Miss La La Takes Flight

May 08 2018

We are delighted to announce that one of the world’s most famous circus paintings, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas’ depiction of the astonishing 19th century aerial artiste, Miss La La – Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando (1879) – is leaving The National Gallery for the summer to join a new, ground-breaking exhibition at Sheffield’s Weston Park Museum.

The painting forms part of Circus! Show of Shows, a series of crowd-pleasing exhibitions in Sheffield, Great Yarmouth and Newcastle celebrating 250 years of circus in the UK. The new exhibitions have been made possble thanks to National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Miss La La was one of the most revered circus performers of her time, an impossibly talented black French artiste who appeared before rapturous crowds in both London and Paris during the late 1800s. It was in Paris where she was painted by Degas, whose breath-taking depiction sees the acclaimed aerialist suspended from the rafters of the circus dome by a rope clenched between her teeth, over 200 feet in the air.   

Degas’ renowned painting of Miss La La is set to leave its home at The National Gallery for the summer to form the centrepiece of the Sheffield installment of Circus! Show of Shows, a series of major exhibitions celebrating 250 years of circus in Great Britain.  The exhibitions in Sheffield, Great Yarmouth and Newcastle are co-curated by The University of Sheffield’s Professor Vanessa Toulmin, one of the UK’s preeminent circus experts.

The Miss La La painting will be displayed at Weston Park Museum alongside a film of a spectacular new performance created by contemporary circus performer and aerialist, Blaze Tarsha, in response to the Degas work.  Blaze Tarsha says:

“From the painting you can already see how amazing and captivating Miss La La was, I’m very honoured and excited about bringing this painting to life”

Professor Vanessa Toulmin of the University of Sheffield says:

“I'm overjoyed that this magnificent artwork will be the centrepiece of the Circus! exhibition in Sheffield. The painting presents many of the concepts of 19th century circus that are as relevant today as they were then, including the freedom to perform regardless of race and gender and an appreciation of the sheer physicality and skill of the performer. Circus was, and still is, an inclusive and universal language of performance; from its inception in 1768 it brought a new dimension and freedom of expression, combining the skills and expertise of different nationalities into a mixing pot that still enthrals 250 years later.”

Opening at Sheffield’s Weston Park Museum on 25 July 2018, Circus! will explore the remarkable hidden histories of women and black circus performers, the use of animals in circus, and the enduring impact of circus on popular culture. Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando (1879) will be complemented by further high profile national loans, material from National Fairground and Circus Archive, based at The University of Sheffield, and is also set to reveal a host of previously unseen items drawn from the city’s collections.

Circus! continues at the Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life from 6 October 2018. The exhibition will focus on the town’s strong links with Circus tradition and will include key loans from The Hippodrome, a Grade II* listed building opened in 1903. The only total circus building in the UK still used as originally intended, The Hippodrome is one of just four circuses across the globe to feature a sinking ring which accommodates spectacular water-based finales. The exhibition will also tell a range of local stories, including those of Clown Roma, Nelson the Clown, and the local Norwich-born circus icon, William Darby, more famously known as Pablo Fanque.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, Circus! opens at the Discovery Museum on 20 October 2018. The exhibition will feature the fabulous Arthur Fenwick Collection of circus art and memorabilia, a collection of national importance spanning the 1770s up to the 1950s. A spotlight will also be shone on the fascinating life and career of Tyneside’s nineteenth century clown and entertainer extraordinaire Billy Purvis. The region’s story will be brought right up-to-date with the inclusion of the Family La Bonche Collection, providing an intimate and colourful look at contemporary Newcastle and North East circus communities and the contribution they make to the changing face of circus in our own times.

Circus! Show of Shows is generously supported by a £98,000 National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).  David Renwick, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Yorkshire and the Humber, says:

“In the 250th year of the circus in Britain, money raised by National Lottery players is enabling the drama, the highs and lows and the hidden stories of the circus to be shared with thousands of people.  As part of the nationwide celebrations, the three exhibitions will engage people of all ages in local circus heritage: Sheffield, which attracted famous travelling circuses including Barnum and Bailey, Great Yarmouth, home to one the last surviving purpose built circus buildings, and Newcastle, once home to Billy Purvis, the famous Northumbrian clown!”

Circus! Show of Shows forms part of Circus 250, a UK-wide celebration marking the anniversary of this most pervasive, popular, born-in-Britain art form.  Circus 250 will see museums, filmmakers, designers, theatres, orchestras, schools, libraries and circuses all join in – circus is everywhere and for everyone.  For more information visit: circus250.com

Image left: Acclaimed circus performer, Blaze Tarsha, performs in front of Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas’ Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando (1879) at the National Gallery © The National Gallery, London. Image right: Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas. Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando. © The National Gallery, London. Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1925



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