Three puppets – a policeman, a labourer and a banker – are at the top of a red structure at the centre of the composition. A man with a drum is narrating the show to the dense crowd of spectators. The scene is set on a square surrounded by steeply tilted buildings.

Paraskeva Clark

(St. Petersburg, Russia, 1898 – Toronto 1986)

 

Petroushka

1937

Oil on canvas

122.4 x 81.9 cm

Purchased in 1976

National Gallery of Canada, 18624

© Estate of Paraskeva Clark. Photo: National Gallery of Canada


Petroushka pictures a puppet theatre in the middle of a watching crowd. In the show, a policeman is beating Petroushka, a male stock character of Russian puppetry, here dressed as a labourer. A banker is looking on, clearly amused. The working-class spectators are expressing anger, indifference, or distress, but are helpless to intervene. In a style akin to Expressionism, Paraskeva Clark’s painting denounces the conditions imposed on American labourers. It was inspired by a 1937 clash between the Chicago police and striking steelworkers in which five workers were killed.  


Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1898, Paraskeva Clark studied painting there before moving to Paris, in 1923. She immigrated to Toronto in 1931 and soon committed to making her art serve a social purpose. In 1937, she published an article in the leftist magazine New Frontier exhorting artists to look beyond the landscapes of the Canadian Shield and join the working class struggle. Clark was elected a member of the Canadian Group of Painters in 1936 and exhibited extensively with the major art societies of her day.

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