Costermonger (Red and Yellow) by Ceri Richards, 1942, pen and ink and gouache on paper, 12 x 9½ in (30 x 24cm). It is among the works featured at Browse & Darby's exhibition.

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Running until April 4, the exhibition brings together a collection of his works on paper ranging in price from £7500-12,000.

In this group the costermongers are prominent, defined by their extravagant hats and vibrant colours and presentation.

They were equally colourful in life. Selling fresh produce from temporary stalls, barrows and baskets, they traditionally had their own dress code, including shiny mother of pearl buttons and spoke in elaborate rhyming slang or back slang (literally speaking backwards).

Costermongers were ‘ruled’ by a set of elders who decorated their clothes with an abundance of the regulation buttons and soon became known as the ‘pearly kings and queens’, still in existence today.

Richards would make life sketches of the Kings and Queens, later worked up into non-specific finished paintings representing more than a single figure.

According to art historian Mel Gooding: “They seemed to the artist at once sinister, beautiful, erotically charged, comic, mundane, artificial, and magically human. They were extravagantly poetic, and visually fantastic.”

Everyday work

Also featured in the show are studies of tinplate workers of the foundry near Richards’ birthplace and other figures who populated his day-to-day life.

Throughout his career, Richards was influenced by the Surrealists and his work was included in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London. He taught at the Chelsea School of Art and during the Second World War was appointed head of painting at the Cardiff School of Art (he also contributed to the war effort as a member of the Home Guard).

In 1944 he returned to his position at Chelsea and also taught at the Slade and RCA and was represented by Marlborough Fine Art.