Dame Paula Rego: who was artist dead at 87 and what were her most famous paintings - including Dog Woman?

Dame Paula Rego, after being made a Dame Commander which was awarded by Queen Elizabeth II at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, on October 20, 2010 in London. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)Dame Paula Rego, after being made a Dame Commander which was awarded by Queen Elizabeth II at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, on October 20, 2010 in London. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Dame Paula Rego, after being made a Dame Commander which was awarded by Queen Elizabeth II at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, on October 20, 2010 in London. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images) | Getty Images
The Portuguese artist was made a Dame in 2010 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours

Renowned artist Dame Paula Rego has died aged 87 following a “short illness”, a statement from the Victoria Miro art gallery has announced.

Rego was the first artist-in-residence at the National Gallery in London and, in 2010, was made a Dame in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

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Who was Paula Rego?

Paul Rego was a Portuguese visual artist who was born in Lisbon on 26 January 1935.

As a child, she attended the only English-language school in Lisbon’s district at the time, which was Saint Julian’s School in Carcavelos, from 1945 to 1951. In 1951, Rego travelled to the UK to attend The Grove in Kent, a finishing school.

Unhappy at the finishing school, Rego instead enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art to pursue her artistic passions, where she stayed from 1952 to 1956. It was here that her talent for art was first spotted.

Artist Paula Rego poses with the award for Visual Arts at the South Bank Show Awards at The Savoy on January 27, 2005 in London (Photo by Claire Greenway/Getty Images) Artist Paula Rego poses with the award for Visual Arts at the South Bank Show Awards at The Savoy on January 27, 2005 in London (Photo by Claire Greenway/Getty Images)
Artist Paula Rego poses with the award for Visual Arts at the South Bank Show Awards at The Savoy on January 27, 2005 in London (Photo by Claire Greenway/Getty Images) | Getty Images

While at Slade, she began a relationship with fellow student Victor Willing who, at the time, was already married to another artist named Hazel Whittington. Rego returned to Portugal in 1957 to give birth to her and Willing’s first child. Willing then joined Rego and the two married in 1959 after he divorced Whittington.

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Rego and Willing went on to have three children altogether - daughters Caroline and Victoria and son Nick, a filmmaker who directed a film about his mother in 2017 for the BBC called Paula Rego, Secrets & Stories.

Rego and her family moved permanently to London in 1976, where they stayed until Willing’s death in 1988. He passed after a long illness having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1966.

Prior to Willing’s death, Rego hired Lila Nunes, a Portuguese woman, to care for him. Nunes also became Rego’s model, and remained so for 35 years.

Paula Rego described herself as a feminist artist (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)Paula Rego described herself as a feminist artist (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)
Paula Rego described herself as a feminist artist (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images) | Getty Images

In an interview with the Telegraph, Rego said that she made a series of paintings of girls and dogs in response to Willing’s illness.

She said: “All of them are about Vic.”

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In one painting, a girl holds a razor, preparing to shave the animal, and in another, she forces the animal’s mouth apart in order to feed it.

Rego said: “You have to hurt the dog in order to give him his medicine. There’s often a violence in trying to help people.”

What were her most famous paintings?

Her career as an artist effectively began in 1962, when she began exhibiting her work with the London Group. In 1965, she was selected to take part in a group show, titled Six Artists, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and it was that same year that she had her first solo show in Lisbon.

Over a career spanning more than five decades, Rego created magical pictures based on her childhood memories and fairytales, with her works selling for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

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They have featured in collections owned by famous names like Charles Saatchi and Madonna.

Visitors attend as Tate Britain opens UK’s largest ever retrospective dedicated to Portuguese visual artist Paula Rego at the Tate Britain on July 05, 2021 in London, England (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)Visitors attend as Tate Britain opens UK’s largest ever retrospective dedicated to Portuguese visual artist Paula Rego at the Tate Britain on July 05, 2021 in London, England (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)
Visitors attend as Tate Britain opens UK’s largest ever retrospective dedicated to Portuguese visual artist Paula Rego at the Tate Britain on July 05, 2021 in London, England (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images) | Getty Images

The artist first came to prominence in Portugal with semi-abstract work that dealt with violent or political subjects.

Her later pieces drew on the folk stories from her homeland and popular children’s tales like Little Red Riding Hood, but she also used her own experiences, real and imagined, of her upbringing filled with neat little girls, maids and grandmothers but with a sexual or violent subtext.

She was seen as one of the most notable figurative artists of her generation, with her work ranging from painting, pastel, and prints to sculptural installations.

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Rego described herself as a feminist artist, credited with revolutionising the way women are represented with subjects like sex trafficking and honour killings providing material for her pieces.

Paula Rego passed away in her home following a ‘short illness’ (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)Paula Rego passed away in her home following a ‘short illness’ (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)
Paula Rego passed away in her home following a ‘short illness’ (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Notable among her works are her Dog Woman pastel drawings, which portray women in a series of canine poses, and her portrait of Germaine Greer from 1995 which featured in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Another of her other notable works include Untitled: The Abortion Pastels, a series of 10 pastels created in response to Portugal’s 1998 referendum on abortion which aimed to document the horrors of illegal abortions.

Most recently, her 2022 exhibitions include solo exhibitions like Secrets of Faith, held in Victoria Miro in Italy, Subversive Story in Arnolfini in Bristol and Literary Inspirations in Petersfield Museum in Petersfield, and group exhibitions like Women Painting Women in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas, Figuration in Marlborough Gallery in London and Women in Breakthrough in Arken Museum in Denmark.

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When did she die?

Rego passed away on Wednesday (8 June) morning, with her death announced in a statement released by the Victoria Miro art gallery.

It said: “It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of the Portuguese-born 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.”

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