Tue, 5th Apr 2022 10:00

Modern and Contemporary Art

Lot 367


* Paul McPhail (b.1966)

Paul McPhail (b.1966)
signed 'Paul McPhail' and dated '1998' verso, oil on canvas
152.5 x 106.5cm, unframed

Provenance: With Houldsworth Fine Art.

Paul McPhail’s ‘Emollient’ explores flesh in a strangely captivating way. This is a study of the human head with its finished, perfect face stripped away to reveal the under layers of flesh, blood, muscular structure, gums, and bloodshot eyes. It encourages the viewer to look closer at the head’s violent surface through its execution of texturally-rich brushwork. Even the title connotes texture – emollient, an oily, moisturising layer added to the skin. McPhail’s use of paint is dynamic and bold, his brush moves across the canvas in broad swathes. He uses heavy contrasts of tones from reds to fleshy pinks, which in combination with the easily distinguished layers of paint, creates a feeling of jaggedness close-up that falls away into one of vibrant life when appreciating the whole composition.

This painting is evocative of the work of Jenny Saville, who is now married to Paul McPhail, but at the time of its execution was a close friend of the artist. The two studied together at Glasgow School of Art and later shared a studio space in Palermo. In 1994, both artists visited a plastic surgeon’s operating theatre, witnessing procedures that exposed the fragility of skin. Saville’s paintings explore the body’s imperfections, often depicting overweight, pale, bruised thighs, arms, bosoms, stomachs, redefining beauty. The influence of McPhail’s work is undeniable when we look at examples of her work, such as her head study, ‘Red Stare IV’.


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Sold for £20,500

Condition Report

Some slight craquelure emerging to the top edge, but generally in good condition.



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Auction: Modern and Contemporary Art, Tue, 5th Apr 2022



We will be offering viewing by appointment, to be held at our Stansted Auction Rooms, Cambridge Road, Stansted Mountfitchet CM24 8GE.  One hour time slots will be available from:

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