Lot 5
  • 5

Frederick Arthur Bridgman

250,000 - 350,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Frederick Arthur Bridgman
  • Un cirque en Province (The American Circus in France)
  • signed F. A. Bridgman and dated 1869-70 (lower right); inscribed on verso Cirque en Province / Finistère- Paris /  F. A. Bridgman 1869-70
  • oil on canvas
  • 29 3/4 by 48 3/4 in.
  • 75.5 by 123.8 cm


Collection of Mr. Rook, United States (possibly acquired from the Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876 according to the White's family memory but more likely from the National Academy of Design, 1875)
Edward F. Rook (by descent from the above, his father)
Nelson C. White (gifted from the above by 1960)
Nelson Holbrook White, Waterford, Connecticut (by descent from the above his father by 1982 )
Acquired from the above in 2007


Paris, Salon, 1870, no. 379
Sherk's, Brooklyn, 1870
Brooklyn Art Association, 1870
New York, National Academy of Design, 1875, no. 248 (and as "for sale")
Possibly, Philadelphia, Centennial Exhibition, 1876 (according to the White family's memory)
Philadelphia, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Ft. Worth, Amon Carter Museum; Phoenix Art Museum; Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, Americans in Brittany and Normandy 1860-1910, September 24, 1982-August 14, 1983, no. 19 as An American Circus in Brittany (lent by Nelson Holbrook White; discussed p. 138, illustrated p. 112)


"Art Notes," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 12, 1870, p. 3
"The National Academy of Design," Art Journal, May, 1875, p. 157
Art Journal, vol. II, no. 2, February 1876, p. 58
Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, Artists of the 19th Century and Their Works, Boston, 1879, p. 94 (as American Circus in Paris)
Ilene Susan Fort, Frederick Arthur Bridgman and the American Fascination with the Exotic Near East, PhD dissertation, The City University of New York, 1990, pp. 65-8, 46, illustrated fig. 22, (the engraving after the painting)
Gerald M. Ackerman, American Orientalists, Paris, 1994, p. 22


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This painting has been recently restored; it is in lovely condition and should be hung in current state. The canvas is unlined and the paint layer is cleaned. There are no distracting cracks or waves to the canvas, and there are essentially no retouches.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

In late summer 1866, the American painter Frederick Arthur Bridgman arrived in Pont-Aven, a coastal town in southern Brittany that would become one of the most important art colonies of the late nineteenth century.  Bridgman’s travel to the region followed the path of many European artists (see Breton lot 25, Bouguereau lot 29) whose paintings of the unique culture and rural traditions of the Breton people could be seen in Paris Salons throughout the 1860s and in widely published prints. (Fort, pp. 48-51). In fact,
Bridgman’s debut submission to the Paris Salon of 1868, Jeux Bretons, depicted a Brittany subject and was  followed the next year by Le Carnaval en Bretagne and in 1870, the present work, Un Cirque en province, later known as The American Circus in Brittany, his largest and most complex Brittany composition--and the painting that "made visitors to the Salon ask who the artist was" (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, vol. LXIII, June-Nov, 1881, p.  703).

Unlike his first two Salon submissions and the work of many of his contemporaries, Un Cirque en province is not a Realist composition of peasants working in the fields or returning from harvest; here, they are the rapt audience for vibrantly costumed circus performers, including bare-back riders, clowns, a ring-master with his whip, and, as an Art Journal writer described, a "Rocky Mountain Indian" standing beneath the playing band. The same writer applauded Bridgman's "superb study of color. The athlete, in crimson jacket and buff trunks, and the woman, in her gauzy costume glittering with spangles, together with the sturdy horses, and the clowns in their raiments… was a bold subject to handle for so young an artist," while "the little group of rustics," in the audience with their grasped hands and wide smiles demonstrated the artist's ability to capture the costume and character of the Breton people (Art Journal, 1876, vol. II, p. 48). Indeed, Bridgman was committed to accurately depicting every element under the big top, writing to a friend: "One must have models for everything, as I did for all, as much as possible for the Circus."  He even went so far as to build a circus himself, explaining: "as earth and old sail were easily found . . . I made a part of the ring---the track and the tent" before traveling "to a neighboring city to make a study of the whole arrangement of the interior and costumes" (Frederick Arthur Bridgman correspondence, Pennsylvania Historical Society, as quoted in David Sellin, Americans in Brittany and Normandy, 1860-1910, exh. cat., 1982, p. 30 30). Such attention to detail allows Un Cirque en province to stand not only as a popular subject of rural Breton life, but an innovative painting of modern life. Indeed, as Ilene Susan Fort explains, the attendance to circuses increased just at the time that Bridgman completed his painting (Fort, p. 67).

Soon after the close of the 1870 Salon, Bridgman’s Un Cirque en province travelled to exhibitions at Sherk's in Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Art Association, and in 1875 it was selected for the annual show at the National Academy of Design, where the painting's "Americanness" was emphasized in its change of title to The American Circus in France. The new name may have been to improve the painting's markability, particularly with America's Centennial celebrations soon to come (Fort, p. 67). Though the painting secured Bridgman’s reputation after its debut in France and brought him celebrity to America, it lingered in his inventory for five years. Yet soon after its exhibition as The American Circus in France, the composition sold for $750 -- ending a period of financial difficulty for the artist (Sellin, p. 30).