The Cleveland Museum of Art

Collection Online as of June 23, 2017

Wrestlers in a Circus, 1909

oil on canvas, Framed: 107.5 x 121 x 7 cm (42 5/16 x 47 5/8 x 2 3/4 in); Unframed: 80.5 x 94 cm (31 11/16 x 37 in). Contemporary Collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art and Bequest of William R. Valentiner 1966.49

A leading painter of Die Brücke (The Bridge), a German Expressionist group formed in Dresden in 1905, Kirchner pursued an art of pure, raw emotion, while advocating a revolutionary approach based on complete freedom from social and aesthetic norms. Focusing on the psychology of modern life, he began painting street scenes, cabarets, and circus performers. He enhanced this painting's deliberately crude appearance by painting on coarse canvas and leaving the surface unvarnished.
Despite serving in the German army during World War I, Kirchner became a principal target of the Nazis' systematic assault against so-called "degenerate art." During the 1930s, 639 works by Kirchner were removed from German museums and either destroyed or sold to foreign collectors and museums. The year after the Nazis organized the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich, Kirchner committed suicide.

signed lower left: E. L. Kirchner.
1938-1957 Artist’s estate, sold to Grosshennig Gallery1
1957 (Galerie Grosshennig, Düsseldorf, to Otto Gerson Gallery)
1957 - by 1960 (Otto Gerson Gallery, New York, lent to Grosshennig Gallery on commission)
By 1960-1963 (Galerie Grosshennig, Düsseldorf, returned unsold to Marlborough-Gerson Gallery)2
1963-1964 (Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, sold to Allan Frumkin)3
1964-1966 (Allan Frumkin, New York, sold to E.V. Thaw)
1966 (E. V. Thaw, New York, sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art)
1966- The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH


1After Kirchner’s death in 1938, his estate passed into the hands of his wife, Erna. The contents of the estate remained in the Kirchner home in Davos until 1946, when they were transferred to the Kunstmuseum Basel. In 1948 the collection was inventoried, and it remained at the Kunstmuseum Basel until 1954 under the supervision of the museum’s director, Georg Schmidt. From 1954, Kirchner’s works were in the care of the estate administrator, Roman Norbert Ketterer, appointed by Kirchner’s heirs, who sold the CMA picture to Galerie Grosshennig on February 14, 1957.

2The Kirchner was once again with Galerie Grosshennig, having been lent on commission by Gerson. It appeared in Grosshennig exhibitions in 1960 and 1962.

3After failing to sell at Grosshennig, the painting was returned to the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, which had absorbed Gerson’s stock after his death in 1960. After Gerson died, his widow, Ilse, Ralph Colin, executor of Gerson’s estate, and Frank Lloyd and Harry Fischer, who had founded Marlborough Fine Art in London, created the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery in New York in 1963.


Eugene Victor Thaw, letter to Edward B. Henning, Nov. 17, 1967, in CMA curatorial file.

Galerie Wilhelm Grosshennig. Einladung zum Besuch meiner Ausstellung auserlesener Meisterwerke des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts: Juni-August 1962. Düsseldorf: Galerie Wilhelm Grosshennig, 1962.

Gordon, Donald E. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968.

Margaret Burgess, fax to Alice Adam (handwritten notation on fax), July 20, 2004, in CMA curatorial file.

Margaret Heuser-Mantell, letter to Margaret Burgess, Aug. 11, 2004, in CMA curatorial file.

Myers, Bernard Samuel. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: New York, Fine Arts Associates Otto M. Gerson, November 12 - December 7, 1957. New York: Fine Arts Associates, 1957.

Otto and Ilse Gerson Papers, Business Records, reel 4051, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Schmalenbach, Werner, and René Wehrli. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1880-1938. Zürich: Kunsthaus Zürich, 1952.

Tuchman, Maurice. Van Gogh and Expressionism: [Commentary]. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1964.

Wolfgang Henze, email to Victoria Sears Goldman, Dec. 11, 2014, in CMA curatorial file.

Wolfgang Henze, email to Victoria Sears Goldman, Jan. 7, 2015, in CMA curatorial file.

The provenance research on this object is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

To request more information about this object, study images, or bibliography, contact the Ingalls Library Reference Desk.

Library materials about Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (144)

Detail Views