2 of 10 portraits of Germaine Greer
by Paula Rego
pastel on paper laid on aluminium, 1995
47 1/4 in. x 43 3/4 in. (1200 mm x 1111 mm)
Sitterback to top
- Germaine Greer (1939-), Writer and broadcaster; Professor of English and Comparative Studies. Sitter in 10 portraits.
This portraitback to top
This portrait of Germaine Greer by Paula Rego is one of the most successful - and popular - of the Gallery's commissions. Although Paula Rego does not normally accept commissions, she agreed to paint Germaine Greer, the most public advocate of feminism and author of The Female Eunuch. This was partly because Greer had been a long-standing supporter of Rego's work, having written an introductory essay to a catalogue of her paintings when she was artist-in-residence at the National Gallery. Arrangements were made for sittings to take place at Rego's studio in Camden Town during the hot August of 1995. Greer was wearing her favourite Jean Muir dress and old, gold shoes and her hands were rough from gardening. In all they had thirty hours of sittings and listened to the entire Ring cycle. The result is a powerful example of contemporary portraiture: vigorous, straightforward, but monumental as well. The portrait's lack of flattery appeals to Greer: 'A portrait that is kind is condescending. The last thing I would want is for Paula to condescend to me, and it's the last thing she would think of doing.'
Linked publicationsback to top
- Audio Guide
- 100 Pioneering Women, p. 132 Read entry
Germaine Greer (b.1939) is an Australian academic, writer and broadcaster; a major voice of second-wave feminism. After university in Melbourne (where she was born) and Sydney (where, while studying for an MA, she was briefly involved with bohemian anarchists the Push), she completed a PhD in English Literature (1964-7) at Newnham College, Cambridge. While lecturing at the University of Warwick (1967-72) she wrote the hugely influential feminist text, The Female Eunuch (1970) – expecting, she said, ‘that most people would disagree’. It became an international bestseller. Other intellectually significant works, ranging from Sex and Destiny (1984) to Shakespeare’s Wife (2007), followed. White Beech (2013), about her restoration of an Australian rainforest, highlighted her work as an environmentalist. Paula Rego’s depiction of her is a powerful example of contemporary portraiture – vigorous and straightforward but monumental. Greer’s hands are rough from the gardening that she enjoys – and the lack of flattery appeals to her: ‘a portrait that is kind is
- 100 Writers, p. 145
- Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 61 Read entry
A bold image, it was the product of thirty hours of sittings, during which artist and sitter listened to the entire Ring cycle of operas by Wagner. Greer, who admires and has written about Rego's work, wears her favourite Jean Muir dress and an old pair of shoes.
- Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 8
- Eger, Elizabeth; Peltz, Lucy, Brilliant Women: 18th Century Bluestockings, 2008 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 13 March to 15 June 2008), p. 147
- Howgate, Sarah; Nairne, Sandy, A Guide to Contemporary Portraits, 2009, p. 5 Read entry
Paula Rego’s portrait of Germaine Greer (b. 1939), academic and author of the key feminist text The Female Eunuch (1970), was painted during thirty hours of sittings in the artist’s London studio, during which Rego and Greer listened to Wagner’s Ring cycle in its entirety.
- John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 8
- Nairne, Sandy; Howgate, Sarah, The Portrait Now, 2006, p. 10
- Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 242
- Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 251
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 237
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 237 Read entry
The portrait of Germaine Greer by Paula Rego is one of the most successful - and popular - of the Gallery's commissions. Although Paula Rego does not normally accept commissions, she agreed to paint Germaine Greer, the most public advocate of feminism and author of The Female Eunuch. This was partly because Germaine Greer has been a long-standing supporter of Rego's work, having written an introductory essay to a catalogue of her paintings when she was artist-in-residence at the National Gallery. Arrangements were made for sittings to take place Paula Rego's studio in Camden Town during the hot August of 1995. Germaine Greer was wearing her favourite Jean Muir dress and old, gold shoes and her hands were rough from gardening. In all they had thirty hours of sittings and listened to the entire Ring cycle. The result is a powerful example of contemporary portraiture: vigorous, straightforward, but monumental as well.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 263
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 251 Read entry
Germaine Greer rose to prominence in 1970 with the publication of The Female Eunuch (1970), a key feminist text that addressed the role of women in Western society. Australian-born, Greer came to Britain in the 1960s to undertake a doctorate at the University of Cambridge whilst contributing to Private Eye and Oz satirical magazines. Subsequent publications have included The Obstacle Race: The Fortune of Women Painters and their Work (1979), Slip-Shod Sibyls: Recognition, Rejection and the Female Poet (1995), The Whole Woman (1999), a sequel to The Female Eunuch, and The Beautiful Boy (2003).
Paula Rego (b.1935), one of Britain’s leading figurative artists, chose Greer as her subject for this Gallery commission. Wearing a Jean Muir dress and some favourite old shoes, Greer posed in Rego’s London studio over a number of days, during which they listened to Wagner’s Ring cycle in its entirety. Writing in the Independent on Sunday in 1999, Greer described the work as a portrait of the artist as much as herself: ‘It’s got this incredible flicker about it, or energy, which is her energy more than mine, but my image is invested with her power and her concentration.’
Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top
- Icons and Idols: Commissioning Contemporary Portraits (2 March 2006 - 18 June 2006)
Mediaback to top
Events of 1995back to top
Current affairsNick Leeson is imprisoned for four years after he is found to have hidden $1.4 billion in debt. Leeson acted as a 'rogue trader' by dealing in futures and options on the Tokyo stock exchange without the authority of Barings Bank who he was working for. After an earthquake in Japan the market took a massive downturn and Barings - Britain's oldest bank - went bankrupt.
Art and scienceTwo classic Britpop singles fight for the number 1 spot when Blur releases Country House on the same day as Oasis's Roll With It. Although Blur sold more copies of their single, Oasis eclipsed them when their album (What's the Story) Morning Glory became the forth best selling UK album of all time.
Jonathan Edwards breaks the world record for triple jump twice in once day.
InternationalOver 8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys are murdered by the Bosnian Serb army in the Srebrenica Massacre. The genocide was part of Serbia's ethnic cleansing campaign to remove the Bosniak population from the Serb Republic. It was the largest mass-murder in Europe since World War II.
12 people die, and 54 are seriously injured when members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult release Sarin gas into the Tokyo subway.
Become a Member
Enjoy access to special events, discounts on the Gallery online shop, supporters’ updates and much more
Bringing people together by sharing the portraits and stories of the men and women who have shaped our nation.
Sign up to receive information on exhibitions, collections and activities of the National Portrait Gallery, including special offers, shop products, and exclusive competitions.
- The Making of a Pioneer: Podcasts
- Reviewers Revealed: Celebrating the TLS Centenary
- Icons and Idols: Commissioning Contemporary Portraits
- Sixties Style: Photographs by Ward, Wharton and Seymour
- Polly Borland: Australians
- Reviewers Revealed: Celebrating the TLS Centenary
- 2020 Anniversaries
- Sir David Hare - By Paula Rego
- Contemporary Women Artists
- Investigating drawing - Pastel
- Interviews with artists and sitters