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Ulrica Zürn joined the Surrealist circle around her new partner, Hans Bellmer, in the early 1950s. She, Yves Tanguy and Max Ernst were the Surrealists who explored the world of the subconscious on the borderline between abstraction and figuration. One major source of inspiration was African art, to which she had been exposed at an early age through the collection of exotic objects put together by her father, a German cavalry officer who was stationed in Africa.

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Collection book

Collection book Order


Title Zirkus
Material and technique Oil on canvas
Object type
Painting > Painting > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Height Error: 49,8 is not a valid BCD value cm
Width Error: 46,8 is not a valid BCD value cm
Artists Artist: Unica Zürn
Accession number 3671 (MK)
Credits Purchased with the support of Mondriaan Fund and FriendsLottery, 2011
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 2011
Creation date in 1956
Provenance Estate Unica Zürn; Ubu Gallery, New York 2011
Exhibitions Rotterdam 2015b; Rotterdam 2017b
Internal exhibitions De collectie als tijdmachine (2017)
Collectie - surrealisme (2017)
External exhibitions Surrealist Art - Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2021)
A Surreal Shock – Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2021)
Only the Marvelous is Beautiful (2022)
Dalí, Magritte, Man Ray and Surrealism. Highlights from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2023)
A Surreal Shock. Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2023)
Research Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Literature Brinkmann/Helmes/Knapp 1998, pp. xxxi, 214

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Entry catalogue A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van beuningen

Author: Marijke Peyser

The German artist Unica Zürn’s visual oeuvre consists mainly of works on paper, apart from a few small paintings. She used the Surrealist technique of écriture automatique to depict a fantastic organic inner world. She was concerned with focusing on her own introspection, not academic schooling or conventions. In this she connected with the Surrealist fascination with psychoanalysis, but at the same time her work touched upon art brut, art autre and psychopathological art.

In 2011 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen acquired two works by Zürn: the oil painting Zirkus and the gouache Komposition. Zirkus depicts a circus performance: a figure moves forward on a shaky rope, a bicycle follows close behind. Some rope ladders hang in the space, ready for use. There is also a wheel of fortune. The scene is sparsely illuminated by a few points of light. The bravado, gaiety and spotlights typical of this kind of entertainment are absent. Zirkus is one of Zürn’s few paintings. It is more spatial in layout than Komposition and instead of organic shapes shows more or less recognizable human figures and architectural structures. Like many other Surrealists, Zürn was inspired in part by African art. In her case through her father’s collection of ethnographic artefacts; as a cavalry officer he had been stationed in Africa.[1] Although it was painted, the surface of Zirkus looks as if it had been drawn. Zürn scratched the lines in the black top layer to reveal a lighter colour under the dark paint in some places.

In the past there was no work by Zürn in the collections of Dutch museums, nor had her work ever been exhibited in the Netherlands. The works purchased in 2011 form an interesting bridge between the predominantly pre-war Surrealist artworks in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and the recently purchased work by, for example, Chris Hipkiss, Oscar de Las Flores, and above all by Paul Noble and Peter Feiler, with their own imaginary worlds. These gems by Zürn along with the painting Paysage avec nuages roses by Yves Tanguy, acquired in 2007, reinforce the more ‘abstract’ and introspective branch of Surrealism in the museum’s collection.



[1] See http://www.ubugallery.com/gallery/artists/unica-zurn/ (consulted 21 January 2017).

Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
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All about the artist

Unica Zürn

Berlijn-Grunewald 1916 - Parijs 1970

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