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Paula Rego: Crivelli’s Garden

Issued July 2022

Room 46
20 July – 29 October 2023
Admission free

More than 30 years after Dame Paula Rego (1935–2022), the National Gallery’s first Associate Artist (1990–92), was commissioned to create a painting for the Sainsbury Wing Dining Room, a new exhibition explores the relationship of Rego’s work titled 'Crivelli’s Garden' to the 15th-century altarpiece that inspired it.

Image: Paula Rego, 'Crivelli’s Garden', 1990–1, the National Gallery, London. Presented by English Estates, 1991 © Paula Rego Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

The exhibition, which had long been planned to mark this anniversary, unites the two monumental artworks in the Gallery’s collection for the first time – inviting visitors to draw out direct comparisons – and will also show how members of National Gallery staff found their way into Dame Paula’s work.

The death of Paula Rego on 8 June makes this exhibition – opening in the summer next year – a poignant tribute to the work and life of one of the most important artists of her generation.

During her residency, over the period of two years, Paula Rego occupied the artist’s studio which was then in the basement of the Gallery. She would often describe her experience as being like a scurrying animal. To quote her from an interview about her time at the Gallery:

‘I could creep upstairs and snatch at things, and bring them down with me to the basement, where I could munch away at them. And what I brought down here from upstairs varied a lot, but I always brought something into my den.’

We can imagine that it was in this spirit that Crivelli’s Garden was made. The mural’s concept and structure were triggered by the predella panel of Carlo Crivelli’s altarpiece La Madonna della Rondine (after 1490, NG724).

Rego reimagined Crivelli’s house and garden to explore the narratives of women in biblical history and folklore based on paintings across the collection and stories from the medieval Golden Legend. Her figures inspired by the Virgin Mary, Saint Catherine, Mary Magdalene and Delilah, share the stage with other women from biblical and mythological histories.

Rego saw the work as a tribute to the artists who had also used the Golden Legend as a source for their paintings. She did not necessarily replicate the women saints portrayed in the National Gallery Collection but drew inspiration from them to depict figures and people she knew. These included friends, members of her family and even staff at the National Gallery whom she asked to sit for her, such as Erika Langmuir and Ailsa Bhattacharya who were members of the Education Department at the time.

Dame Paula still held many drawings from the original sittings, and the exhibition will include a selection of these alongside sketches for the final piece from her collection, allowing the viewer to better understand Rego’s creative process.

As a composition, the mural demonstrates a new direction for Rego. 'Crivelli’s Garden' is one of Rego’s most ambitious paintings and explores a lot of themes that span her career, themes that address the way women and their experiences were represented in paintings.

This exhibition celebrates Rego’s close ties with the National Gallery and the importance of Crivelli’s Garden in her painting career and reveal its legacy as an inspiration for new generations of artists.

Priyesh Mistry, Associate Curator, Contemporary and Modern, says ‘Dame Paula Rego’s radical painting has consistently given women a voice over repression in a male-dominated society and art world. Her work remains as vital today as it was 30 years ago when she first painted 'Crivelli’s Garden' and continues to serve as an inspiration to new generations of artists and writers. This exhibition is our opportunity at the National Gallery to celebrate her legacy and influence.’

National Gallery Director, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, says ‘Dame Paula Rego loved being in the National Gallery’s artist studio and relished being able to spend many hours with the paintings: They triggered her memory and imagination and led to the creation of a work both joyous and unsettling, 'Crivelli’s Garden', which mixes Renaissance saints, biblical heroines, fable and myth.’

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The H J Hyams Exhibition Programme

Supported by The Capricorn Foundation

Notes to editors

Paula Rego (1935–2022)

Paula Rego was born in Lisbon in 1935, under the dictatorial regime of Portuguese prime minister, Salazar. Her parents were keen anglophiles and Rego was encouraged to move to the UK in 1952 to further her studies before later enrolling at the Slade School of Art. She continued to live between London and Lisbon for the rest of her life. Rego died in June 2022 at the age of 87.

Rego was part of the London Group and is mostly known for her paintings and prints based on narratives from folk tales and children’s stories. Her figuration often focusses on enigmatic female figures that are both caricature in style but also fantastical in their themes. Rego’s figures and compositions were frequently inspired by her personal fears, desires, and a passion to fight injustices, particularly those against women.


Paula Rego
'Crivelli’s Garden'
Acrylic on canvas
H 190 x W 944.6 x D 2 cm
The National Gallery, London. Presented by English Estates, 1991
© Paula Rego
Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

Carlo Crivelli
'Predella of La Madonna della Rondine' ('The Madonna of the Swallow')
after 1490
Egg and oil on poplar
150.5 × 107.3 cm
© The National Gallery, London

About the National Gallery’s Modern and Contemporary Programme

For nearly two centuries, the National Gallery’s Collection has provided inspiration to modern and contemporary artists from all over the world, including Francis Bacon, Richard Hamilton, Yinka Shonibare, Michael Landy, Chris Ofili, Paula Rego, Bridget Riley, Alison Watt and many others. 

The National Gallery’s Modern and Contemporary Programme continues this tradition through exhibitions, displays, commissions, and residencies. In 2019 Bridget Riley’s monumental wall painting Messengers was unveiled in the Gallery’s Annenberg Court, as well as the exhibitions Rachel Maclean: The Lion and The Unicorn (29 November 2018 – 3 February 2019) and Sea Star: Sean Scully at the National Gallery (13 April – 11 August 2019.) Kehinde Wiley at the National Gallery: The Prelude took place between10 December 2021 – 18 April 2022. The first Artist in Residence of the programme was Rosalind Nashashibi, announced in 2019, and whose display Rosalind Nashashibi: An Overflow of Passion and Sentiment opened at the Gallery 2 December 2020.  Ali Cherri was announced as the Gallery’s 2021 Artist in Residence in January 2021 and his display Ali Cherri: If you prick us, do we not bleed opened 16 March 2022. The first Contemporary Fellowship, awarded to Nalini Malani, and supported by Art Fund, was announced in June 2020.

Also on display at the National Gallery at the same time:

After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art (25 March 2023 – 13 August 2023)
Saint Francis of Assisi (6 May 2023 – 30 July 2023)

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