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An artist family

A few days ago, fellow Dutch researcher Luuk Keunen told me that he had finished his study of the Grade-Pulham family, an artist family with German and English roots. The results of years of research are now available on


Here is a translation of a few paragraphs that Luuk wrote as a summery. (Published with his consent.)

“With the growth of European cities in the late 19th century, a form of entertainment emerged that would dominate European theaters for decades: variety shows, also known as vaudeville in America. In this study we describe the life of the artist couple Gustav A. Grade and Alice V. Pulham, known by their stage names Rolf Arras and Miss Alice.”

Poster of the Arras act.
(collection: Library of Congres)

“Their careers almost paralleled the rise and heyday of European variety history. Both came from poor backgrounds in the cities of Danzig and London and got to know the artist’s life at a young age. Already around 1890, Gustav must have performed in various European cities, probably with his younger brother Paul. With the joining of their wives Alice and Alma, the paths of the two brothers split further and further. Both brothers performed internationally with their wives, with Gustav clearly predominating: he traveled around the world several times in the period between 1895 and 1910.”

“After the First World War, Gustav, Alice and their two daughters mainly traveled through Europe. Their original gymnastics act had taken on American features as a result of their travels to the New World, including lasso and shooting parts. For decades they have been developing new acts that contain these elements and in which the context of cowboys and Indians played a major role. This came to a head during the 1935 World Exhibition in Brussels. The family performed at the Indian Village along with Sioux Indians who had come over from the United States. The World Exhibition followed years in which they had toured Europe with various circuses.”

“During this period, Gustav died, and the family left behind was affected in its existence. An attempt to stay in Belgium failed, and mother left for Germany with both daughters. There Irene and Cäcilie chose to exist as a duo: the Arras Sisters, later 2 Lassonas. They also developed solo activities. A few times, mother Alice still performed.”

Family history

Keunen’s research then follows the lives of the two sisters, their partners and cousins. The final result of this study is thus a combination of a family history and an overview of the development of “a great but lost performing art”.

The publication is only available in Dutch, but I am sure that Luuk can help English-speaking readers when they have questions about the Gade-Pulham family or their variety shows. You can contact him by email.

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