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The Greatest Show on Earth

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    United States (made)

  • Date:

    1946 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Kauffer, Edward McKnight, born 1890 - died 1954 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Colour lithograph

  • Credit Line:

    Gift of the American Friends of the V&A; Gift to the American Friends by Leslie, Judith and Gabri Schreyer and Alice Schreyer Batko

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case 3G, shelf DR21

P.T. Barnum (1810-1891) first captured the attention of the American public in the 1830s and 40s by selling tickets to see entertaining curiosities. He joined promotional forces with James A. Bailey, eventually resulting in the "Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show On Earth" which first toured America in 1888. Part of the circus' ongoing appeal was Barnum's star attraction, Jumbo the elephant, which he acquired in 1882. Elephants remained an important aspect of the circus experience, as seen in this poster.
In 1907, the Ringling brothers, tented circus performers of growing renown, purchased the Barnum & Bailey circus. The two entities toured separately, however, until wartime staff and resource shortages necessiatated that the two shows officially merge.

Physical description

Yellow star studded spotlight landing before two elephants in pink tutus and matching hats. Small star-spangled ballerina dressed in blue and white, en pointe on a red, white and blue stand printed with the words "BUY DEFENSE BONDS"

Place of Origin

United States (made)


1946 (made)


Kauffer, Edward McKnight, born 1890 - died 1954 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Colour lithograph

Marks and inscriptions

The Greatest Show on Earth/ presents its/ 50/ famous elephants/ with beautiful Girls/ IN AN ORIGINAL BALLET/ composed by Igor Stravinsky/ Staged by George Balanchine/ Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Descriptive line

Poster by Edward McKnight Kauffer for the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey circus. Dancing elephants. USA, 1948.


Paper; Ink

Subjects depicted

Circus; Ballerina; Circuses (performances)


Prints; Advertising; Posters


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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