• Post War and Contemporary Art  auction at Christies

    Sale 7834

    Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

    11 February 2010, London, King Street

  • Lot 37

    Paula Rego (b. 1935)

    The Death of the Blind Sister

    Price Realised  


    Paula Rego (b. 1935)
    The Death of the Blind Sister
    acrylic and Conté pencil on paper
    53 7/8 x 40in. (136.8 x 101.5cm.)
    Executed in 2007

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    'With an artist as steeped in the traditions of western art as Paula Rego, it would be tempting to find art historical precedents for these hugely ambitious and masterly drawings, perhaps in the full-size cartoons for frescoes or tapestries by the great masters of the Italian Renaissance. These works certainly toy with the conventions of classical, academic drawings, but through their subject matter also comprehensively undermine them' () 'Rego's command of drawing, and specifically of drawing from life, provides the backbone of these works, which taken as a group constitute the most important and engrossing new development in her art since her adoption of pastels in 1994. One believes, finally, in the human realities offered by these pictures not just because the stories they convey are so affecting, but also because the pictorial language through which thy are told draws us in mesmerisingly into their velvety haunting darkness.' (M. Livingstone in Paula Rego, Human Cargo, exh. cat. Marlborough Gallery, New York 2008, p. 7)

    Executed on an almost life-size scale, the sheer breathtaking technical mastery and beauty of The Death of the Blind Sister, conceals a much deeper investigation of the darker realms of the human condition. Executed in 2007, this work formed a part of Rego's acclaimed exhibition Human Cargo, held the next year, several images of which explored the theme of female victimisation in 21st century society. This exhibition marked a unique turning point in her career in which large scale drawings on paper became her medium of choice. Rego's artistic career has been marked by the evolution of her mediums, from acrylic on paper and then canvas in the 1980s to pastel on paper in the mid 1990s and most recently to pencil on paper. As is clear from The Death of the Blind Sister, a large, densely-detailed and finely-hatched work, Rego's draughtsmanship is formidable; yet for over a decade, she had kept her drawings largely to herself, using them as personal chronicles rather than objects for public display. This changed with The Death of the Blind Sister and its sister works, when she began to focus on drawing once more as a medium for display. This series was predominantly executed in colour and largely drained of colour, although in this work we can see the use of acrylic paint to heighten the colour, to incredibly dramatic effect. Rego has cited the Pierre Klossowski show at the Whitechapel Gallery, London as a particular inspiration for this.

    The Death of the Blind Sister was executed at a time during which Rego focussed on two series in particular, entitled Honour and Human Cargo. In both of these, she used her favourite and most frequent model, Lila Nunes, placing her in various situations in the guise of victim; here, she is weighed down by the body of her dying 'sister,' as though she has been reluctantly forced into some role of complicity. That status is emphasised by Rego's use of bizarre, often home-made puppet-like props such as the bald man in the background and the collapsed figure of the sister, which is here dwarfing Nunes. The doll and pigtails on the floor imply that, despite her size, she is in some way childish, an innocent. In her works of this period, Rego has often arranged her bizarre coterie of giant puppets into the compositions she desires, creating vignettes that provide insights into the often nightmarish goings-on of this behind-the-scenes world that become all the more vivid because of the contrast in both scale and texture between the all-too-human Nunes and the all-too-monstrous puppets. In the background of this work, the man seems to be taking sadistic enjoyment from the chaos unfolding before him. He is hieratically playing with a brush and red twine, which also featured in Preparing the Blind Sister in the guise of her hair, implying that it may be some grotesque trophy. As was the case in the Honour and Human Cargo works, this appears to be a vision of a world, 'where the men make the rules and the women have to obey' (Rego, quoted in W. Januszczak, 'Paula Rego', The Sunday Times, 6 April 2008).

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    Marlborough Gallery Inc., New York.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.


    New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Human Cargo, April-May 2008 (illustrated in colour, p. 33).