Lot 142
  • 142

Louis Anquetin

450,000 - 650,000 USD
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  • Louis Anquetin
  • Au Cirque
  • Signed L. Anquetin and dated 87 (lower right)
  • Pastel on board
  • 23 1/2 by 19 1/4 in.
  • 60.2 by 49 cm


M Borderie, Neuilly-sur-Seine
Elizabeth & Bernard French, Kidderminster
Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011


Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, Esprit Montmartre: Bohemian Life in Paris Around 1900, 2014, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue


This work is in very good condition. The board is sound. The surface is well-preserved and the pigments are bright and fresh. The board is inset into the mount with tabs at all four corners. Some very minor old frame abrasion to the extreme perimeter, notably a small nick to the upper right edge & another to the upper left edge (not visible when framed). Some very faint spots of foxing visible in the yellow background and one small spot of surface pigment loss above the main figure's nose. Otherwise, fine.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Artists including Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat, Rouault, Picasso, Anquetin, Degas and later Chagall and Buffet were all attracted to the at once alluring and sinister world of the circus, though it was perhaps Picasso who most closely identified with this motley troupe of “outsiders,” especially in the years shortly after his arrival in Paris from Spain, a time when he had yet to integrate fully within the Parisian artistic community. Even once Picasso had become more established in the art scene of Montmartre, the circus continued to inspire him, and from his studio in Montmartre he would make frequent trips to the nearby Médrano circus (originally Cirque Fernando), which he would often visit several times a week. The circus appealed to these artists not only for the rich pool of psychological portraits it offered them but also for the modern and daring compositional possibilities presented by the show itself: the circus ring, for example, was often depicted to dizzying effect from an aerial viewpoint, either from the highest stalls or from the trapeze artist’s perch.

Louis Anquetin arrived in Paris in 1882 and began to study art at Léon Bonnat's studio, there meeting Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec before moving to the studio of Fernand Cormon and befriending both Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. His striking appearance and artistic skill established Anquetin as one of the leading lights of the Parisian artistic and literary avant-garde, as John House and Mary Ann Stevens observe: “He established a reputation as a brilliant, innovatory artist and leader of a café-cabaret circle centred on Aristide Bruant's Le Mirliton in Montmartre... His subject matter included townscapes, café-cabaret scenes, nudes, the racecourse and fashionable women: he absorbed and discarded with equal speed styles derived from Lautrec and Renoir” (John House & Mary Ann Stevens, Post-Impressionism, Cross-Currents in European Painting, London, 1979, p. 28). As Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith later write, “When [Toulouse-Lautrec] met Louis Anquetin at the age of seventeen, he barely rose above the other man’s belt… Lautrec…referred to his towering friend as 'my great man,' and, after that, rarely left his side. The unlikely pair ran the Cormon studio as their own personal social club. Anquetin commanded the respect of his fellow students with his Jovian countenance and masterful brush” (Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith, Van Gogh, The Life, New York, 2011, pp. 510-11). From these early days and throughout his frenetic career, Anquetin explored a broad range of evolving influences and styles, most notably including Japanese prints and the art of the Impressionists.

The present work, dating from 1887, belongs to the period in which, encouraged by Bernard, Anquetin turned away from his brief experiment with Neo-Impressionism and began to employ flat regions of color circumscribed by thick, black contour outlines. This new method evolved in parallel to the ideas expounded by the literary Symbolists who frequented the same cafés and engaged in passionate debates with the artists of Anquetin's circle. Although Bernard later claimed that it was he who originated Cloisonnism, Anquetin was hailed as the leader of the movement when he exhibited his works early in 1888, first with Les XX in Brussels and later in the Salons des Indépendents in Paris. His old school friend, Édouard Dujardin, created the moniker and, in the Revue Indépendante, used his analysis of Anquetin's work to link this style to the Symbolist movement.

Au Cirque depicts a moment at the Cirque Fernando, the favorite circus of
Anquetin and Toulouse-Lautrec. Circuses were incredibly popular in the nineteenth century and their wide range of performers, animals and other oddities were a natural inspiration to the artists clustered in Montmartre. The Cirque Fernando “originally consisted of tents pitched at the corner of the rue des Martyrs and the boulevard de Rochechouart, not far from Aristide Bruant’s Mirliton. Gradually it acquired greater permanence, first with wooden walls raised around the big top, then in 1878 reopening in an actual building... Jérôme Médrano (the clown Médrano), took over the circus in 1912 and it was finally demolished in 1972... In 1887, as Lautrec was working on Equestrienne, his friend Louis Anquetin produced a large pastel [a sister work to Au Cirque] with a green-faced clown gesturing across the mustard-colored ring toward an Auguste juggling in the distance, while a portly Monsieur Loyal [the ringmaster] looked on from the shadows. Squared up and carefully crafted, unlike Lautrec’s more spontaneous painting, Anquetin’s pastel is an image of menace rather than jollity” (Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. & Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2005, pp. 238-39). The Circus, as with cabarets, burlesques and other entertainment venues had sinister sides as well as comedic; the human condition in all of its multi-faceted awareness is captured nowhere better perhaps than on the stage of these Montmartre venues, seen here in the green and white-faced clowns of Anquetin’s circus.