Artist Dame Paula Rego dies aged 87

Portrait of Paula Rego, 2021

Portrait of Paula Rego, 2021 - Credit: Nick Willing

Artist Dame Paula Rego has died at home in Hampstead at the age of 87.

In a statement, Islington-based gallery Victoria Miro, which represent her, said: “It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of the Portuguese-born, British artist Dame Paula Rego. She died peacefully this morning, after a short illness, at home in north London, surrounded by her family. Our heartfelt thoughts are with them."

Describing herself as a feminist artist, Dame Paula often painted the female form and used fairy tales and folklore from her homeland, and her own experiences as inspiration.

She was also political, her 1999 series on abortion raised the issue of Portuguese law, which criminalised terminations. 

Sent to an English finishing school as a teenager, Dame Paula studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in the 1950s where she met fellow student Victor Willing. During their turbulent marriage they had three children and lived between Portugal and Albert Street, Camden Town, where when moved permanently in 1974 following the Portuguese Revolution.

At one point, short of money, Dame Paula turned a top floor bedroom into her studio. But as her work became widely recognised, and held in major collections such as The Tate and British Council or bought by the likes of Charles Saatchi and Madonna, she moved to Hampstead and had a studio in Kentish Town.

Dame Paula was the first artist-in-residence at the National Gallery in London and a retrospective exhibition of her work was held at the Tate Britain last year.

The director of Tate, Maria Balshaw, described Dame Paula as an “incredibly important figure”.

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She added: “She was an uncompromising artist of extraordinary imaginative power, who uniquely revolutionised the way in which women’s lives and stories are represented.

“Over the course of her career, she gained enormous respect from many fellow artists and art critics, leading the way in giving powerful form to denouncing injustice."

She added:  “For many, many women, including myself and countless colleagues at Tate, she was the greatest of trailblazers and a vivid personal inspiration."

She is survived by her grand-children, great-grandchildren and children; screen writer and children's author Cas Willing, film director and producer Nick Willing, and Hornsey actor and playwright Victoria Willing.