Paul Klee. Traveling Circus. 1937. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.317
A one-eyed clown wearing a sombrero, a female acrobat, and a donkey all appear before a circus tent with pennants flying. Paul Klee used subtle tones and a stippled technique to create this whimsical nocturnal scene. It is hard to reconcile the childlike playfulness of the drawing with the political events of 1937. During that year, Nazis seized 102 of Klee’s works from museums and public collections, and included seventeen of these works in the “Degenerate Art Exhibition” in Munich intended to ridicule modern art. Perhaps “Traveling Circus” alludes to the artist’s own unsettled situation, as he had been forced to leave Germany and was living in Swiss exile at the time he executed this picture.
Saidie Adler May’s older sister Blanche Adler was an early advocate of German Expressionism and of Klee’s work in particular. In the early 1930s, she had donated two of Klee’s watercolors and a print to the BMA. May acquired Traveling Circus in October of 1940 and Adler, seriously ill, died only three months later. The purchase may have been meant as a tribute to her favorite sister, since it was somewhat outside May’s usual collecting area.
By Peter O’Connor
The bulrushes rustled; the maiden tiptoed closer.
Newborns lay mewing, their eyes shut.
“Wolves!” she gasped.
The princess paused from washing off the mud to pull back the rushes.
“Coyotes,” she corrected, “My brother was raised by wolves. I recognize a coyote cry from a wolf any day.”
The handmaiden whispered, as to not startle, “Remember, a pirate wears a sombrero and does not lose his glasses. A man’s heart will pine until one gives him a swift kick in the ass to find his heart’s true deseo.” Her astronomy with animal totem beliefs became a quilt for Frida Kahlo’s memory.
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