Paula Rego (born 1935) shot to international prominence in 1990 when she was appointed Artist in Residence at London’s National Gallery, and she is now considered one of the world’s leading figurative painters. In 2011, she was listed as one of the top 100 most influential living women in the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Although she has spent most of her life in England – she married English artist Vic Willing – her formative years were spent in Salazar’s Lisbon, where she was born. She had a sheltered childhood within the confines of a wealthy family home and she still feels bitter about the way her mother became a “casualty” of a society which encouraged wealthy women to be idle, leaving work to their servants. In Rego’s work, women are portrayed as typical of the servants of her childhood: stocky and solid. Other adults are usually viewed with the unsentimental eye of a child, and she paints hairy, bony, yet powerful female figures. Power and dominance are major themes; she revives the military outfits of postwar Portugal for her men and dresses many of her women like dolls in national costume. Several of her pictures convey sexual opposition, the result of a background dominated by the regimes of the Roman Catholic Church and a military dictatorship. Her images are rarely beautiful, but are undoubtedly amusing, disturbing and powerful.

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