Lot 28
  • 28

Paula Rego

350,000 - 450,000 GBP
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  • Paula Rego
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 95 on the reverse

  • pastel on canvas
  • 101 by 75.5cm.
  • 39 3/4 by 29 3/4 in.


Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000


The colours in the catalogue illustration are accurate. This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent under ultraviolet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

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."

The artist cited in: John McEwen, Paula Rego, London 1997, p. 215

Composed of an exhilarating display of visceral mark-making engrained in oil pastel on canvas, Paula Rego's brilliant work Untitled  of 1995 is one of the most arresting depictions of the isolated figure from this most important period in her oeuvre. The present work was executed at a pivotal moment when the artist was between major cycles, having finished the highly-acclaimed Dog Women series of 1994 and about to begin working with Disney imagery and theDancing Ostriches of 1995. As Rego has explained of this time: "I had finished the dog women and I knew I didn't want to make any more, but I didn't know what to do next...Then I thought I'd like to do something with a girdle, and with a woman itching and uncomfortable in old-fashioned underwear (it's to do with mothers) and that's where she came from. She's real, I think, not like an illustration – she's the thing itself. Maybe because she does not come from a story, or have to carry a story. She's got a lot of story in her, but she's not an interpretation of anything, she just is" (the artist cited in: Fiona Bradley, Paula Rego, London 2002, p. 82).

The artist's friend Lila Nunes, the model for most of theDog Women cycle, was again enlisted by Rego to pose for the present work, continuing to bring the terrific sense of anatomical drama and palpable animalism that had enabled Rego to explore hidden truths of womanhood through bestiality in her previous series. Advancing out of the extraordinary analogy of those works,Untitled focuses on the inner character of its subject, revealed by subtle cues of human expression, from the upwardly fixed stare to the determined tugging of her girdle to the tensely splayed toes. Describing the source of this subject matter Rego has said: "This woman, I think I thought of her as cast out, a sinner in the wilderness, and maybe she's an early attempt to work with the imagery of Mary Magdalene. A real, lumpy, bumpy woman who has sinned – it's an aspect of the human condition that has always appealed to me" (Ibid).

The solidity of the model's form is distinctly palpable and tactile through the heavily-worked, built-up layers of pastel. The surface texture, at once evincing both waxy and chalky qualities, has been endlessly plied by Rego to reveal the corporeal character of her subject. The figure's strong anatomy is confidently scribed in directional hatching, leading the eye down to her chiselled feet. Since 1993 Rego has chosen to work exclusively in pastel, redefining the limits of a medium that adeptly facilitates her urgent and emotive technique. These new possibilities are readily apparent in Untitled: "it looked real, or naturalistic – solid. With pastel, it's like drawing and painting at the same time...everything is drawn, one line after the other, all the lines going in and out of each other, building something up in line which is colour at the same time" (Ibid, p. 83). She has further described the effort and strength her vigorous method requires and apparently "At the end of the day's work she looked like a coalminer, teeth and eyes the only visible features in her black face smudged by hours of pensive fingering" (John McEwen, Paula Rego, London 1997, p. 215).

Through the dense, almost sculptural, pigment stratification and moulding of the model's body the artist communes her own, inimitable character. Far from conventional storytelling, Rego goes beyond mere illustration of any one narrative, but injects the scene with an unmistakable sense of drama, gleaned from autobiographical memory and imagination. In this way she creates a complex layering of narrative, with both private and public histories implied and woven together through her exquisite draughtsmanship and manipulation of material.