Unfortunately I don’t have any really interesting photos of my own to illustrate what I would like to talk about in this post – the place, the circus building, is not there anymore.
It stood here – in the lower Montmartre / Pigalle area - for approximately 100 years, from 1873 to 1971 (1972?, 1973?). It was a circus with an interesting history.
Here we can see what it looked like.
(On the front corner there was for a long time a photographic studio – “Chamberlin – Photographie Artistique”.)
The circus was first named “Cirque Fernando”. Ferdinand Waltenberg – alias “Fernando” had created a circus in an open area in the neighbourhood, quite successful, which allowed him to finance this building. He ran it until 1897, when it was taken over by a clown he had engaged already in 1873, Géromino Medrano, and the name was changed to “Cirque Medrano”. In the 1960’s it was taken over by another famous circus family, Bouglione, and the name was, again, changed to “Cirque de Montmartre”, with less success. It was for a time also used for plays (“Théâtre de Soleil”), stand-up artists… and then sold. … and replaced by the apartment building - named “Bouglione”, the only reference to the past. (So much was destroyed during the 60’s and 70’s, today often with great regret.)
Here are some posters from the Fernando and Medrano years.
It was then a “real” circus with all kinds of animals, acrobats… and maybe especially clowns: Grock, Buster Keaton (several periods), the Fratellini Brothers, Achille Zavatta… (One of the photos shows Buster Keaton playing cards, behind the scene, with a monkey.)
When the circus performers had their days off, the circus was often used for gatherings of different kinds, including political meetings (e.g. by Clemenceau).
But what really has created the reputation of this circus building is probably that it was visited and illustrated by a number of impressionist, post-impressionist and later artists.
Toulouse-Lautrec was probably the most frequent illustrator. Here are just a few examples.
Here are some illustrations by Degas (“Miss La La”), Renoir (the young sisters Francisca and Angelina Wartenberg), van Dongen, Seurat.
Picasso was a very frequent (and appreciative) visitor, but he tended to paint the artists back-scene.