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TOHU's Collection

Circus Art & History Collection @ TOHU.

Jacob-William Collection

Since August 2003, TOHU has been custodian of the Jacob-William Collection, one of the biggest private circus art collections. This unique collection is the result of thirty years of loving work by Pascal Jacob and Christian William, two European collectors with a passion for the circus.

There are now more than 17,000 items in the collection, including historical and modern artefacts, such as programs, posters, engravings, photographs, drawings, paintings and sculptures and around 2,500 documents from the 16th century up to the present day, that are kept in the Documentation Centre at the National Circus School.

Beyond its purely aesthetic purpose, this Collection is intended primarily as a documentary resource. Focusing on diversity, the collectors want to preserve at least one of each type of document showing the history of the circus across time. They aim to establish contemporary circus with what has made the circus great over the centuries.

C TOHU Fonds Jacob William 1 C TOHU Fonds Jacob William 2 C TOHU Fonds Jacob William 3 C TOHU Fonds Jacob William 4 C TOHU Fonds Jacob William 5


The Jacob-William Collection is displayed at the GOING FULL CIRCUS! The great adventure of circus arts in Quebec An exhibition that celebrates the incredible journey of the circus arts in Quebec, from their inception in Montreal in 1796 until they burst onto the scene in the 1980s and right up to today.

Discover over a hundred extraordinary documents, costumes, posters, objects and photos that honour celebrated artists and track the rise to international stardom of a circus community unlike any other.


TOHU offers six touring exhibitions displaying the Jacob-William Collection. This is a chance to transform your space into a circus happening – at least, for the length of an exhibition.


Cutting irony mixed with unforced affability make the clown an eccentric character, able to make children and grown-ups laugh, whilst sometimes retaining a disturbing element of mystery. Beyond his incredible ability to entertain millions around the world, the clown is a lovely excuse to put on an exhibition, as he is probably the most inspirational circus figure for painters and illustrators. Come and discover the many facets of the clown’s character at the Être clowns, c’est ne jamais faire le clown exhibition, which displays around twenty works from the Jacob-William Collection: posters, prints, drawings and paintings.


The Horse has been at man’s side for thousands of years. Since the Gallo-Roman games in the arena to the big top, the horse has also been at the circus from the beginning. This exhibition is devoted to this noble animal


The CIRCUS BEASTS repertoire, just like Don Juan’s conquests, is endless: from beaver to ostrich, chimp to kangaroo, antelope to flea, crocodile to pelican, almost all animals have been put on display and for many of them it has been a life of training and performing. The 19th century was the "golden age" for showing tamed circus animals: 70 white bears, 100 lions and as many crocodiles, 50 elephants, all on display or performing for the flabbergasted crowds. Man is stronger than nature, dominating all life and reigning over the world.


The Auguste clown’s number one skill is clumsiness. "Auguste": comes from Berlin slang for "idiot", and that early circus audiences had no idea (when they called out "Auguste" to that first clumsy performer), of the legacy their insults were creating.

This grotesque character is always paired with someone who, in contrast to the Auguste’s awkwardness, exaggerated makeup and poorly fitting clothes, puts on an air of superior authority and wears a sparkling costume: the whiteface. With the eloquence only pictures can offer, Nés à nez speaks volumes through rare works of 20th century photographers and artists as they explore the personality of the Auguste clown with their simple, accessible and detailed art.


Circuses have always had bears, and these animals were also beside the troubadours at their street performances. The OURS exhibition bears witness to these animals that have been part of circuses for many years.


At the circus, things often begin with a parade. Going out on parade is a simple and naïve way of bringing luck, and means everything is ready for the show.

This exhibit presents a sweeping history of the parade from the 18th century to the present day. Whether at a funfair or a military parade ground, in the ring or on the street, at the circus or a corrida, a parade always plays a liberating role. As soon as it begins, it says the time for hesitation is over and bad luck will be kept at bay.

Fonds Jacob-William Videos

Discover the Fund with Pascal Jacob, who tells us the story behind each work!

Go to the YouTube channel

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