Sarah Ball - Wired: Online Auction London Wednesday, April 12, 2023 | Phillips
  • “I am interested in the act of translation; from the apparent certainty of the photographic record to the malleable quality of paint, my work calls into question history, memory and story.”
    —Sarah Ball 

    Sarah Ball’s Burglar is a poignant commentary on the interaction between photography and the human spirit. Painted in 2012, this work was featured as part of the Yorkshire-born artist’s first solo exhibition Accused at Anima Mundi Gallery, Cornwall; a presentation of portraits depicting interpretations of 19th Century mugshots. In Burglar, a young man adorned with a large black hat and a prisoner number arrests us with an earnest, unwavering gaze. Set against a murky grey-brown background, Ball employs soft brushstrokes and a muted palette to blur the lines of realism and storytelling, creating a haunting vision of a man accused. 


    The almost dreamlike quality of the work is typical of Sarah Ball’s oeuvre, who frequently uses vintage black and white photographs as a reference point. In the present work, the artist has used archival police criminal records to challenge, confront and reinterpret the Victorian practice of physiognomy; a popular pseudoscience that theorised a person’s appearance was indicative of their character and ethics. Mugshots of criminals would be used as evidence of a person’s guilt, and Ball is using the medium of paint to urge the viewer to look deeper than the idea of a photographed mugshot. 


    By keeping the subject small in comparison to the compositional space of the panel, Ball succeeds in making the burglar ‘look a bit diminutive’.i Juxtaposed with his overly large hat, this has the effect of imbuing the work with a sense of fragile vulnerability: ‘there's a story there, and you hint at that story by the crime that these people are accused of’.ii Yet, the expressive way in which Ball is able to communicate depth and emotion leaves the viewer considering these crimes whilst being confronted with an almost uncomfortable sense of humanity. We are asked to disregard the prescribed narrative path in search of finding our own truth within the work. 


    Sarah Ball discussing her work for Accused at Anima Mundi Gallery, Cornwall



    i Anima Mundi Gallery, Sarah Ball ‘Accused : Part 1’ 2012, online (video)

    ii Ibid.

    • Provenance

      Millennium Gallery, St. Ives
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      St. Ives, Millennium Gallery, Sarah Ball: Accused, 25 May - 19 June 2012, p. 6 (illustrated, p. 7)



signed, titled and dated 'Burglar. SarahBall 2012' on the reverse
oil on gessoed panel
18.2 x 13 cm (7 1/8 x 5 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2012.

Full Cataloguing

£6,000 - 8,000 

Sold for £10,795

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Wired: Online Auction

12 - 19 April 2023