Peter Blake

On the Balcony


Not on display

Peter Blake born 1932
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1213 × 908 mm
frame: 1324 × 1017 × 50 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1963

Display caption

Blake is best known as one Britain’s first pop artists. His work combined images from high art and contemporary American and British popular culture. This picture includes 27 variations on the theme of ‘On the Balcony’, from a famous painting by Edouard Manet to a newspaper photograph of the royal family. He also includes a range of other references including fashionable American cigarettes, a photograph of his late tutor John Minton, and a painting by fellow-student Leon Kossoff.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Catalogue entry

T00566 ON THE BALCONY 1955–7
Inscr. ‘P T Blake’ b.r.; a number of inscriptions are painted in trompe-l'œil, simulating collage of newspaper cuttings, magazine covers and badges.
Canvas, 47 3/4×35 1/2 (121×91).
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1963.
Coll: Purchased by the C.A.S. from the artist 1959.
Exh: Five Painters, I.C.A., January–February 1958 (8); The Guggenheim Painting Award, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May–June 1958 (45).
Lit: Roger Coleman, ‘The Art of Counterfeit’ in Painter & Sculptor, I, No.1, 1958, pp.22–3, repr. p.22; Robert Melville, ‘The Durable Expendables of Peter Blake’ in Motif, X, winter 1962–3, pp.18, 20, repr. p.14.

The artist wrote (n.d., March 1963) that the picture was painted as his Diploma Composition while at the R.C.A. Most of it was painted in 1955, but he worked on it again when he returned from the Continent in 1957. This is borne out by the inscription on the back of the canvas: ‘Blake R.C.A. On the Balcony unfinished.’ The picture shows twenty-seven variations of the theme ‘on the balcony’.

The artist took his point of departure from the American realist painter Honoré Sharrer's ‘Workers and Pictures’, which was included in the cross-section of the Museum of Modern Art's twentieth-century American collection exhibited at the Tate in 1956. In this picture groups of working-class families are shown against a background of tenements and factories, and each group stands behind a famous masterpiece (repr. Fourteen Americans, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1946, pp.64–5).

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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