Monday 11 September 2023

Circus - Fernand Leger

Memories Steeped in Dreams: Lithographs at the Basil and Elisa Goulandris Foundation Museum.

Ninety lithographs, engravings and ceramics from the collection of the Foundation, eight artists. Each post will cover one artist. In this post, Fernand Leger. 

When Leger got back to Paris in 1946 after having lived in New York for six years, he was contacted by Teriade who asked him to design a folio of lithographs illustrating a text of his choosing. The painter decided to dedicate his album to the circus world and chose to write the texts himself illustrating them with original lithographs. Thirty-four compositions in colour and twenty-nine in black and white were conceived for Circus to decorate the manuscript penned in a nimble and ample style, akin to Matisse's Jazz. The latter envisaged the written part as a complement to the image, serving to balance the whole, whereas Leger, whose talents as writer and orator were of a rare limpidity took advantage of this platform to render a literary and artistic homage to the circus.

It took Leger and Teriade four years to finish the printing of Circus, whose publication was entrusted to the Mourlot brothers in 1950. Leger and Teriade were so pleased with this first collaboration that they decided to undertake another project on the subject of cities. Leger's untimely death in 1955 left this volume in suspension.

At first Leger takes us on a journey to the land of ubiquitous circles astride a bicycle traversing the French countryside, where we cross paths with farmers, animals and machines.

Not until after this introduction can we finally enter the big top where the circles continue revolving around us, making us laugh with dizziness. 

The big parade heralds the finale, wherein trapeze artists, clowns, dancers and horses add the finishing touch to the show, urging the spectator to keep all five senses on alert.


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