21 June 2022

Paula Rego: The Dance

I can' prove it but I think Paul Rego saw Winslow Homer's Summer Evening although she said that the idea for the painting came  from her husband. Rego's paintings are  full of her fascination with such disparate subjects fairy tales, politics, and sexual transgression so it is hardly a stretch to see The Dance as a symbol for 'the dance of life. We see a woman standing alone as she watches two couples dance, one perhaps courting, the other of an obviously pregnant woman.  In the background is a trio -  grandmother, mother, and daughter. All her possible choices are  arrayed before her eyes under a full moon.

Paula Rego was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1935, an only child in a privileged family. At the time the country was ruled by the fascist dictator Antonio Salazar.  His regime was hostile to women, a Latin version of kinder, kuche, kurche, So, although Paula's mother began to draw at the age of four there was no chance that she could make a career of art.

In 1951 Rego moved to England to study art at the Slade School under the care of a guardian; her family was quite conservative although strongly anti-fascist. Her father commissioned her to create murals for a workers' canteen in 1952 but it was a decade later before she began to exhibit her work in group shows in London. 

The British Royal  Academy has described Rego as "one of Europe's most influential contemporary figurative artists."  In 2010 she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth for her contributions to the arts. Indeed the British were so fond of Rego that they routinely referred to her as a Portuguese-born British artist.

Rego died on June 8, 2022. Her granddaughter Grace Smart, a theatre designer, tweeted : "Paula Rego  was a fantastic and world changing artist, and grandma. She taught us how to sew, draw, put on eyeliner, and tell uncomfortable stories." That last may be what the late critic Robert Hughes was referring to when he remarked that if there were two or more people in a Rego painting something bad would happen to one of them.

Image: Paula Rego - The Dance, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, Tate Museum, London.


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