Previously unseen painting included in Paula Rego exhibition in Lisbon

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A previously unseen painting by Paula Rego (1935-2022), with another on the back from the 1950s, has been included in an exhibition that opens on Tuesday evening at the new Museum of Contemporary Art MAC/CCB, housed in the Belém Cultural Centre, in Lisbon.

Entitled “A Focus on Paula Rego”, the aim of the exhibition is to pay homage to the Portugal-born painter, a long-time resident of London, who died a year ago, and to present her work “The Imposter” (1964), acquired in January by the Portuguese state to be stored at the MAC/CCB, as underscored by the minister of culture, Pedro Adão e Silva, during a visit for the media.

The exhibition, which is composed of seven works, including a triptych and a sculpture, is to run until 10 September.

Of a new, untitled painting, which has never before shown in public, and which now accompanies “The Imposter”, exhibition curator and CCB administrator Delfim Sardo said that it is not known if the painting on the back, also lacking a title, “was rejected by Paula Rego.”

The CCB opted to exhibit a photograph of the back of the canvas, where a female figure appears lying down, “anticipating figurative painting much later” than the 1950s, which specialists presume to be the date of the work, “recognisable by its similarity to the drawings she made since 1953, when she was still a student at the Slade School in London”.

On the exposed canvas, which was lent by the collectors Carolina and Maria Ana Pimenta, appear several figures that are also presumed to be taken from diaries of Paula Rego – an artist whose creative universe is, as the curator puts it, “very marked by the ideas of public and private, and where the narratives convoke political events and domination.”

The works in the exhibition, which were mostly created between 1950 and 1965 – and which come from the Pimenta collection and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation – are of a more abstract nature, with the artist working in successive layers of collage and paint that overlap and sometimes reveal or hide characters.

“It is a very free creative period for the artist, with influences from Surrealism and automatic writing, during which Paula Rego cuts, erases and paints, telling stories,” explained Sardo, commenting on the inscription on some canvases of the date 1928 as the founding moment of Portugal’s so-called National Dictatorship, in a “clear allusion to the accession of Óscar Carmona to the presidency” of Portugal, with his election as the only candidate.

The year 1928, two years after a military coup ended Portugal’s first democratic Republic, was also the one in which António de Oliveira Salazar took on the job of minister of finance, and in which the Information Police of the Ministry of the Interior was created – the predecessor of the notorious PIDE (International and State Defence Police).

The exhibition at the MAC/CCB also feature the paintings “Mr. Vicente and his wife” and “Triptych” – which bear the same date – as well as the sculpture “The pregnant little princess”.

The painting “The Imposter” is in the centre of the room on the ground floor of the museum. It satirically portrays Salazar, leader of the New State authoritarian regime, was the first work acquired by the Portuguese state to be part of the collection of the new museum under CCB management, which is expected to open with a new exhibition on 28 October, the president of the CCB, Elísio Summavielle, announced on Monday.

The painting, in oil and mixed-technique on canvas, was acquired by the state for €400,000 from the family of Rego – who died at the age of 87, on 8 June 2022 – on the basis that it is an outstanding reference of the trajectory of one of Portugal’s most distinguished artists at international level.

Created in 1964, the painting “The Imposter” measures 179 by 158 centimetres, and was in Rego’s first exhibition in Portugal, in Lisbon, at the National Society of Fine Arts, in 1965.

The minister of culture told Lusa when the acquisition was announced that the choice of “The Imposter” was based on suggestions from Rego’s family, as well as on a proposal from the curator of the State Contemporary Art Collection (CACE), Sandra Jurgens.

With this, CACE now owns 10 works by the painter: four on deposit at the Serralves Foundation in Porto, four more at the Contemporary Art Centre in Coimbra, and one work that was in the Ellipse Collection, which has been incorporated into the MAC-CCB.

“A Focus on Paula Rego” is to be inaugurated on Tuesday at 6 p.m., with admission to the museum will be free between 6 and 9 p.m. on the day.

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