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Bernard van Leer’s Circus Kavaljos by Willy Sluiter, 1936

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Watercolor on paper, 119 x 175 mm, Auction House Onder de Boompjes, Leiden, 12 June 2011, lot no. 1

Willy Sluiter attended the gala performance of Circus Kavaljos on 13 June 1936 in the garden of ‘De Stille Hoek’ (The Quiet Corner), a residence in Wassenaar. He annotated this watercolor with all details of the event, which apparently was memorable. The residence in Wassenaar was not the residence of Bernard van Leer, who lived in Hilversum and was a wealthy manufacturer of barrels. In the 1920s Bernard van Leer developed a passion for horse riding and training of horses for circus performances. In 1935 he established his own Circus Kavaljos. The proceeds went to charities. He had Frisian, Arabian and Lipizzaner horses. In 1941 he managed to ship his whole circus via Cuba to the USA, where he spent the war years with his circus. In 1945 he came back to the Netherlands with his circus. The grey horse we see here is a Lipizzaner trained for dressage on the long rein without rider. It performs the Spanish walk with the legs lifted high and stretched. The lady/trainer is dressed in a side-saddle skirt, jacket, boots and spurs, so she will also ride a horse. Unfortunately she is not identified in the annotation. The public wears evening dress. The artist clearly expressed his enthousiasm in this little colorful work.