It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of the Portuguese-British artist Dame Paula Rego at the age of 87. She died peacefully this morning, after a short illness, at home in North London, surrounded by her family. Our heartfelt thoughts are with her children, Nick, Cas and Victoria Willing, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
An artist of uncompromising vision, Paula Rego brought deep psychological insight and imaginative power to the genre of figurative art, and the candour of her vision was sustained across narratives, through motifs and over decades. She was a peerless storyteller and her art stands as a fearless exploration of human relationships and the complexities of human experience.
Born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1935, Rego first came to the UK in 1951, attending the Slade School of Fine Art from 1952 to 1956. Throughout her career, Rego’s piercing eye was trained on the established order and the codes, structures and dynamics of power. She drew upon details of her own extraordinary life, as well as on politics and art history, literature, folk legends, myths and fairytales. She is especially celebrated for works that forcibly address aspects of female agency and resolve, suffering and survival, such as the Dog Women series, begun in 1994, the Abortion series, 1998–99, which is considered to have influenced Portugal’s successful second referendum on the legalisation of abortion in 2007, and the more recent series, Female Genital Mutilation, 2008–09.
Rego’s importance transcends the visual arts. She is heralded as a feminist icon and is a household name. In her native Portugal the government commissioned the celebrated architect Eduardo Souto de Moura to design and build a museum dedicated exclusively to her work – Paula Rego’s House of Stories, situated in Cascais, which opened to the public in 2009.
Rego’s first major solo exhibition in London was held at AIR Gallery in 1981, followed in 1988 by an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. She was appointed the first National Gallery Associate Artist in 1989–1990.
The past decade has provided Rego with great successes and recognition, including the major solo exhibitions Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance, curated by Catherine Lampert, which travelled from MK Gallery, Milton Keynes to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh in 2019–2020 and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin in September 2020 (2020–2021); Paula Rego: Subversive Stories, featuring prints from across her career, at Arnolfini, Bristol (2022); Paula Rego – The Scream of Imagination | In Keys, organised by the Serralves Foundation, at MACNA – Museu de Arte Contemporânea Nadir Afonso, Chaves, Portugal (2020); Giving Fear a Face, CEART: Centro de Arte Tomás y Valiente, Madrid, Spain (2019); The Cruel Stories of Paula Rego, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, France (2018–2019) and Folktales and Fairy Tales, Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, Cascais, Portugal (2018).
In the past two years she has been further celebrated with major international exhibitions including the largest and most comprehensive retrospective of her work to date, which commenced at Tate Britain (7 July–24 October 2021) travelling to Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Netherlands (2021–2022), and Museo Picasso Málaga, Spain (26 April–21 August 2022). Works by the artist are currently featured in the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, The Milk of Dreams, curated by Cecilia Alemani, on view until 27 November 2022.
Exhibitions of Rego’s work have been held previously at venues including: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Gas Natural Fenosa, La Coruña, Spain (2014); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Monterrey, Mexico; Pinacoteca de São Paulo, Brazil (2010–2011); École supérieure des beaux-arts, Nîmes, France (2008); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., USA (2007–2008); Fundação das Descobertas, Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal (1997) Tate Liverpool, UK (1996–1997).Current and recent international group exhibitions include Women Painting Women, The Modern, Fort Worth, USA (on view until 25 September 2022), Women and Change, ARKEN, Ishøj, Denmark (on view until 15 August 2022), Who Will Write the History of Tears, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland (2021 – 2022); Unknown Masterpiece, Maison de Balzac, Paris, France (2021 – 2022); All Too Human: Bacon Freud and a Century of Painting, Tate Britain, London, UK (2018), which travelled to Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary; Post-Pop, Outside the Commonplace, Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal (2018); Macau Biennial, Macau Museum of Art, Macau, China (2018); Bacon, Freud and the School of London, Museo Picasso, Malaga, Spain, travelling to ARoS, Aarhus, Denmark (2017–2018).
Her work is in the collections of numerous museums including the British Museum, Tate, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, London, UK; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, USA; The Art Institute of Chicago, USA and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, USA.
In 2010, she was made a Dame of the British Empire for services to the Arts in the Queen’s Birthday Honours and was awarded the prestigious Grã-Cruz da Ordem de Sant’Iago da Espada from the President of Portugal in 2004. Rego received several Honorary Doctorates from universities including the University of St. Andrews (1999), University of East Anglia (1999), Rhode Island School of Design (2000), The London Institute (2002), Oxford University (2005), Roehampton University (2005), Faculdade de Belas-Artes at the University of Lisbon (2011), and the University of Cambridge (2015). She was the recipient of many awards such as the Honors Medal of the city of Lisbon, Portugal (2016), the Maria Isabel Barreno prize (2017), Portuguese Government’s Medal of Cultural Merit (2019) and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Harper’s Bazaar (2019).
Image: Portrait of Paula Rego, 2021
© Nick Willing