‘Nursery Rhymes’ – Paula Rego

3 November 1990 — 5 January 1991

“ Paula Rego has always identified with the least, not the mighty, taken the child’s eye view, and counted herself among the commonplace and the disregarded, by the side of the beast, not the beauty….her sympathy with naiveté, her love of its double character, its weakness and its force, has led her to Nursery Rhymes as a new source for her imagery.”
– Marina Warner introduction to Paula Rego ‘ Nursery Rhymes’.

Acclaimed at publication in December 1989 for their strength and their strangeness, this is Paula Rego’s largest series of prints. The exhibition includes 30 etchings. Little Miss Muffet, Jack and Jill, Baa Baa Black Sheep and Froggie a Wooing emerge as a natural inhabitants from the imagination of an artist already well known for her paintings of an uncanny childlike world.

Re-reading nursery rhymes to her two year old granddaughter was the source of Paula Rego’s new series, but she was familiar with the peculiar genre of English nonsense verse to which ‘Mary Mary quite contrary’ and ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’ belong since reciting them at English school in Lisbon at the age of ten. The other source for the Rhymes is an 18th century English collection deriving from Charles Perrault’s ‘Contes du temps passé’ or Contes de ma mere l’oye’.

Some of the images are inevitably indebted to Victorian illustration but they are transformed by Rego’s peculiar sense of the playful and macabre. Many are not only personal in the sense that they express a free spirit resisting the early controlling influences of a Catholic upbringing in Salazar’s Lisbon, but are part of life today. The queen in the parlour and the Polly who puts the kettle on are the artist herself.