John Bill Ricketts

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Rickets and his horse Cornplanter performing

John Bill Ricketts (died 1799) was an Englishman who brought the first modern circus to the United States.


Ricketts began his theatrical career with Hughes Royal Circus in London in the 1780s, and came over from England in 1792 to establish his first circus in Philadelphia. He built a circus building in Philadelphia in the fall of 1792 in which he conducted a riding school. After training a group of Pennsylvania horses, on April 3, 1793 he gave America's first complete circus performance, which began a series of exhibitions two and three times a week.[1]

Gilbert Stuart portrait[edit]

John Bill Ricketts, aka, Breschard, the Circus Rider, by Gilbert Stuart

Ricketts is identified as the subject of an unfinished portrait of ca. 1795–99 by Gilbert Stuart. The painting's current provenance includes the sitter's brother, Francis Ricketts; it was later owned by Peter Grain and George Washington Riggs.[2] In 1879, George C. Mason published The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart, in which he described the painting as "an unfinished picture, which, there is strong reason for believing, was painted by Stuart" and identified the subject as Breschard, the Circus Rider.[3] It was under this title that the painting was displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1880.[4] However, in 1970 the National Gallery of Art changed the identification from "Breschard" " to "Ricketts".

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Explore PA - Historical Markers
  2. ^ NGA website: John Bill Ricketts—provenance
  3. ^ Mason, George C. The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1879. p. 151.
  4. ^ NGA website: John Bill Ricketts—bibliography
  5. ^ Tattersfield, Nigel (Dec 2013). ‘Caught in the Act: John Bill Ricketts as Glimpsed by Thomas Bewick’. Print Quarterly (XXX, No. 4): pp. 422-426.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]