London: Paula Rego @ Tate Britain

I realise that it’s already October, when I normally try to blog about spooky stuff, but because I didn’t want to postpone the Durham posts any more, this was the only time I could squeeze Paula Rego in that would still leave time for people to see the exhibition if my glowing review convinced them to give it a go. However, some of her paintings are quite unsettling, so hopefully that will suffice until I can get to something spookier. There are still not really that many Halloween events on this year, so I’m having to scramble a bit to come up with creepy content.

I have to admit that I’ve been struggling to write about this Paula Rego exhibition for a few weeks now, and I’m not sure why, because I really enjoyed it. I also recently read an interview with her in Art Fund’s quarterly magazine, and she seems like she’s led a fascinating life, from her childhood in the 1940s spent in a repressive dictatorship in Portugal, to attending boarding school in England as a teenager and eating so many of the cakes the other girls didn’t want because she didn’t have access to sweets growing up (this was while England was still under rationing, mind, so the cakes couldn’t have even been that nice) that her mother didn’t recognise her when she came back due to all the weight she gained, to her love of fairy tales and her passionate fight for women’s rights as an adult, so it’s not as though I have a shortage of content. Maybe it’s just that I’m a bit burnt out on writing after doing a fair bit of writing at work lately and going back to blogging regularly after posting sporadically for most of the first half of this year, but whatever the reason, I’m going to give myself a break on this one and let some of my favourite pictures from the exhibition do most of the talking, with only brief captions from me. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back to my normal long-winded self in no time!

This painting was influenced by Rego’s childhood experiences in authoritarian Portugal, and shows the dictator Salazar vomiting (vomiting was definitely a recurring theme in this exhibition!) next to what is meant to be a woman with exaggerated pubic hair (representing Rego’s belief that women’s lib was the way forward for Portugal).


This painting shows a young murderess-in-training practicing for her first victim, so of course I loved it and had to have a photo with it.


This was one of the most poignant paintings, completed shortly after Rego’s husband Victor Willing died. Rego and Willing are one of the dancing couples.


I was sitting on the sofa watching TV and minding my business a few weeks ago when a spider literally the size of my palm scuttled out from underneath the sofa and just stood there and stared at me with impunity until I trapped it under a tin (big spiders only ever seem to come out after Marcus has gone to bed, so I trap them under a tin and leave a note on top to alert Marcus, who puts them outside in the morning). This picture is not dissimilar to my experience, right down to the expression on Little Miss Muffet’s face.


These are part of Rego’s abortion series in support of decriminalising abortion in Portugal (which was illegal until 2007). They show women in the aftermath of undergoing illegal, unsafe abortions.


Love this powerful woman holding a dagger and a sponge (meant to represent the one soaked in wine offered to Jesus on the cross) who is meant to be an avenging angel figure.


The last room of the exhibition had paintings featuring monstrous beings, including this triptych with a creepy pillow-headed figure.


This is The Barn, inspired by a Joyce Carol Oates short story. This was just one of many creepy and wonderful paintings based on stories and fairy tales. I particularly liked the distraught faces on the watermelons.

Other than the fact that there were way too many people inside (back to pre-Covid times at the Tate, apparently!), I absolutely loved this exhibition. Her artwork is amazing, and I can’t believe I’d never heard of her until recently. Paula Rego is at Tate Britain until 24th October (£18 admission or £9 with Art Pass), so definitely go see it if you can. It gets a 4/5 from me.


  1. Looks like a fun exhibit. I hadn’t heard of her, either. Definitely counts as a pre-Halloween post! I love your spider control method. Similar to the one in our house, although I once made Fred wake up to remove a giant spider from the basement. I knew that if it got away I would never go back in the basement- moving would be the only option!!!

    1. I totally understand. That’s why I had to develop my patented trapping method. I actually developed it as a kid – since I was an insomniac even then, I’d sleep on the couch in the basement fairly frequently because that’s where the cable TV was, but there were eight million disgusting giant centipedes down there that would only come out at night, so I had to find a method for dealing with them so I could carry on watching TV. I’m glad centipedes in the UK are tiny and don’t tend to come inside so at least I only have the spiders to deal with now.

  2. Thank you for this introduction to Paula Rego and her incredible work. This was all new to me – and I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it before. It’s all so alive and bizarre! (I mean ‘bizarre’ in a good way.)
    Also, I love your spider-removal arrangement with Marcus. Ryan’s good with, blech, centipedes. From time to time, I’ll hear a kerfuffle, quick footsteps and then a flush and I’ll know something’s gone down. I used to ask him if it was what I’d imagined but he’d always just say “I don’t want to talk about it.” And frankly, neither do I, so it’s fine. Of course, I’ll then spend the rest of the day worrying about something stealthily emerging from the toilet …

    1. She’s great, isn’t she?
      You have to have a system! Marcus is pretty good at spider disposal, except he has a tendency to try to just pick them up without killing them, but then he’ll drop them once or twice in the process. So stressful, so I try not to be in the room! I’m glad we don’t live in a country with big centipedes, but it’s good you also have an arrangement. I’d be checking the toilet too!

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