Galeria Gilde, Guimarães
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1996
Amarante, Museu Amadeo Souza Cardoso, Paula Rego, A. Souza Cardoso Grand Piroze, 2013, no. 20
Rego began work on the Dog Woman series in 1994, re-creating poses adopted by one of her long term models, Lila Nunes. The artist recalled the genesis of this remarkable group of works: “I recreated Lila’s pose in front of a mirror, squatting down and snarling, one foreshortened knee swelling out. I think the physicality of the picture came from my turning myself into an animal in this way; but I had to have a face, so I asked Lila to be the model” (Paula Rego quoted in: ibid., p. 212). This revelation of the artist initiating the pose herself adds another layer of complexity and allusion to the Dog Women, rendering the works a fascinating form of partial self-portraiture. The frequently solitary state and powerfully emotive facial expressions adopted by the subjects within the series reinforces this concept of depiction of the self, with this highly expressive figure arguably acting as a mirror for Rego’s sense of grief and loneliness following the loss of her husband in 1988.
Rego also frequently draws inspiration from fairy tales or folklore as foundations for her work, and a somewhat macabre Portuguese tale additionally acted as a particular source of influence for this body of work: an elderly woman, alone in an isolated house save for her pets, interprets the howling of the wind to be the voice of a child instructing her to swallow her pets. Rego introduces another intriguing level of symbolism into the work with the choice of Jenufa for the title, which references the wronged central female character of Leoš Janáček’s opera of the same name. Opera has been an abiding source of inspiration for the artist throughout her career: in 1983, Rego created a series of works influenced by her experience and dissemination of the genre.
Jenufa reveals Rego’s masterful utilisation of pastel, a medium she began working with consistently in 1994. In her choice of pastel medium and subject, Jenufa and other works within the series recall Edgar Degas’ The Song of the Dog from 1877, yet, in contrast to Degas’ almost caricatured pose, Rego’s Dog Women are liberated figures confidently aware of their own femininity and sexuality: the vitality and earthiness of Jenufa and her counterparts is a life-affirming, progressive force. Much like Degas, Rego’s use of pastel is astonishingly painterly in effect, conveying an almost rugged texture and a sensation of primal physicality within Jenufa and other examples from the series. Rego has spoken of the influence of pastel on her style and technique: “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 lovely because it’s very difficult, learning what colours to use together to make shadows and so on; and there’s a lot of physical strength involved because it’s overworked, masses and masses of layers changed all the time…” (Paula Rego quoted in: ibid., p. 215). Jenufa exudes an impressive sense of sculptural solidity and form, with the crouching figure projecting a magnificently imposing presence that utterly dominates the composition. Ultimately, in its superb drawing together of the major central themes and tenets of the Dog Woman series, Jenufa can be considered as one of the most remarkable and striking examples of this highly important body of work.
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