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

A Sereiazinha (The Little Mermaid)

Details
Paula Rego (b. 1935)
A Sereiazinha (The Little Mermaid)
pastel on paper laid down on aluminium
55 x 43¼in. (139.8 x 110cm.)
Executed in 2003
Provenance
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London.
Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004.
Literature
R. Rosengarten, Compreender Paula Rego - 25 Perspectivas, 2004 (illustrated in colour, on the cover).
J. McEwen, Paula Rego Behind the Scenes, London 2008, no. 201 (illustrated in colour, p. 141).
Exhibited
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Paula Rego - Jane Eyre and other Stories, 2003.
Copenhagen, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Paula Rego: Corner 2004, 2004.
Porto, Fundação Serralves, Paula Rego, 2004.
Luanda, Trienal de Luanda, 2006.
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Paula Rego, 2007-2008 (illustrated in colour, p. 228). 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.

Brought to you by

Alice de Roquemaurel
Alice de Roquemaurel

Lot Essay

'I was invited to show in the Corner gallery in Copenhagen, a group show that takes place every winter in a rather beautiful place in the centre of Copenhagen. I thought it would be rather interesting to do something from Hans Christian Anderson because he comes from there and I've always been interested in his takes. The Little Mermaid's fish legs had been cut open to make two human legs, which was extremely painful to do, so that she could go and meet the prince. It doesn't work out in the end. She is stranded on the beach, about to be even more unhappy than she is now, surrounded by things including an old Portuguese dish that I had and the old teapot I had as a child. The fish being pulled apart is a little bit like her legs being pulled apart' (P. Rego, quoted in M. Livingstone (ed.), Paula Rego, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2007, p. 269).


'For every artist the studio is a sanctuary, but for Paula it has a special importance. Her studio is a playroom as much as a workplace. This has become more apparent as her art has evolved. Increasingly she has become dependent on using spontaneously contrived studio sets, in effect enormous still lives. In these arrangements live modes, when introduced, enjoy equal status with clothed mannequins' (J. McEwen, quoted in R. Hughes, 'Paula Rego', Paula Rego, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2007, p. 119).


A heartrending depiction of classic fairy tale, A Sereiazinha (The Little Mermaid), 2003, is an exquisitely rendered pastel by Paulo Rego. As a painter of 'stories', Rego openly draws from her experiences, relationships, films and fairy tales to create grand scale compositions and complex figure arrangements that represent the phantasmagoric world of female experience. Typifying Rego's practice, A Sereiazinha (The Little Mermaid) is a large scale pastel that was included in the artist's celebrated retrospective at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 2007.

Created on the occasion of her exhibition in Copenhagen in 2003, this work takes its inspiration from the popular fairy tale by the Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen. In the original telling, a mermaid princess surrenders her life in the sea in exchange for human legs to gain the love of a human prince, only to be left heartbroken. Rego captured the moment the mermaid surfaces from the water, her sorrowful eyes foreshadowing the disappointment of false expectations. Rego renders the mermaid 'as just one other piece of flotsam on the tide-line' (J. McEwen, quoted in Paula Rego Behind the Scenes, London 2008, p. 140). Marooned on the sandy beach our protagonist lays legs akimbo, surrounded by the castaway jetsam including a toy sail boat, tea pot, toy pail and shovel, and pieces of fish. Nearby, a mannequin's head is preyed upon by birds. Executed with incredible attention to detail, the streakinglines of Rego's pastels imbue energy and tension into the monumental paper.

Drawing inspiration from well-known novels, nursery rhymes and screenplays, Rego's most constant sources of creativity have been the elaborate stories recounted to her as a child. 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).

Rego's narratives evolve from a process of drawing intuitively from her mind's eye, collaborating with models and reshaping familiar props. The figure here is a recurrent one in Rego's oeuvre, the woman's raven hair recalling the artist herself, and also that of her model Lila, the nurse to her beloved husband Victor Willing before he passed away in 1988. Rego often uses Lila as a proxy for herself. Ask her son Nick Willing has suggested, 'Lila's role is so important because [Rego] sees herself as Lila. She doesn't see herself in any other of her models.' (N. Willing, quoted in J. McEwen, Paula Rego: Behind the Scenes, London 2006, p. 14). Depicting Lila in the artist's own bathing suit from the 1950s, the costume also appears in the seminal work The Cake Woman from 2004. Bycombining elements of the observable world with the lingering memories imbedded in her imagination, and present circumstances, Rego establishes a dynamic process that allows the story to unfold as the painting develops. Here the artist includes among the scattered articles an old Portuguese dish belonging to the artist and an old teapot she remembered from childhood. 'For every artist the studio is a sanctuary, but for Paula it has a special importance. Her studio is a playroom as much as a workplace. This has become more apparent as her art has evolved. Increasingly she has become dependent on using spontaneously contrived studio sets, in effect enormous still lives. In these arrangements live modes, when introduced, enjoy equal status with clothed mannequins' (J. McEwen quoted in ibid, p. 113).

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. 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). Filling the picture plane with layers of thick pastel, the artist's hand is apparent in the intentional rendering of the figure to the delicate rendering of the lapping waves in an almost expressionistic lilac blue.
It is through her distinct hand that Rego's reworking of figures offers a fresh retelling of classic folktales, translating her vivid narrative into animated, almost sentient characters. Rego's interpretation of A Sereiazinha (The Little Mermaid) is a deeply affective and poignant work told as an impassioned storyteller and chronicler of human nature.

More from Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

View All
View All