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Story Within A Story In Paula Rego’s World

20th century

Story Within A Story In Paula Rego’s World

She is probably the most important figure in the narrative British painting nowadays. She draws her inspiration from fairytales, myths, animations and transforms the stories into mysterious, often unsettling paintings. In Paula Rego’s world, nothing is as it seems.

Nannies

Paula Rego, The Family, 1988, Source: The Saatchi Gallery, paula regos world

Paula Rego, The Family, 1988, Source: The Saatchi Gallery, paula regos world

Paula Rego, DBE, is a born in Portugal British painter. Her interest in stories is rooted in her childhood when her nanny used to tell her various tales. Usually, the narrative clues in her paintings are ambiguous, and the narratives can have several endings. In this case, are the women helping the man or hurting him? Who is the little girl at the window? What does the Portuguese retablo featuring St. Joan, and St George slaying the dragon have to do with all this?

Maids

Paula Rego,The Maids, 1987, Source: The Saatchi Gallery, paula regos world

Paula Rego,The Maids, 1987, Source: The Saatchi Gallery

This painting is a story within a story. It’s based on Jean Genet’s play The Maids (1947), which in turn was based on the real-life case of two sisters, Christine and Lea, who worked as maids for a rich Parisian family. One day, for no apparent reason, they brutally murdered the mother and daughter of the family. Paula Rego tries to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere by cluttering the space with random furniture. Bright red hightens the tension and adds the feeling of menacing psychosis. Isn’t there something uncertain about the sex of the seated figure? And how about the black boar?

Braids

Paula Rego, The Fitting, 1989, The source: The Saatchi Gallery Paula Rego's World

Paula Rego, The Fitting, 1989, The source: The Saatchi Gallery

Some see in this painting a reference to Velasquez’ Las Meninas… Whether you see it, or not, her imagery is loaded with symbolism and contemporary mythologies. All showed from a point of view of a woman.

Disney Princesses

Paula Rego, Snow White Swallows the Poisoned Apple, 1995, Source: The Saatchi Gallery Paula Rego's World

Paula Rego, Snow White Swallows the Poisoned Apple, 1995, Source: The Saatchi Gallery

Do you recognize this tale? It’s Snow White! Paula Rego dresses a middle-aged woman in the famous Disney costume to expose the fallible value we tend to assign to youth.  She lays clutching her skirts, as if trying to cling to life and her femininity which are slipping away. Rego comments this way on how the society imposes on women imagined expectations of youth and beauty.

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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