Key Artwork: The Policeman’s daughter – Paula Rego 1987

At the time Rego began her painting, there were almost no female painters in the public eye. Painting was very gestural at this time. Artists like Enzo Cucchi, Anselm Keifer an Gerhard Richter were included in this gestural phase of art. The Art world was difficult for women and they were not taken seriously as artists. George Baselitz says “no women can actually paint”. Rego was strongly against Baselitz ideas and in 1983, stated “Life is full of men making a grand gesture and falling on their arse.”

Rego’s husband died around the time of her 1988 Exhibition, she no longer cared what people thought about her work. Her style completely changed and so “The Policeman’s Daughter” was one of the pieces that was born out of this. She was interested in precise ambivalence, toppling hierarchy’s and she opposed heroic and expressionistic works. Her work isn’t ‘high art’ – it’s inspired by things like book illustration which was difficult as illustrative artwork was quite frowned upon at this time. Rego includes many small animals within her work and favoured cats. Cats have been viewed as a women’s ‘accomplice’ for years. Small animals and objects have been a reference to the reversal of power structure. She was also highly interested in the work of Henry Darger, especially his Vivian girls and started including the imagery of pubescent girls within her own artwork.


Much of Paula Rego’s work was in response to things she has seen or existing artworks. For example, Regos “Soldiers Daughter 1987” and the plucking of the swan is a reference to “Veronese Leda and the Swan” where a swan is portrayed to be having sex with a woman. The Idea of power and time passed are important elements of her work.


 We can question the balances of power in a lot of Regos paintings about close family relationships and also see the recurring idea of time passing and narrative. The Idea of power and time passed are important elements of her work. In ‘The Policeman’s Daughter’ (1987). We see the daughter has a feline accomplice and is polishing boots and not looking particularly happy about doing it. Is she dutifully cleaning her father’s boots? that is up to the viewer to decided on their own narrative of her work. Paula Rego’s drawing has become just as important as her painting and sculpture more recently.


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