Pointed out to me by Terence Ruffle, I think this is well written and quite sad. Possibly not for the animals, but who really knows what they are thinking? The ‘ Greatest Show on Earth’ comes to an end in May 2017. Quite tearful. TJ would be quite angry and George Wombwell the World’s Greatest Showman, George Wombwell would be very sad, and probably wondering how he could capitalise on Barnham’s demise!

A 14-year-old girl named Zazel was the first to be shot out of a cannon, in 1877 London.

On the subject of old ‘trains’, I often wonder if there are any of the caravans that Bostock and Wombwell travelled in, languishing somewhere in a farm outbuilding in the UK? It would make a really good project to refurbish one of them, provide young people with skills training, etc. If anyone knows of one please let us know. Where to look? Farm barns, fields, zoos (Whipsnade, etc.), railyards…

The information age has surely killed live perfomances. Young people will never know what it was like to see tigers and lions,etc.

Bostock Circus Film

UPDATE2: It was produced by the ‘Warwick Trading Company’ and BFI has many of their films.

UPDATE: Just noticed the 1911 date on the film.

I discovered this old film on YouTube. It seems to show the end of an elephant to include its funeral pyre. It has German titles and has been translated as ‘Lights and Shades on the Bostock Circus Farm’. As well as an elephant and a bear performing, the participants are aslo acting throughout the film. I would like to think this film is nothing to do with the Bostock and Wombwell outfit, but I know nothing else on the film. It has a permanent logo showing BFI which is the British Film Institute. I will be contacting them to get a history of the film, but if anyone can shed light then let me know. I wonder if it is a travelling outfit on the continent around the 1920s/30s? The keepers do not seem to be very kind to their animals. Was it a Nazi propaganda stunt? Anything is possible.

Help Required: Photographs from Selby, Yorkshire

E H Bostock probably with Dixie the elephant around 1932

Prince LawdTanno (Spell) known to have been travelling with a menagerie and circus around 1905. Probably a lion tamer modelled on Montarno the African Lion King. Known to have travelled with Chipperfield’s French Menagerie during the early twentieth century.

Waggon containig two lions and possibly a seated trainer or keeper, also at Selby circa 1930. Not a typical B&W waggon, so it is also probably a Sanger outfit.

The following photographs have been sent to us for dating and for any other information. I have added my comments underneath each photograph, but would welcome further information via the comments section at the bottom of the post or via email: shaun.everett1@gmail.com

Thank you for your interest in this project about the local history of Selby in Yorkshire. My thanks to Mr Chilvers for providing the original photographs.

Rare view of B&W booth at Selby during 1931. This must have been one of the last times it visited the town or anywhere else, given it disbanded the following year. Shows the poor condition of the booth front.

At Selby, showing a group of Dancing Bears on the left of the picture performing for the local population. Unknown group and date. Information would be welcome.