Paula Rego’s delightfully dark art at Marlborough

The fine line between beauty and the grotesque is brought to life in the artist’s latest London exhibition

Drawing of Three Girls, 1987. The collection is priced from £15,000 to £55,000
Drawing of Three Girls, 1987. The collection is priced from £15,000 to £55,000 | Image: Paula Rego, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

The work of figurative artist Paula Rego goes under the spotlight at Marlborough Fine Art – from Wednesday September 12 to Saturday October 27 – in an exhibition called Paula Rego: From Mind to Hand. Drawings from 1980 to 2001, capturing the artist’s trademark gothic style and exploring the dark side of fairytales, folk stories, religious texts and women’s passions and plights.

Study For Snare, 1987
Study For Snare, 1987 | Image: Paula Rego, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

Artworks created during the 1980s and ’90s are a snapshot of the menace that underpins Rego’s work – which is largely informed by the fantastical stories told to her as a child. “Her work is a combination of direct observation in the studio together with her imagination and those childhood memories that have stayed very much alive for her,” says Colin Wiggins, a curator who has previously worked with the artist.


The Portuguese artist – who trained at the Slade and was appointed artist-in-residence at London’s National Gallery in 1990 – is the focus of several shows this year, and coinciding with the Marlborough sale is a major solo exhibition entitled The Cruel Stories of Paula Rego, opening at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris on Wednesday October 17, which runs until Monday January 14. The London exhibition, however, highlights a medium that’s at the very heart of Rego’s work. “Marlborough’s exhibition is devoted entirely to the preparatory drawings Paula makes for her paintings,” says Frankie Rossi, managing director at Marlborough Fine Art. “It will include 65 drawings, many of which have never been shown before.” Prices range from £15,000 to £55,000.

Study For Untitled (Girl & Dog Series), 1983
Study For Untitled (Girl & Dog Series), 1983 | Image: Paula Rego, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

Rego has long confronted contentious issues relating to women in her work, including abortion, female circumcision and human bondage and some of this is evident in the pieces for sale. “Drawing from the model is more spontaneous than drawing from the imagination,” says the artist. “I think if you have something to look at and try to capture it, you find that all sorts of things happen.”

Study for Opera Series 2, 1982
Study for Opera Series 2, 1982 | Image: Paula Rego, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

Rego’s collection is striking and thought-provoking. Study For Untitled (Girl & Dog Series) (1983) is the stuff of a macabre fairytale and depicts a girl sitting on her father’s knee while an older girl grapples (and possibly fights) with a dog. The sepia tone washed over the image adds to the air of darkness. Study for Opera Series 2 (1982) features a number of figures – both human and animal – in a series of bizarre activities, including marching soldiers and an amorous goat. A more recent work is Study for Convulsion II (2000), featuring a disconsolate woman in an oversized armchair – the implication being that her struggle is an internal one. There is also, from 1987, Drawing of Three Girls – whose anguished faces also reappear with regularity in Rego’s art.


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