Mural by Paula Rego created for the National Gallery in London exhibited for the first time

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A work produced by Portuguese painter Paula Rego to decorate the restaurant of the British museum of ancient art National Gallery will be on display for the first time in the coming weeks, along with several sketches.

The 10-meter-wide mural “Crivelli’s Garden”, created between 1990 and 1991, will also be reunited for the first time with the altarpiece “La Madonna della Rondine”, made in the 15th century by Carlo Crivelli, who inspired the Portuguese painter.

In the exhibition, open from Thursday until October 29, there will also be four initial sketches and eight charcoal drawings of people who served as models, namely friends, family and museum employees.

The mural was commissioned for a wall in the museum’s modern wing restaurant opened in 1991, during an artist residency by Paula Rego at the National Gallery to produce new artworks inspired by the collection.

Exhibition programmer Priyesh Mistry told a presentation today how Paula Rego initially turned down the invitation to be the museum’s first resident artist, claiming the collection was too masculine.

However, days later she reconsidered, and Mistry said that “Crivelli’s Garden” is a reflection of how the Portuguese woman decided to “subvert and recreate some of the historical works from the perspective of a European woman and painter”.

In the mural in acrylic paint on canvas, Rego imagined the house and garden of Carlo Crivelli, an Italian painter who specialized in altar paintings depicting the lives of saints, but giving prominence to female characters from the Bible, Roman and Greek mythologies and medieval legends.

The mural depicts, among others, the Virgin Mary, Saint Catherine, Mary Magdalene and Delilah, whose portraits were inspired by people who were close to the artist at the time.

One of those models was art historian Ailsa Turner, who worked in the institution’s education department, and who sees herself in several of the figures.

“She was very focused and efficient at working and sometimes when we moved she would ask us to keep that gesture. For example, the hand of the Virgin Mary is mine,” she told Lusa news agency today.

Another scene of a woman and child was inspired by a photograph of Paula Rego herself with her daughter Cassie.

The programmer, Priyesh Mistry, revealed that Paula Rego knew about the exhibition before she died on June 8, 2022, at the age of 87.

The exhibition, she stressed today, is a way of “celebrating this remarkable and monumental painting and giving it a bit of prominence”, emphasizing the reference to the artist’s Portuguese origins.

“She based this idea of the garden and the setting on the aesthetics of her country, the emblematic Portuguese blue and white tiles,” she said.

Colin Wiggins, who accompanied the artist during the creation process but a museum employee, welcomed the fact that the mural had been “liberated from the National Gallery restaurant” and urged the museum to keep the work on permanent display.

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