On Richards' Coster series, the artist's son-in-law, Mel Gooding writes, 'During the late 1930s Richards always visited the great annual fair on Hampstead Heath. He was enthralled by the vivid life of the fairground, the noise and colour, the ceaseless bustling and hustling of the fairground folk, their exaggerated dress and emphatic gestures. He was fascinated in particular by the flamboyance of the costumes and headgear of the East End costermongers in their Pearly King and Queen outfits, the jackets and caps of the men and the dresses of the women covered in elaborate spangles of mother-of-pearl buttons and brooches, the hats of the women plumed with huge white ostrich feathers. They seemed to the artist at once sinister and beautiful, demonic, erotically charged, comic, mundane, artificial and magically human. They were extravagantly poetic and visually fantastic. In short, to the eye in what Breton called "its primitive state" - untrammelled by cognitive perception - they were surreal. In two distinct periods, from 1938 to 1940, and then from 1948-1952, Richards made hundreds of drawings and watercolours on the 'costers' theme, ranging from the most marvellously observed and meticulous portraits to the most elaborately capricious or fantastical re-inventions' (Ceri Richards, London, 2002, pp. 51-53).
Gooding calls the present work one of 'Richards' spectacular painted characterisations of the subject' and writes of its 'theatrical flourish and complication; erotic desire ... is a sub-textual constant. Looked at another way, these extravagant flaming creatures are grotesque, even nightmarish; they are emanations of the ominous mood of a world approaching an inevitable war with an unpredictable outcome' (ibid., p. 53).