“Forains, art in celebration”, on Arte.tv: a story of attractions

Part of his family being a fairground worker and still working at the famous Foire du Trône, Marc Bellini, co-author of this documentary with Nicolas Autheman, has for two decades been able to film behind the scenes and get the fairground workers to talk about their art

“Forains, art in celebration”, on Arte.tv: a story of attractions

Part of his family being a fairground worker and still working at the famous Foire du Trône, Marc Bellini, co-author of this documentary with Nicolas Autheman, has for two decades been able to film behind the scenes and get the fairground workers to talk about their art. “Throughout [his] research, [he] discovered that fairgrounds had inspired the greatest artists. »

In fact, numerous paintings bear witness to the fascination of major painters with the funfair. Among the examples analyzed, three very different works attract attention. First there is The Peasant Fair (1570), by the Flemish Pieter Balten, where merchants, acrobats and onlookers meet amidst food and platforms.

Then there are the two huge panels created in 1895 by Toulouse-Lautrec for the barracks of the dancer Louise Weber, known as “La Goulue” (1866-1929), at the Foire du Trône. A fascinating work, exhibited at the Musée d'Orsay, where the codes of fairground painting, particularly the full-length characters, are present. Another emblematic painting: Carousel of Pigs (1922), by Robert Delaunay, with its luminous and stunning atmosphere, a true chromatic experience in movement. Like on a merry-go-round. A canvas which powerfully symbolizes the attraction of abstract painters to the funfair.

A scattered heritage

To these three emblematic paintings can be added La Fête à Saint-Cloud (1775-1780), signed Fragonard. A delicate, colorful, poetic work, which announces the transition from the medieval fair to the funfair.

Fairground art is rich, astonishing, closely linked to the festival: drinking, dancing, eating, shivering, everything must make you want to. In France, however, there has been little interest in this popular movement in art history. Fortunately, a few personalities, such as Zeev Gourarier, general curator of the National Museums, or Laurent Mannoni, scientific director of heritage at La Cinémathèque française, are striving to safeguard this scattered heritage and highlight its sometimes unsuspected links with the history of the 'art.

The funfair will accompany modern art in all its forms, such as surrealist photography, with crazy photos by Man Ray or Erwin Blumenfeld and their famous Venuses. But it is with cinema that fairground art stands out even more. “The role of fairgrounds in the history of cinema is forgotten; it’s unfair and regrettable because they played a fundamental role,” underlines Laurent Mannoni.

In fact, the first distributors and producers, like Gaumont or Pathé, made films available to fairgrounds where there were many strong and saucy sensations. Until the 1930s, fairground artists took cinema towards the exploitation of the margins and made another humanity visible. In 1900, the Russian Nikolai Kobelkoff, a colossus without arms or legs, put on a show in front of the camera. But, of all these phenomena, it is the unforgettable Freaks, by Tod Browning (1932), which still leaves its mark on people's minds today.