The circus in Paris

The circus in Paris

  • Hippodrome.

    LEVY Charles

  • Folies Bergères - The shell man.


  • Folies-Bergères - Huline brother's.


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Title: Hippodrome.

Author : LEVY Charles (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 125.6 - Width 99.8

Technique and other indications: Lithography

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 05-509312 / 61.18.7F

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

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Title: Folies Bergères - The shell man.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Frères Mayol Paris: Imprimerie Emile Levy

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bullozsite web

Picture reference: 01-024303

Folies Bergères - The shell man.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

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Title: Folies-Bergères - Huline brother's.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 125 - Width 90

Technique and other indications: Lithography.

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzisite web

Picture reference: 05-513770 / 61.18.15F

Folies-Bergères - Huline brother's.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: October 2010

Historical context

The golden age of the circus in Paris

The second part of the 19th century saw the significant development of a leisure economy, linked in part to the industrialization of culture. It was thus a whole "popular" entertainment culture that reached its golden age from the turn of the century.

The rise, the anchoring and the assertion of this new urban culture are correlated with the development of a characteristic popular imagery. Improvements in printmaking techniques (lithography) and the economic environment are leading in particular to the development of "advertising" and the increasing use of public displays to promote consumer products such as places of entertainment and shows. The color advertising poster thus contributes to forging the image of a Paris dedicated to pleasures, leisure and parties.
Among the distractions offered in this way, the circus, which appeared in England at the end of the 17th century, enjoyed great success in the capital in the 1890s. The shows and acts are attracting a growing audience in places such as the Hippodrome or the Folies-Bergère, places evoked by the images analyzed here.

Image Analysis

Direct style ads

Produced in the chromolithography workshops run by the printer Charles Levy, the advertising poster Hippodrome announces a dressage show. The text is reduced to the name of the hall that hosts the number, the Hippodrome. The image represents the act performed by a lion and a horse under the watchful eyes of their trainer. Like the whip with which it is armed, the bars that close the arena underline the exceptional and dangerous nature of this performance.

Produced by the same workshop, the poster Folies-Bergère - Huline brother’s invites the barge to attend the spectacle of two quite famous clowns of the time, whose names appear prominently below. The "original's" mention guarantees that it is indeed the Huline brothers who perform "every evening" at the Folies-Bergère. The main illustration represents them in one of their musical numbers. According to tradition, one of the clowns is sad, the other cheerful. Other scenes are figured in small medallions of various shapes that promise a happy succession of twists and other scenes where the two brothers often change roles.

Less busy, the poster Folies-Bergère - The Shell Man announces a spectacular number of the Mayol Brothers: one of the artists shoots out of a cannon towards his brother who, a little iconographic fantasy, awaits him suspended from the crossbar of the "F" of the word "Folies" like a trapeze. The empty and almost infinite space which separates them lets imagine a sufficiently strong detonation (and therefore a very real cannon shot) to propel the man-shell to his brother who, perched far in the air, is about to stop the "projectile". The height difference between the two men further reinforces the impression of great height and great distance. The smoke produced by the gunshot surrounds this extraordinary performance in a magical atmosphere.


Circus professions

The three posters have the same commercial function and use the same codes: bright colors, direct and effective lines, stylized typography. If the circus, in vogue at the time, inspired great artists like Seurat, Picasso, Chagall, Léger, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas or even Renoir, who knew, with a certain modernity, how to exploit and explore his universe “Fantastic” or showcasing the work of artists, these posters are less ambitious. Indeed, they are content to illustrate numbers that have become traditional, emphasizing their comic and burlesque aspect (Folies-Bergère - Huline brother’s), on their dynamic and spectacular side (Folies-Bergère - The Shell Man) or on the performance and the danger involved (Folies-Bergère - The Shell Man and Hippodrome).

The poster Hippodrome is very informative about the origin and diversification of the circus. Born in England at the end of the 17th century, it initially offered exclusively horse shows which took place in racetracks. Little by little, he also acquired a menagerie ("exotic" animals arrived from the colonies at the end of the 19th century) and presented dressage numbers.

Apart from the acts performed by horses and then by other trained animals, the attractions offered often come from fairgrounds from previous centuries, which the circus gradually integrates, even if it is at the beginning of another tradition. Acrobatics, juggling, mimes and clowns, strength numbers, trapeze, balancing act are thus revisited and adapted to the public. It should be noted that the Shellman act was quite new at the time, a sign that the circus knows how to renew itself in order to diversify.

  • circus
  • Shepherdess Follies
  • Hobbies
  • Paris


Alain CORBIN (dir.), The Advent of Leisure (1850-1960), Paris, Aubier, 1995. Pascal JACOB, The Circus: an art at the crossroads.Gallimard, “Découvertes”, Paris 2001.Dominique KALIFA, Mass Culture in France. 1860-1930, Paris, La Découverte, coll. "Repères", n ° 323, 2001. Marc MARTIN, Three centuries of advertising in France, Paris, O. Jacob, 1992. Michael TWYMAN, Color images.Godefroy Engelmann, Charles Hullmandel and the beginnings of chromolithography, Paris-Lyon, Editions du Panama-Museum of Printing, 2007.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The circus in Paris"

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