Paula Rego (b. 1935)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Paula Rego (b. 1935)

Broken Promises

Paula Rego (b. 1935)
Broken Promises
pastel on paper laid down on board, mounted on aluminium
63 1/8 x 47 3/8in. (160.5 x 120.2cm.)
Executed in 2006
Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006.
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Paula Rego: Recent Work, 2006 (illustrated in colour, p. 25).
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Paula Rego, 2007-2008, p. 281 (illustrated in colour, p. 244). This exhibition later travelled to Washington D.C., National Museum of Women in Arts.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

'[Broken Promises] started off as Madame Butterfly, in which a girl is abandoned by a man who much later returns to her, bringing his wife. My grand daughter Lola posed on the chair and then I put Lila on the bed with a toy that disgusts her and can't really satisfy her. I wanted everything jagged and broke up all the umbrellas so that they would have their spikes coming out. In the end I added Saint Sebastian, who actually is pierced by arrows. What interested me was the jaggedness of the relationship and the actual physical look of it' (P. Rego quoted in Paula Rego, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2007, p. 274).

Broken Promises is a deeply affective and poignant work by the impassioned storyteller and chronicler of human nature, Paula Rego. Executed in 2006, it was created in pastel across a monumental sheet of paper, the artist translating her vivid narrative into animated, almost sentient characters. Exhibited in Rego's celebrated retrospective at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 2007, the work takes its inspiration from Madame Butterfly. Over the course of three acts, Puccini weaves the story of a young Japanese girl who weds an American naval officer in Nagasaki. He soon deserts her, returning home to find a proper American wife. Three years pass with no word and Butterfly has meanwhile given birth to their secret child. Finally the officer returns with his new wife and demands that Butterfly gives up her son. Retreating behind a screen, Butterfly kills herself in a devastating final act, whilst her former love agonizes over her fallen body. Harnessing the emotive power of the original score, Rego restages her own interpretation using family, friends and fantastical props to elaborate the dramatic plot. The resulting composition, with its visual panoply of characters and vivid colours displays a unique emotional frankness and subversive honesty. It speaks of the complexities of family life, employing pastel and paper as a process of catharsis.

In Broken Promises Rego returns to the figure of Lila, the nurse to her beloved husband Victor Willing before he passed away in 1988. Lila is presented as the sprawled protagonist, lying supine on a bed with her legs akimbo. Uncomfortably straddled by a puerile figure, her face appears contorted with disdain. Surrounding her, all of the other women are consumed by their own thoughts and dramas. Sitting on a burgundy, velveteen armchair is the disinterested woman Rego has described as her daughter, but whose face recalls Pedro Almodovar's on-screen heroine, Penelope Cruz. None of Rego's women are victims, rather they all embody La ben plantada, 'the well-planted woman' described by Catalan writer Eugenio d'Ors. As Robert Hughes has explained, in Broken Promises 'their faces are real faces, devoid of ingratiating expressions. Sweet victim-women condemned to obedience in a man's world do not appear in her work: this, too, is very much a part of her instinctive rebellion against the woman-image so assiduously promoted by Portuguese Catholicism and supported by the stereotypes of advertising' (R. Hughes, 'Paula Rego', Paula Rego, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2007, p. 123).

Often borrowing from well-known novels, nursery rhymes and screenplays, Rego's most constant sources of inspiration have been the elaborate stories recounted to her as a child. As a young girl, Rego would sit happily on her father's lap peering over his shoulder at the terrific illustrations of damned souls in Dante's Inferno. As John McEwen once affirmed, 'the roots of Paula's art lies in this immemorial tradition of storytelling, learned in childhood and imitated by her as a child in her private games and endless drawing. It is a world she re-enters every time she kneels to begin another picture' (J. McEwen quoted in R. Hughes, 'Paula Rego', Paula Rego, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2007, p. 119).

Born in Portugal during the Salazar dictatorship, Rego grew up at a time when Church and State were inextricably united. As such, she learnt to treat much of the religious ritual and official doctrine with suspicion. As the artist has recounted, Portugal with its repressive secret police was a place where 'people had secret lives there was always a sense of something vile going on' (P. Rego quoted in J. McEwen, Paula Rego, London 2006, p. 242). This sense of suspicion and sedition is deeply apparent in the elaborate melodrama of Broken Promises. In the picture, Rego has added a small effigy of Saint Sebastian replete with arrows piercing his body in a curious allusion to the domestic shrines of her native country.

For Rego, the intense physicality of her composition is a product of her deeply engaged, astonishingly skilled practice and the malleable, immediate qualities of pastel. First adopted in 1994 in her Dog Woman series, pastel has become Rego's staple medium, imbuing her characters with a unique vibrancy and emotional timbre. As Robert Hughes has elaborated, 'the reason is simple. Unlike oil paint or watercolour, pastel is not applied with a tool. The stick of pigment is the tool itself; nothing intervenes in the application of colour layer after layer is built up, and sequences of form, such as the articulation of a knee or the bones of an ankle, become fiercely, aggressively shadowed. It is, as Rego points out, an inherently strong medium, 'overworked, masses and masses of layers changed all the time'. And it is, for that reason alone, magnificently suited to Rego's vision of women, not as 'pastel' ethereal creatures but as strong beings, both tenderly and harshly conceived' (R. Hughes, 'Paula Rego', Paula Rego, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2007, p. 123).

Throughout the course of her career, Rego has continued to make incisive, unabashed revelations about the nature of family life and the experiences of the female gender. In doing so, her work has transcended national boundaries, deconstructing the cultural legacies that constitute identity. Rego has come to receive deep approbation and in particular a following amongst women. As Germaine Greer once described, 'it is not often given to women to recognise themselves in painting, still less to see their private world, their dreams, the inside of their heads, projected on such a scale and so immediately, with such depth and colour' (G. Greer quoted in J. McEwen, Paula Rego, London 2006, p. 289).

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