Paula Rego: Crivelli’s Garden
Issued April 2023
20 July – 29 October 2023
More than thirty years after Dame Paula Rego (1935–2022), the National Gallery’s first Associate Artist (1990–92), was invited to create a mural for the Sainsbury Wing Dining Room, a new exhibition will celebrate the relationship of one of the most ambitious of Rego’s public commissions titled 'Crivelli’s Garden' to the National Gallery and its collection.
The exhibition which had long been planned in collaboration with Paula Rego, who died on 8 June last year, will unite the monumental 10-metre-long artwork with the 15th-century altarpiece by Carlo Crivelli that inspired it, alongside life studies Rego produced of the Gallery colleagues that feature in the final painting.
'Crivelli’s Garden' is a tribute to storytelling and the strong women that surrounded Rego throughout her life. Representing female saints and mythological women and set within a maze-like Portuguese garden, the painting reimagines the narratives of these women to give them more power and visibility. Rego did not just 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 members at the Gallery whom she asked to sit for her, such as Erika Langmuir and Ailsa Bhattacharya who worked in the Education Department at the time. Of her models she stated, ‘casting is quite important because it’s part of my stimulus as a painter.’
Rego explored the narratives of women in biblical history and folklore found in paintings across the collection and in stories from the medieval Golden Legend, a compilation of lives of the saints written by Jacobus de Voragine in the 13th century.
In her work Paula Rego challenged the dominance of the male gaze in Western art history and in 'Crivelli’s Garden' she populated the scene with courageous female figures inspired by the Virgin Mary, Saint Catherine, Saint Margaret, Saint Cecilia, Mary Magdalene, Judith and Delilah. They share the garden with other women from fables, biblical and mythological stories. Rego saw the work as a tribute to the artists who had also used the Golden Legend as a source for their paintings.
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 personal collection. The different layers and storylines of 'Crivelli’s Garden' as well as the art historical and personal references Rego included will be explored allowing the viewer to understand Rego’s creative process better.
As a composition, the work demonstrated a new direction for Rego. It explores themes that span her career: the way women and their experiences are represented in paintings, and, more widely, the role of women within society and religion. She also used the blue and white tiles of her native Portugal to adorn the walls of the fictional garden, connecting back to memories of her childhood when she was surrounded by stories depicted on the tiled walls of her family home.
The commission for 'Crivelli’s Garden' was an addition to her brief for the residency, in which she had been invited to produce new artworks inspired by the collection for her subsequent exhibition, 'Tales of the National Gallery', which was presented in the Sunley Room between December 1991 and March 1992.
During her two-year residency, 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 (The Madonna of the Swallow; after 1490) made for S. Francesco dei Zoccolanti, Matelica (a small town in the Marches, Italy). Each of the five scenes of the panel is dedicated to a saint. Flanked at either end with depictions of Saint Catherine and Saint George, the stories of the Nativity, Saint Jerome and Saint Sebastian are shown in scenes with acute linear perspectives. Rego imagined a world in which Crivelli’s saints would co-exist within the same space and so decided to create her own version of the garden.
This exhibition will celebrate 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.
The accompanying catalogue is the first-ever dedicated to this radical artwork and its celebration of storytelling. It features an original fictional work by acclaimed novelist Chloe Aridjis, written in response to Rego’s painting, as well as an essay by curator Priyesh Mistry.
Priyesh Mistry, Associate Curator, Modern and Contemporary Projects, 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 over 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 will be 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.’
More information at nationalgallery.org.uk
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Notes to editors
Press view: Tuesday 18 July 2023
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 injustice, particularly against women.
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
'Predella of La Madonna della Rondine' ('The Madonna of the Swallow')
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 CBE, Ali Cherri, Chris Ofili, Paula Rego, Kehinde Wiley, Bridget Riley, Nalini Malani 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 between 10 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.
As part of the Gallery’s Modern and Contemporary Programme this year, there is a display devoted to Céline Condorelli (13 September 2023 – 7 January 2024), a French-Italian artist who is the programme’s third Artist in Residence, and Paula Rego (Paula Rego: Crivelli's Garden, 20 July – 29 October). Nalini Malani: My Reality is Different (2 March – 11 June 2023) displays new work by the recipient of the Gallery’s first Contemporary Fellowship, supported by Art Fund. For further information about the Modern and Contemporary programme please visit: nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/contemporary-residencies
Also on display at the National Gallery at the same time:
Take One Picture (13 July 2023 – 8 October 2023)
The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Frans Hals (30 September 2023 – 21 January 2024)
2023 National Gallery Artist in Residence: Céline Condorelli (13 September 2023 – 7 January 2024)
Publicity images can be obtained from https://press.nationalgallery.org.uk/
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