The Circus In Art

Even for circus collectors, only a privileged few will ever own an original painting by one of the great masters, but original circus art and limited-edition prints are readily available.

I own several pieces of original, circus art. One of my favorites is a block print of a performing elephant, received as a gift in the early 1960s. At the time I was the TV editor at the St. Petersburg Times. At Christmastime, we had a “white elephant” gift exchange. My name happened to be drawn by feature writer, Lorna Carroll. Knowing my love for the circus, she decided to give me an elephant print. It had been a wedding present to her from the artist Beryl Garrett. Lorna laughingly said she hated the print, but thought I would enjoy it. Recently, I’ve tried to find information about the artist—with no success. I seem to recall Beryl Garrett being a local St. Petersburg artist who was the wife of George Garrett, a news editor at the St. Petersburg Times.


This wood block print is untitled. It’s signed by the artist Beryl Garrett.

But what about famous paintings? How can we see and enjoy them? Aside from traveling all over the world to museums, we can usually find them on the printed pages of books and magazines. Circus-themed paintings are often used as the focus for books and magazine articles. Below are some of the books featuring the circus in art:


“Toulouse-Lautrec’s The Circus” was published in 2006 by Dover Publishers, Inc. The cover indicates it contains 39 colored, crayon drawings. A four-page introduction was written by Charles Perussaux, Attache au Cabinet des Estampes de la Bibliotheque Nationale.


“Toulouse-Lautrec at the Circus,” by Edouard Julien. It was copyrighted in 1956 by Tudor Publishing. There are 15 color plates and several black and white illustrations. Both Toulouse-Lautrec books can be found on the Internet for under $10 each.


“Looking at Paintings,” by Peggy Roalf. Copyright in 1993 by Hyperion Books for Children. This book features more than 30 illustrations. Included are works by Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edward Hopper, Marc Chagall, John Steuart Curry and others. The book was published in hardback and paperback. Many copies are available on the Internet for under $10.


“Circus In Art.” Published by the Boston Public Library in 1985. The Boston Public Library has a large collection of circus-related art and this catalog illustrates two talks about the collection given by Richard Dale McMullan and Kneeland McNullty on May 3, 1974. The book has 85 black and white illustrations of circus related art and a bibliography of the circus in art. The book has a soft cover and a value of $20 to $30.


“Circuses and Fairs in Art,” by Helen B. Harkonen, copyrighted in 1965 by Lerner Publications Co. The hard cover book was issued without a dust jacket. The book is divided into five main sections: In the Ring; Trained Animals; Acrobats and Aerialists; Circus People; and Sideshows, Fairs and Carnivals. Copies can be found on the Internet for less than $10.

More than 20 years ago, I began compiling a computerized index of magazine articles about the circus. One of my early WorthPoint stories, “Magazine Articles Chronicle Circus Life of Yesterday and Today,” was about that list. The list revealed a number of articles on circus themed artwork:

American Artist – Apr 1958 – Mostly Under Canvas (Bill Ballantine)
American Artist –
Jan 1968 – Donald Putnam’s wild west and circus scenes
American Artist –
Jul 1989 – The Evolution of a Painting . . . (Milwaukee Parade)
American Artist –
Mar 1992 – Coming Soon (RBBB Mural)
Antiquarian, The –
Jan 1932 – An Artist At The Circus
Art Digest –
Mar 15, 1946 – Exhibition of Circus Paintings at Kootz Gallery
Art Digest –
Nov 1, 1947 – Kosa Clowns at Cowie Galleries
Art Digest –
Feb 15, 1948 – Circus In Art
Art Digest –
Nov 1, 1950 – Sport and Circus at Michigan University
Art In America –
Oct 1964 – Calder’s Circus
Art In America –
Jul 1969 – Buffalo Bill Museum In Cody, Wy
ARTnews –
Jun 1948 – The Greatest Show Down South
Art News –
Dec 15, 1941 – Kuhn Under the Big Top
Art News –
Apr 15, 1942 – San Francisco: A Circus Show
Art News –
May 1, 1943 – Walt Kuhn Clowns in a Great Tradition
Art News –
Mar 1946 – Circus Paintings at Kootz Gallery
Art News –
Mar 1992 – It’s Stupendous! It’s Sensational! It’s Calder’s Circus
Artforum –
Oct 1971 – Harlequins, Saltimbanques, Clowns and Fools (Picasso)
Life –
Nov 23, 1936 – Curry Of Kansas (Circus Paintings)
Life –
Jun 15, 1942 – Paintings at Andover (Painting “Outside the Big Tent”)
Life –
Nov 29, 1943 – Speaking of Pictures (Paintings of John Steuart Curry)
Life –
Feb 3, 1958 – High Cost of a Clown (Painting The White Clown by Walt Kuhn)
Theatre Arts –
May 1946 – Circus Paintings

You can purchase the entire 51-page Circus Article Index, listing nearly 3,000 articles through WorthPoint.

The circus, world-wide, will always be a subject for artists of all ages, giving the rest of us enjoyment as we pursue our individual collections.

Larry Kellogg is a Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.


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