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"Georges Rouault: Circus of the Shooting Star" at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts
French artist Georges Rouault was fascinated by the world of the circus. Photo: Courtesy of the Syracuse University Art Collection.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT.- The Utah Museum of Fine Arts presents Georges Rouault: Cirque de l’Etoile Filante (Circus of the Shooting Star), an exhibition of etchings and wood engravings organized by the Syracuse University Art Galleries. The exhibition, which will be on view in the UMFA Emma Eccles Jones Education Gallery from February 3-May 13, 2012, encourages adults and children to explore circus themes through art, art making, and programs.

French artist Georges Rouault (1871-1958) was fascinated by the world of the circus, a place where superficial spectacle was often underscored by the performers’ sadness. From 1926-1938 Rouault worked with Parisian art dealer and publisher Ambrose Vollard to write and create an illustrated book project called Cirque de l’Etoile Filante (Circus of the Shooting Star). The portfolio includes an introduction of 17 color etchings with aquatint, followed by 82 wood engravings illustrating the text. Rouault intended to strip away the “spangles” of the clown’s costume and reveal the “reflection of paradise lost,” adding a humanizing element to a subject that had been represented in art since antiquity.

Rouault captured the essence of the circus in his artwork with thick black lines, jewel-tone colors, and curvilinear forms. Often categorized as a Fauvist or Expressionist artist, Rouault’s artistic style was influenced by his early apprenticeship in a stained glass studio and his interest in medieval art. He believed that form, color and harmony were hallmarks of the circus, and he strove to create a similar energy in his illustrated book.

"My favorite thing about this exhibition is the way it shows the dual nature of the circus,” says Jenny Woods, UMFA museum services liaison. “At first glance you see the bright colors, the acrobats and the costumes; but when you look closer, especially at the portraits of performers, you see personalities and a range of emotions–sadness, boredom, longing and love."

At the UMFA, Georges Rouault: Circus of the Shooting Star will feature all 17 aquatint etchings and a selection of 18 wood engravings from the portfolio. Families may explore the exhibition by using a special gallery guide, making clown or ballerina puppets in the gallery, and putting on their own circus with a special puppet theater.

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