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Spotlight on Circus: The Banners of Frans De Vos

Spotlight on Circus: The Banners of Frans De Vos

Spotlight on Circus collections share curatorial insights about connections between objects in the Circus collection and their significance to the history of the circus and allied arts.

The circus is an art form with roots found throughout the world. Performing at festivals and fairs, European circuses are a major part of town festivities. Critical to the success of any circus is advertising. For centuries, banners have been used to promote the show and the star performers.

Hung on façades, arcades or hallways, banners were extremely portable and easily moved from one location to another. But the constant rolling and unrolling resulted in distortions, creases, and tears in the canvas supports. Over time, inexpert attempts to repair the damages contributed to even further damage. New banners replaced worn ones that were discarded. As a result, few of these monumental circus banners have survived to modern day.

These restored banners were created by Frans De Vos (1880 - 1936), a prolific scene designer who lived in Balegem, Belgium. There he painted the façade for Circus Demuynck, murals, and at least one altar painting. De Vos, a descendent of a French family of traveling performers was a director of a small traveling circus from 1900 - 1906.

Due to the extremely poor physical condition of the four De Vos banners at the time of acquisition, they were sent to the ARTEX Conservation Laboratory in Landover, MD in 2004 to be conserved. After careful examination and documentation, the professional conservators carried out major treatment in order to stabilize the canvas banners and make them more presentable, while retaining some signs of age and wear. As the painstaking procedures were carried out over several years, the appearance of the banners was gradually transformed. The accompanying link provides a glimpse into some of the stages of conservation that have helped to ensure preservation of the banners for future generations.
Follow this link to learn more about the conservation of the De Vos banners