Herewith a disclaimer! For many years, I went to the Circus Parade in Milwaukee.  It was fantastic, with the many antique circus wagons from the Circus World Museum in Barbaboo, WI, pulled by teams of draft horses from all over the US. So I have to admit that both my visits to the Ringling  Complex in Sarasota, FL, were disappointing when it came to the circus memorabilia. Much better to visit the Baraboo site if you are looking for old time circus material related to the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey shows. However, Baraboo doesn’t have the fantastic Ringling mansion or the wonderful Art Museum…for those, go to Sarasota.

Great Circus Parade, Milwaukee, 2009
The Golden Age of Chivalry wagon at Baraboo

But the circus is not the subject of this post, other than the fact that the Ringling Brothers were from   Baraboo, and John and Mable Ringling made their fortune from the circus, then built their mansion in Sarasota and gave their art collection to the people and the State of Florida.

In the fashion of numerous American millionaires in the early 20th century, Ringling spent time in Europe and acquired a massive collection of art, antiquities, furniture, and decorative art.

Ca’ d’Zan, Sarasota, FL
Of course, I couldn’t get far enough away or up in the air to take a photo like this, so this is from the website. To see more click here. Ca’ d’Zan means House of John, but on the architect’s plans, it was known as residence of Mrs John Ringling.
Visitors file through the house almost every day.
Taking the inspiration from their many visits to Venice, the Ringlings hired architect Dwight James Baum to design the house — with Mable’s eager participation. After two years of construction, it was completed in 1926. Sadly, Mable was able to enjoy it for only three years before she died at age 54.
Style: Venetian Gothic !
John lived until 1936, having remarried and suffered from the effects of the Great Depression. His fortune had declined to almost nothing, but he insisted on leaving the house, grounds and Art Museum to the people and State of Florida. For many decades the property was neglected until it was used for the decrepit home of Miss Havisham in 1996 Hollywood version of Dickens’ Great Expectations.  The State of Florida and Florida State University have restored the house and grounds and renovated the Art Museum in the last couple of decades and it is in pristine shape today.. 
Now to the Art Museum Collection — just like the Grand Tours that 18th Century young men took, so 19th and early 20th century American millionaires, craving cultural education and acquisition of treasures to prove their erudition, enjoyed touring continental cities, castles, and museums. In addition to hiring European circus performers for the Ringling Brothers Circus in the U.S., John and Mable Ringling bought and shipped many artworks; he was particularly attuned to baroque Italian art, according to guides at the museum.  But he also bought many wonderful works in Great Britain.
Marquis of Granby, 1766, by Sir Joshua Reynolds
I think my absolute favorite here is a portrait of John Manners (1721-1770) the Marquis of Granby,1766, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). It was loaned to the Tate Britain for their Joshua Reynolds: Creation of Celebrity exhibition in 2005 (click here)– and it may look rather familiar as portions of it are often seen on pub signs. Apparently many pubs, even today, are named after the famous general, who did not live long enough to succeed his father as Duke of Rutland. The Marquess was popular with his men and is said to have set up many of them in pubs of their own which they named after their benefactor.
Lt. General Philip Honywood by Thomas Gainsborough, 1765 
Reynolds’ competitor, Thomas Gainsborough, (1727-1788), is represented by this  fine military portrait with a beautiful landscape background.  Honywood was a colleague of the Marquis of Granby in battle. One can see t
he evidence of Gainsborough’s admiration of the equestrian portraits by Van Dyke in this work.

Agrippina and her Children Mourning over the Ashes of Germanicus, 1773
by Benjamin West 
American-born Benjamin West (1738-1820) moved to London in and never returned.  He was the second president of the Royal Academy of Art, succeeding Sir Joshua Reynolds, He was an excellent painter of historical, mythological, and religious canvases, large in scope and accomplishment,
Mr. Hope Vere of Blackwood, by Henry Raeburn, c. 1805
Raeburn (1756-1823) was perhaps Scotland’s greatest artist of his period. A miniaturist and self-taught portraitist, he married well and was able to travel to Italy and hone his talents. When he returned to Scotland, he painted many of Edinburgh’s notables, including author Sir Walter Scott

George IV when Prince of Wales, attributed to John Hoppner, c. 1792-1807
Hoppner (1758-1810) was one of the successors to Reynolds and Gainsborough for royal and aristocratic portraiture.  He was born to a family from Bavaria that served the British court. Young Hoppner trained at the Royal Academy. The Prince’s attire is portrayed colorfully in the grand tradition.
The Sisters, c. 1810, by George Watson 
This charming double portrait was once attributed to Henry Raeburn, but later identified as the work of George Watson (1778-1837), another Edinburgh painter of great accomplishment. Portrayed are Georgina and Elizabeth Reay of Killingworth Hall, Northumberland.
Mrs. George Frederick Stratton, 1811, by Thomas Lawrence
Lawrence inherited the position of primary portraitist from Reynolds and Gainsborough in the Regency period in England. He was particularly influenced by Van Dyke, and it is said he never painted a non-beautiful woman.
The Sirens, 1870 unfinished, by Edward Burne-Jones
Burne-Jones (1833-1898) was one of the leading members of the pre-Raphaelite movement. This unfinished painting depicts a scene from Homer’s The Odyssey, with the sailors’ ship approaching the deadly Sirens.
Roman Courtship, c. 1900, by Sir William Ernest Reynolds-Stephens
Reynolds-Stephens (1862-1943) was American born but trained and spent most of his working life in Europe. This picture shows the mythological figure of Morta holding the threads of life over the couple while Cupid drapes flowers over the woman, seeming to indicate her life will be short. The style was influenced by the pre-Raphaelites.
Courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art. Sarasota, FL
This is just a sample of the treasures in the museum, from antiquities to 20th C. masters and contemporary works as well.  Plan a visit!


  1. What wonderful paintings! Thank you. I was wondering why the name "the Marquis of Granby" seemed familiar to me until I read what you said about pubs being named after him! It's also rare to see someone bald in a painting, I think. I suspect most people wore a hat of some type when sitting for a portrait, if they were bald.

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