An expert’s guide to Paula Rego: six must-read books on the Portuguese-British artist


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To coincide with the final month of an exhibition of Paula Rego’s majestic Crivelli’s Garden at the National Gallery in London, we asked her son, the film-maker Nick Willing, to select key books about his mother. Rego, who died last year, was born in Portugal in 1935 and moved to the UK as teen to finish school, later studying at the Slade School of Fine Art. Her career was a steady ascent, culminating in 2021’s stunning retrospective at Tate Britain. Willing says that there have been more than 50 books about Rego, so he has focused on those that offer a “connective overview that involved strong input from Paula, together with extensive research and analysis of her pictures.”

Courtesy Phaidon

Paula Rego (2006), edited by John McEwen

“Although this third edition of Paula’s monograph was published in 2006 and doesn’t include the later, more expressionist pictures, it remains the best comprehensive introduction to the majority of her work. Paula’s style saw many transformations, which were not necessarily an evolution (as each period was formidable in its own right) but rather expressions of a changing world and a maturing personality.”

Paula Rego (2002) by Fiona Bradley

“Fiona Bradley curated Paula’s retrospective at Tate Liverpool [in 1997] and the two became very close. Paula often said that Fiona understood her work better than anyone, and although it doesn’t cover the later work, it gives the reader a very good understanding of how and why the pictures are made.”

Paula Rego exhibition catalogue (2007), edited by Marco Livingstone

“Before her Tate Britain retrospective, Paula would say that her greatest exhibition was at the Reina Sofia [in Madrid] in 2007. Its curator Marco Livingstone was also a great friend who published several books on her work, but the most comprehensive was the catalogue he produced for this show. It’s now a notoriously hard book to find, but worth it as it includes insightful essays by Marco and [the critic] Robert Hughes.”

Courtesy Thames and Hudson

Paula Rego: The Complete Graphic Work (2012) by Tom Rosenthal

“Printmaking was one of Paula’s most important practices. She started as a young teenager, drawing on small copper plates, dipping them in acid herself, inking and pressing them in an old press her father had found. Later, at the Slade School of Art, she would take refuge in the print rooms where she felt safe from judgement. ‘Making prints was like a cool drink of water after a long trek through the desert,’ she once said. Tom Rosenthal brings them together with great care and sensitivity. Make sure you order the second edition—the one with the yellow spine.”

Paula Rego: Behind the Scenes (2008) by John McEwen

“Paula would say that the studio was her playroom where she could really play. In fact, it was much more than that. The studio was where she felt she belonged, where she could do anything, where she had the courage of a lion, and could truly be herself. John McEwen knew that one of the best ways to understand her work was to see what happens in the studio, so he wrote this excellent book with brilliant photographs by Gautier Deblonde.”

Paula Rego (2021) edited by Elena Crippa

“To accompany Paula’s Tate Britain retrospective in 2021, Tate Publishing produced this exceptionally beautiful book by Elena Crippa, the exhibition’s curator. Elena didn’t know Paula well but she spent over two years—through the pandemic—reading almost everything there is to read, and spending as much time with her as possible. The result is a dazzling essay, that gets to the heart of things, with other notable contributions from Giulia Smith and Marina Warner.”

Paula Rego: Crivelli’s Garden, National Gallery, London, until 29 October

Paula Rego: Letting Loose, Victoria Miro, London, until 11 November


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