Lot 5
  • 5

Paula Rego

bidding is closed


  • Paula Rego
  • Target
  • pastel on canvas-backed paper laid down on aluminium

  • 160 by 120cm.
  • 63 by 47 1/4 in.
  • Executed in 1995.


Marlborough Gallery, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1995


New York, Marlborough Gallery, Inc., Paula Rego, 1995, no. 2, illustrated in colour
Liverpool, Tate; Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belém, Paula Rego Retrospective, 1997, p. 99, no. 64, illustrated in colour
Lisbon, Fondaçāo Calouste Gulbenkian (on temporary loan 1997-2005) 


John McEwen, Paula Rego, London 2002, p. 221, no. 211, illustrated in colour
Maria Manuel Lisboa, Paula Rego's Map of Memory: National and Sexual Politics, Ashgate 2003, p. 175, no. 75, illustrated in colour
Diario de Noticias, 19 August 2003, Portugal, p. 6, illustrated (accompanied by poem by Ana Marques Gastão)
Ana Marques Gastão, Nós / Nudos, Lisbon 2004, p. 50, illustrated

Catalogue Note

“With pastel you don’t have the brush between you and the surface. Your hand is making the picture. It’s almost like being a sculptor. You are actually making the person. It’s very tactile … and there’s a lot of physical strength involved because it’s overworked, masses and masses of layers changed all the time. It takes a lot of strength.” (Paula Rego in John McEwen, Paula Rego, 2nd Edition, London 2002, p. 223)


Throughout the recent history of Paula Rego’s work, single figures have periodically emerged, often as iconic images around which a new series begins, or as the culmination of a particular narrative cycle. These figures represent emotional talismans for the complex construction of feminine feeling which Rego is attempting to build. Emerging from the poignant brutality of her first and most renowned series of roughly twelve large scale pastels, “The Dog Women”, Target depicts the central female character in an intimate moment just before she undresses. With her back turned and her dress undone, her hands are poised on her shoulders as if to remove her dress. What would be an otherwise sensitive portrayal of the act of disrobing takes on a more ominous tone through her slightly animalistic posture and the title of the work - Target. As with the Dog Women which came before, there is here an implied male presence though it is not seen. Paula Rego herself has commented recently: “This is a very good painting.  She’s ready to be shot, she’s ready to be pierced like St. Sebastian.  She’s a female St. Sebastian but she’s complying to the punishment.” Although here, it is the male gaze which is piercing her body not the arrows.


It is interesting to note Rego’s immediate placement of her subject in the pantheon of art history, and indeed it is possible to note the influence of a number of artists from across the centuries in this beautifully studied portrait. Rego was the first Associate artist at the National Gallery, London during the year 1990 and it seems many of the works she lived with every day had a profound effect on her future ideas. In the sensuous depiction of a kneeling figure one can trace the influence of Zurbaran’s St Francis in Meditation (c.1635-40), (fig. 1), in the raw use of pastel to trace the physicality of the female figure one can sense Edgar Degas (fig. 2) and Rego’s admiration of Lucian Freud’s paintings of animals is visible in the weight and muscularity of the figure.


As with most of her finest works, Rego here manages to cast her female subject with a range of subtle ambiguities and, formally isolated against a neutral background, she becomes a beacon for the marriage of classic and contemporary femininity. This is a consciously religious composition, and yet the fragility of the subject is offset by her solid, almost masculine appearance. Crammed into a dress which Rego has kept since she was 15, she is on view, with her body on the verge of being revealed and yet she cannot face us. Rego lovingly brings every aspect of her presence to life, from the highlights in her hair clip and bra to the outstanding rendition of brushed cotton fabric in her dress and cushion, to the outlines which define her muscular body.


The original “Dog Women” series evolved from a drawing session with her main model, Lila, in 1994. Casting around for inspiration Rego asked Lila to settle into a snarling squat. As such, these strongly symbolic women became identified by their actions, and the urgency of the swiftly applied pastel linked the physicality of their unbridled sexuality to the energy at work in their creation. Carrying unprecedented gravitas, Target highlights the way in which the process of drawing is, for the artist, a process of getting to know the subject and simultaneously revealing it. That ‘subject’ is a complex mixture of narrative content, emotional substance and the model’s own personality and for Rego, the model’s body becomes the Other through which the Self ventriloquises.