In 1919 Harold and Laura Knight moved from Cornwall to London where Laura became fascinated by the colour and drama of ballet, theatre and circus subjects. Her first experience of the circus had been at Nottingham Goose Fair, where as a child she was enthralled by Wombwell's Circus. In London she visited Fossett's Circus at the Agricultural Hall in Islington where she 'drew everything in sight', and Bertram Mills' Circus at Olympia where he granted her permission to paint anything she pleased in the ring and backstage. When in 1929 Mills teamed up with the Great Carmo to send a tented circus on a tour of the Midlands, Laura enthusiastically joined them. She spent much of the early 1930s on the road with Carmo's, lodging with the clown Joe Bert, and his wife Ally.
Laura became firm friends with the circus performers and their animals, some of whom are represented in her large circus painting of 1928 entitled, Charivari or The Grand Parade (Newport Museum and Art Gallery, Gwent). It was with the clowns that she formed some of her greatest friendships and her pictures of them are among her most sensitive circus works. The present painting probably shows Marba, who appears in the same attire in other works including her 1930 painting of Joe Bert, Marba and Randy entitled, Three Clowns (Leicester Museums and Art Gallery) and a drawing of Marba and Randy (sold in these Rooms, 25 September 1992, lot 165; private collection).
Laura's circus years were happy and productive and she looked back upon them fondly, recalling, 'Never did I have happier companionship (apart from that of Harold Knight) than with my circus pals' (see C. Fox, Dame Laura Knight, Oxford, 1988, pp. 65-73).