Peter Beard - Photographs London Wednesday, May 25, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'When I first went to Kenya in August 1955, I could never have guessed what was going to happen. Kenya’s population was roughly five million, with about 100 tribes scattered throughout the endless “wild-deer-ness” – it was authentic, unspoiled, teeming with big game – so enormous it appeared inexhaustible…' —Peter Beard

    Giraffes in Mirage on the Taru Desert, the monumental work offered here, is an exceptional example of Peter Beard’s (1938-2020) photographic exploration in Kenya. This image was taken during his earlier years in the country and was later published in the acclaimed The End of the Game: The Last Word from Paradise (1965). Beard’s photographs set to document the effects of Western colonial presence on the continent’s wildlife with powerful ecological commentaries. Here, the artist has captured three giraffes walking in a single line, the high temperature of the desert delicately blurring the horizon line. The large scale of the work allows the viewer to contemplate it in minute detail. Pink, black and occasional flourishes of gold and blue ink, finely painted by Beard, frames the image. In Beard’s distinctive handwriting is a quote borrowed from Karen Blixen, his close friend and the author of the best-selling novel Out of Africa, which reads: ‘the giraffe is as much a lady that one refrains from thinking of her legs, but remembers her as floating over the plains in long garb, draperies of morning mist her mirage.’

    IN FOCUS: PETER BEARD (lots 1-13) showcases a carefully curated selection of 13 unique works by Peter Beard from a Private European Collection. Inspired by Beard’s life and artistic practice, the collectors chose to focus on the artist’s work and assembled their collection over a span of 15 years. Ranging from the monumental composition Giraffes in Mirage on the Taru Desert to intimately scaled Polaroids, the works offered here emphasize Beard’s deep interest in the natural world as well as his fascination with feminine beauty. Both the larger works and the small-format Polaroids demonstrate Beard’s expressive use of handwritten text and hand-drawn embellishment. In each, Beard has layered text, image, and design to create a heightened visual experience – one that conveys both the fierce beauty of Africa, his adopted home, and the urgent need to protect it from the destruction of modern progress. 


    The works in this curation present the quintessential Peter Beard – visual poet, alchemist, prophet – and epitomise his distinctive aesthetic and environmentally conscious approach. Once described as ‘Odysseus with a camera’, Beard was a visionary ahead of his time whose powerful work continues to resonate long after its creation.

    • Provenance

      The Time Is Always Now, New York
      Christie's, London, 20 May 2016, lot 78

    • Literature

      P. Beard, The End of the Game, London: Paul Hamlyn, 1965, pp. 16-17 (variant)
      Peter Beard: The End of the Game, London: Thames & Hudson, 1988, pp. 50-51 (variant)
      Peter Beard, Cologne: Taschen, 2013, pl. 241 (variant)



Giraffes in mirage on the Taru desert, Kenya, June

Unique work, comprising a toned gelatin silver print with ink and paint, executed later.
Sheet: 122 x 171.8 cm (48 x 67 5/8 in.)
Frame: 147 x 196 cm (57 7/8 x 77 1/8 in.)

Signed, titled, dated and annotated in ink on the recto.


Full Cataloguing

£60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for £73,080

Contact Specialist

Department Contacts 

Rachel Peart
Head of Department, London

Yuka Yamaji
Head of Photographs, Europe

General Enquiries
+44 20 7318 4092


London Auction 25 May 2022