Lot 232
  • 232

Paula Rego

90,000 - 120,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Paula Rego
  • Birth
  • signed and titled on the reverse
  • oil and graphite on canvas
  • 101.5 by 127cm.; 40 by 50in.
  • Executed in 1971.


Private Collection, Portugal
Sale: Christie's, London, Post-War and Contemporary Art, 20 April 2011, Lot 92
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although there are more apparent magenta undertones in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Close inspection reveals some stable and unobtrusive drying cracks in a few places to the thinner areas of pigment towards the lower left quadrant, as well as a small number of small losses to the thicker areas of impasto towards the left edge. No restoration is apparent when examined 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 its forceful tonality and the tactile immediacy of its powerful brushwork, Birth is an enthralling and confrontational painting from Paula Rego’s highly distinctive oeuvre. Executed at the beginning of what was to become an illustrious career, the work perfectly captures the artist’s extremely physical exploration of painting, resulting in a direct, gestural and textured surface that brilliantly translates her emotional experience into a sophisticated visual equivalent.

Like many of her contemporaries, Paula Rego was captivated by the Art Brut of Jean Dubuffet, which was shown in London in 1959. Rego, pregnant at the time, was immediately inspired by the French artist’s child-like paintings, which defied the expectations of the art academies. After studying old copies of Dubuffet’s Cahiers d’Art Brut, her own paintings became more direct and eventually free from the established conventions of art schools. As she explained: “I discovered Dubuffet. And it released me. Whatever releases one about making art is beneficial (...) So I started doing my childlike scribbles big as well. It got me back in touch with being a kid again on the floor, in fact I begin to work on a table, and play – and play” (Paula Rego quoted in: John McEwen, Paula Rego, London 1997, p. 56).

Hovering on the verge of figuration and abstraction, the childlike representation of anthropomorphic beings in Birth perfectly embodies Rego’s newfound inspiration, which she would expand into ever more personal directions. In the present work, the artist has effectively translated the physicality of giving birth into its painted representation, without losing the confrontational and physical nature of its subject. As the artist remarked about this process: “A composition is a visual equivalent to emotions. If I were an abstract artist I wouldn’t need to have figures in there. The figures, though, not only make a whole scene by their movement, they also bring their own stories” (Paula Rego quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Paula Rego: Celestina's House, 2001, p. 10).

The impulsive directness of Birth, characterised by the gestural application of paint and the primal appearance of its subjects, makes the work an extremely powerful expression of Paula Rego’s early work. In its exploration of confrontational feminine themes, the painting furthermore offers a crucial insight into some of the central tenets of Rego’s later practice. This makes Birth an intriguing and highly characteristic work that simultaneously embodies the artist’s early explorations in oil paint and the primary concerns of her distinguished career.