Modern and Contemporary Art

Live Virtual Auction, 16 May 2023

Modern and Contemporary Art

Sold for

ZAR 234 500
Lot 31
  • Peter Clarke; The Acrobat's Family
  • Peter Clarke; The Acrobat's Family
  • Peter Clarke; The Acrobat's Family

Lot Estimate
ZAR 150 000 - 200 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 234 500

About this Item

South African 1929-2014
The Acrobat's Family

signed and dated 5.1.1957

mixed media on paper
25 by 30cm excluding frame; 57 by 67 by 4,5cm including frame


Throughout his long career, Clarke drew on a repertoire of carefully observed figure studies and character sketches. Woolly-hatted dock workers, weathered farmhands, musicians, spindly wood gatherers, hoodlums, skomfaan drinkers, bare[1]arsed bathers, athletes, scholars, and lounging shepherds, each caught with warm frankness, humour, economical line and evocative colour, were pulled from the commonplace around him. In their various roles, however, these characters acted out the everyday scenes of racial discrimination and inequality in the country. In this broader context, Clarke was often attracted to the outsiders, bohemians, and eccentrics that inhabited the fringes of society. His fondness for these figures – which spoke to wider themes of intolerance and dispossession – is never more beautifully revealed than in the two current lots, The Acrobat’s Family and Acrobat, Midget and Chimpanzee. Precisely sketched and daringly painted, these historical vignettes show a line-up of curious and charismatic circus entertainers in all their costume and trimmings. Painted in the first days of 1957, these snapshots of colourful, multi-generational black artists, performing together in a segregated troupe, for a marginalised audience, illustrate the deep racial divisions in the country at the time. The performers themselves, however, are lively and self-assured, not to mention brimming with power, talent, and light-hearted mischief. Clarke creates a playful atmosphere by exaggerating expressions and flirting with caricature. Both pictures, moreover, are a riot of pattern: the bold and vertical stripes of the big tops, the fluttering bunting, and the harlequin’s coat of contrasting diamonds of colour, create scenes of joyful chaos.


Acquired from the artist by the current owner.

View all Peter Clarke lots for sale in this auction

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