The Shove Ha'penny Winners signed 'SPEAR' (verso) oil on board 91.7 x 122 cm. (36 x 48 in.)
PROVENANCE: with Lucy Simmonds Fine Paintings, Hong Kong Private Collection, U.K.
Ruskin Spear painted several images of pub interiors, some of which can be regarded amongst his finest works. The setting for Mr Hollingberry's Canary (1963) was The Hampshire Hog, King Street, Hammersmith and Sherry Bar Portrait (1964) was painted in the Ravenscourt Arms, Hammersmith. It is highly likely that the present work was painted around the time that Spear exhibited in the Looking at People show at the South London Art Gallery, Camberwell (1956). This exhibition drew the attention of representatives from the Union of Soviet Artists and Spear was invited to partake in a mixed exhibition of British painting at the Pushkin Museum, Moscow (1957). As Mervyn Levy has commented, 'the strong social realist flavour of the pictures must have seemed the epitome of British proletarianism. Here was the working man in his natural environment, complete with his pubs, cafés and cloth caps...The exhibition was packed with visitors every day of the three weeks it was on...He was with the exhibition for the whole time it was at the Pushkin, and became known as 'the people's artist'; not a popular artist but a people's artist.' (Mervyn Levy, Ruskin Spear, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1985, p.60-61)
Shove Ha'Penny is a traditional English pub game that has been enjoyed across the country for centuries. To play the game, a ha'penny coin is placed slightly overhanging the bottom edge of the Shove Ha'Penny board and players have to shove the coin with either the heel or palm of the hand so it slides up the board. The aim is to avoid the lines that run across the board and have the coin come to rest in a 'bed' (the space in between the lines), thus scoring a point. The winner is the first player to land a coin three times in each 'bed'.