Lot 164
  • 164

Paula Rego

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • Paula Rego
  • Untitled (Girl Shaving a Dog)
  • acrylic on paper
  • 112 by 76cm.; 44 by 30in.
  • Executed in 1986.


Edward Totah Gallery, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Edward Totah Gallery, London, Paula Rego: Selected work, 1981‑1986, 1987 
London, Serpentine Gallery, Paula Rego, 1988, p. 33, no. 35, illustrated in colour
Liverpool, Tate Gallery, Paula Rego: Retrospective, 1997


John McEwen, Paula Rego, London 1994, p. 142, no. 144, illustrated in colour
Fiona Bradley, Paula Rego, London 2002, p. 33, no. 25, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly deeper and richer and there are more yellow undertones to the chair in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. The sheet is attached verso to the mount in several places and undulates slightly. The edges are deckled and there are artist's pinholes in all four corners.
"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

Known for her brutally poignant portraits of women in fable-like scenes tinted with an unfathomable aura of unease and transgression, Paula Rego has established herself amongst the most celebrated masters of narrative drawing. Having grown up in an upper middle class family in Salazar’s Portugal, where the extreme gap between classes and isolation from progress translated into an outdated, contrived, and artificially gendered social order, Paula Rego's early sexual identity as a child was built on constraint and disempowerment at the hands not only of men, but even more so of older, controlling matriarchal figures. In the face of domination, hiding in childish guises and girlish poise stemmed from a survival instinct and fear of desacralising expectations of respectability. Although she moved to Britain at seventeen - where she met her future husband Victor Willing at the Slade School of Fine Art - Rego would always carry this repressed brutality and longing for revenge within her and express it through her art. In her husband’s own words, “All the time, in Paula’s pictorial dramas things are going wrong but the accumulating disasters somehow add up to a survival” (Victor Willing, 1983 quoted in: Maria Manuel Lisboa, Paula Rego's Map of Memory: National and Sexual Politics, London 2003, p. 4).

Victor Willing was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late 1960s and his health declined rapidly in the 1980s until his death in 1988. Part of a series entitled Girl and Dog executed in 1986, which directly deals with Rego’s violent and ambiguous feelings while caring for her sick husband, the present work stands amongst some of the most powerful and personal pictures Rego ever created. A young woman, sitting in a nursing chair, shaves a dog’s chin and throat as if it were a man - the absurdity of shaving a dog’s face and neck implies an anthropomorphisation of the animal. That the dog/man needs to be cared for and groomed by someone else suggests a situation of emasculating infantilisation of the powerless subject. However, the female protagonist’s facial expression is closed and focused rather than nurturing, and the position of the razor on the unsuspecting and trusting animal’s throat seems threatening. Through the servile act of caring for the poor creature, she holds the power in her hand. The conflict of care/abuse, fear/cruelty, shaving/slaying, love/disgust evident in the present work mirrors the feelings experienced by Rego when the balance of power in her marriage shifted after her untameable, virile husband fell ill. According to Rego, her husband “Vic wasn't a fool; he saw what [these paintings] were. He liked them. The series was the nearest I got to being able to feel through the pictures” (Paula Rego quoted in: Maya Jaggi, “Secret Histories”, The Guardian, 17 July 2004). The submissive man-creature in the present work seems to be the antithesis to Rego’s later Dog Women from the eponymous series which she started in 1994, a few years after Victor’s passing. However, even though the Dog Women are zoomorphised women-creatures which appear empowered and beast-like, they are represented howling after their absent master or submissively coiled up sleeping on their coat, waiting. Paula Rego carved her place in contemporary art by painting the perversion that cannot be spoken, by exposing domestic cruelty hidden behind innocent means. In the poignant and beautiful Untitled (Girl Shaving a Dog), she brought her unbridled honesty ever closer to home.