Important South African and International Art

Live Auction, 4 June 2018

Session Three
  • Robert Hodgins; Ubu at the Penitentiary Ball Game

Lot Estimate
ZAR 500 000 - 700 000

About this Item

South African 1920-2010
Ubu at the Penitentiary Ball Game
signed, dated 1980-1984 and inscribed with the title, the medium and 'Exhibited at the Carriage House Gallery, Jhb, Oct/Nov 1984' on a label adhered to the reverse
oil on board
61 by 91cm excluding frame


Hodgins’s first representation of Ubu dates from 1960 when he pulled a small etching of an Ubu figure. The interest in Alfred Jarry, a French dramatist of the late 19th century and inventor of the fictitious avaricious character, Ubu Roi, used in many of his plays, stemmed from Hodgins’s fascination with the work of Georges Rouault (1871–1958), for he, too, rendered images of Jarry’s Ubu Roi. Some twenty years later, in the late 1970s, Hodgins became captivated by the theme and began a series of paintings which cast Ubu in various roles and situations: General, Lawyer, Politician, Interrogator, Voyeur, and so on.

In the present lot Ubu attends a football match in Alabama, Georgia in the United States. The name of the stadium is clearly visible at centre and a football hurtles over the three figures’ heads also at the centre of the picture plane. These three portraits could well be those of a greedy club owner, a disgruntled coach, and/or a thuggish sports spectator. Ubu is the universal tragicomic character in what makes up a personality: part gentle altruist and generous philanthropist; part brutish dictator and authoritarian oppressor. William Kentridge uses him in his play, Ubu and the Truth Commission. Ubu was the subject matter of a collaboration between Kentridge, Hodgins and Deborah Bell in which they all produced a set of prints. Says Rory Doepel: ‘When talking about his work, Hodgins reveals a very strong empathetic relation to his subjects, especially when they are victims, evincing a strong moral consciousness. But at the same time, he is (as he says), ‘also sorry for the Ubu’s – the brutes – of this world’. 1

Rory Doepel (1997). Ubu: 101: William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins, Deborah Bell, Johannesburg: The French Institute of South Africa and The Art Galleries, University of the Witwatersrand, page 49.


Exhibited at the Carriage House Gallery, Johannesburg, October - November 1984.

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