Peter Clarke

Peter Clarke

Creating Visual Narratives Through the Decades

14/05/2024     General News, Timed-Online Auctions

Twenty-three-year-old Peter Clarke with an early Tesselaarsdal painting, which he sold to Reg Probst of the British Admiralty. Preserved in one of his scrapbooks, this is the photograph taken for the Cape Times report, ‘Dock worker plans career in art’, of 24 June 1952.[1]


Aspire Art presents in its 20th/21st Century Classics Timed-Online auction, a collection of works by Peter Clarke from key periods within his personal life and artistic career. Born in Simon’s Town, the versatile and accomplished artist and poet would become an important part of the historical canon of South African art. His distinctive simplicity of form, depicted the daily lives, customs and traditions of communities in the Cape with both compassion and empathy. Clarke was able to mitigate between the small joys of daily life and his social and political criticisms of the apartheid regime.

Lot 71: Pour Moi | R 6 000 - 8 000

For his first job, Clarke joined the Naval Dockyard in Cape Town at the age of 15 where he performed a variety of duties and ultimately worked for 12 years. It was during this time that he took evening art classes and his interest in a creative career grew. Pour Moi (1955) [Lot 71] is a delightful recto-verso sketch made during the artist’s time at the Dockyard. A French phrase which can have numerous translations including ‘For me’ and ‘To myself’, the doddle was very possibly made for the artist’s own enjoyment, and the banner above the cat is inscribed ‘PEC’ – the initials for, Peter Edward Clarke. Notably, the sketch was created one year before Clarke left his work at the Dockyard to pursue his career as an artist.

Lot 19: Fanie Carelse's, Teslaarsdal, 1952 | R 10 000 - 15 000

Three years previously, Clarke had produced a beautiful work on paper, titled Fanie Carelse's, Teslaarsdal, 1952 [Lot 19]. Reflecting on that year in his life, Clarke recalled an article written about him in 1952 in the Cape Times titled “Dock Worker Plans Career in Art”, where he said he, “wanted to make a name for [him]self no matter how long it took.”[2] This delicate drawing attests to the drive within the artist to pave his career in the industry. It is interesting to note that although Clarke had previously spent his holidays at the village of Teslaarsdal (currently known as Tesselaarsdal), in the Western Cape, he would travel there again after leaving the docks in 1956 to escape the city and find more picturesque scenes.

Lot 16: Xmas Caroller | R 6 000 - 8 000

By the early 1960s, Clarke was receiving serious recognition and as his art was showcased at exhibitions in England, Germany and the USA. In 1959, the artist was granted a special permit to attend an etching course at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town. As a person of colour, under apartheid law Clarke was not permitted to study full-time at the institution. Thus he rather went elsewhere and between 1959 and 1963 to studied at the prestigious Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Xmas Caroller, 1961 [Lot 69] was printed in 1961, a humble portrait of a barefooted Christmas caroller holding a candle to see their sheet music. In that same year, Peter Clarke’s work was included in the 1961 Sāo Paolo Biennale, and later in the 1964 Venice Biennale.


Lot 67: Father is Coming Home Soon | R 15 000 - 20 000

In 1967, Clarke and his family fell victim to the Group Areas Act which saw them forcibly relocated to Ocean View. In the period that followed, his critique and personal anguish became visibly sharpened in the scenes he depicted. Father is Coming Home Soon, 1971 [Lot 67] was created in 1971, and reflects the troubled times in which Clarke was living. Still staying true to reflecting his surrounding community, the sombre hues, stark contrasting shadows and subject matter of a waiting female figure, alludes to a touching but sad scene. During this period, Clarke would experiment with the relief print process, using “colour relationships and tonal contrasts not merely as descriptive but as expressive devices.”[3]

His career would continue to flourish and grow, and in 2011, Clarke was recognised with a major retrospective exhibition of his work at the Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg and the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town. It was accompanied by the comprehensive monograph, Listening to Distant Thunder written by Elizabeth Rankin and Philippa Hobbs. An example from the edition of Iris [Lot 68 ] is featured in this monograph. Additionally, the artist has been the recipient of a number of notable awards, including the Order of Ikhamanga, presented to him by President Thabo Mbeki in 2005.

Lot 68: Iris | R 18 000 - 24 000


[1]'Listening to Distant Thunder: The Art of Peter Clarke'. (2011). [Exhibition catalogue]. Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg. 4 May to 2 July 2011, p.48.

[2]Peter Clarke Fanfare’. (2004). [Exhibition catalogue]. Michael Stevenson Contemporary, Cape Town, 29 November 2012 - 12 January 2013, p.9.

[3] 'Listening to Distant Thunder: The Art of Peter Clarke'. (2011). [Exhibition catalogue]. Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg. 4 May to 2 July 2011, p.128.






20th/21 Century Classics

9 - 21 May 2024


Discover more from 20th/21st Century Classics



Cape Town: +27 21 422 5100 |

Johannesburg: +27 10 109 7989 |