Circus Sideshow Parade de Cirque, by Georges Seurat, is notable for its muted, mysterious, almost foggy tones and formal, mathematical composition. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, it has never been one of Seurat's most popular works. However, it is significant as the first of his nocturnes and demonstrates Seurat's chromo-luminarist and pointillist styles. Despite its rigorous construction, the painting breaks many of the rules of composition devised to lead the eye harmoniously around the image. It is hard to discover a focal point, despite, or perhaps because of, the dominating figure of the tall-hatted trombonist taking centre stage. The static, scattered figures of the other sideshow artistes, and subdued lighting, create an unsettling atmosphere. Only on the left and right hand sides is there a suggestion of familiar compositional structure. The branches leading from the upright trunk of the tree point directly to the strange central figure. Here there is disharmony, however, with the softer leading lines of the bowler-hatted musicians beneath the branch competing for the eye. Similarly, the head of the better-lit of the two right hand figure provides a focus which then leads nowhere. Yet Seurat based his composition on formal ratios, perhaps even the golden mean, some art critics argue. Parade de Cirque, painted in 1887 - 1888, contrasts with his later and better-known work, The Circus, which depicts the warmth and drama of the circus ring. However, it might be argued the two are connected. The atmosphere of Circus Sideshow is strange and alluring, almost like a sacred play from the ancient world. It is not surprising that parallels with ancient Egypt have been drawn. The Circus, in contrast, evokes not just the light, movement and colour of the circus ring, but the noise and the smells too. It is a lively and immersive experience, with the viewer's perspective over the head and shoulders of the masked clown. Both paintings are ultimately about entertainment, and popular working class entertainment at that, one focussing on anticipation and the other on experience. Seurat and his contemporaries evoked emotions through line and colour. The lighting in Circus Sideshow, the artificial glow of limelight and gaslight, adds to the expectation of mystery uncovered. The painting, like the sideshow itself, is intended to make to observer wonder what more there is to experience. In close-up, the pointillist style reveals that there is in fact no lack of colour; it is simply subtly applied. Like the magical performers, the artist ensures that the viewer sees just what Seurat wished them to see.

Circus Sideshow (Parade de Cirque) in Detail Georges Seurat