Francis Brunn and Sister, New York

Leslie Gill American

Not on view

Still-life photographer Leslie Gill coaxes a rare moment of stasis from famous jugglers Francis and Lottie Brunn, who appear here with the tools of their trade. Only the blur of a revolving ball belies their extraordinary onstage dynamism. Gill instead opts for balance. He shows the sequin-spangled siblings twined together in a symbiotic pose, perhaps illustrative of their partnership; in his picture the Brunns are so in tune that even their faces seem to rhyme. 

Francis and Lottie first learned to juggle from their father, who had picked it up in a French prison camp. In war-wrecked Bavaria, the Brunns refined their skills with an array of improvised props, from potatoes to toilet plungers wrapped in paper. By late 1930s they were appearing on the European carnival circuit, juggling in dance halls and variety shows, and for a while even entertaining Nazi troops in Vichy France, before a Ringling contract brought them to the U.S. Francis won particular acclaim for the balletic elegance of his act, racking up superlatives and performing for heads of state.

Behind the scenes, however, the partnership was fraying. The year after Gill made this portrait, Lottie—long relegated to the role of her brother’s assistant—would embark on a successful solo career. But, here at least, the show goes on. Gill, a meticulous stylist with a keen eye for composition, arranges the Brunns in collaborative accord, selling the scene as seductively as in his commercial work for House Beautiful and Harper’s Bazaar. Trussing up a white tarp behind the jugglers, he invokes the big tents that hosted—for a while, at least—their dazzling double act.

Francis Brunn and Sister, New York, Leslie Gill (American, 1908–1958), Gelatin silver print

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