Version classiqueVersion mobile

Essays on Paula Rego

 | 
Maria Manuel Lisboa

2. (He) Art History or a Death in the Family: The Late 80s

Texte intégral

It is only once those levels of culture [the material world of the domestic, women’s anxiety-producing power as mothers, household managers, and silent participants in enterprise] are actively explored that women’s contribution to culture […] can be taken adequately into account. It is only once this taking into account begins that any historicism can produce something more than history as usual.
Judith Lowder Newton, ‘History as Usual?
Feminism and the “New Historicism”‘
I find that curious: a woman who can love a man until the very end.
Paula Rego (interview)

Families and Other Animals

1In 1986, approximately around the time that Paula Rego began to work on her paintings based on the theme of the family, Pope John Paul II made a statement to the effect that ‘as the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live’ (John Paul II, 1986, 11). Salazar (see Prologue), Hitler and assorted despots down the centuries had got there first, but be that as it may, the Pope’s was a statement with which, albeit with a different intent, Rego would probably agree. The implication being, of course, that if you don’t like the world as it stands, change the family. Whatever it takes: charity, for Paula’s women, definitely begins at home. This chapter will consider family (and hence national) dynamics in the paintings of the second half of the decade of the 1980s.

2One of Rego’s reviewers has suggested that any number of her works might borrow for a caption the title of Raymond Carver’s novella, ‘What we talk about when we talk about love’. He further comments that her work, ‘bulletins from the front line in the sex wars’, involves the realization that while ‘quite a lot of male art explores the way in which men can be attracted to women while at the same time fearing and/or disliking them, these pictures involve something close to a reversal of that’ (Lanchester, 1998, 5). Prior to the Girl and Dog paintings (figs. 1.13; e-fig. 6; e-fig. 7; figs. 1.21; 1.22; 1.23; 1.26–1.33), the depiction of animals who represented ambivalently loved relatives had already achieved expression in works of the early 1980’s, such as Pregnant Rabbit Telling Her Parents (fig. 2.1), The Red Monkey Beats His Wife (fig. 2.3) and The Red Monkey’s Wife Cuts Off His Tail (fig. 2.4), all from 1981. Purely within its own terms and quite apart from the possible autobiographical referent that some critics have opted to foreground in these and subsequent works of the 1980’s, a painting such as Pregnant Rabbit speaks eloquently of dysfunction in the family and by extension the nation.

  • 1 In an interview with Rachel Campbell-Johnston on the release of his 2017 documentary about his moth (...)

3Salazar’s isolationist blueprint for national life, involving one-party political hegemony, sought echoes in the formula of the hierarchical happy family (father, son, mother, daughter), within which deviation from established parameters was as much to be discouraged as was ideological pluralism in the nation at large. That formula assigned roles according to the criterion of gender. For women the options were either single and virgin (daughter, sister) or married homemaker (wife, mother). In Pregnant Rabbit Telling Her Parents (fig. 2.1), however, deviation from the established norm is clearly of the essence, as are its consequences: something Rego, returned from Britain to Portugal in 1956 as a young woman pregnant by a married man would have understood all too well.1

Fig. 2.1 Paula Rego, Pregnant Rabbit Telling Her Parents (1982). Acrylic on paper, 103 x 141 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

Fig. 2.1 Paula Rego, Pregnant Rabbit Telling Her Parents (1982). Acrylic on paper, 103 x 141 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

The title of this picture sets the ground for such a reading, by way of the suggestion that the pregnancy in question is unwelcome. The parents, a cat and a dog, are sketched in economical brush strokes although the mother’s expression bespeaks consternation. The father, moreover, is comically depicted smoking the hackneyed cigar conventionally shared with prospective sons-in-law after parental approval for the marriage has been sought and granted. Here, however, the cigar is presumably being smoked on the occasion of the revelation that there is to be no son-in-law, merely his illegitimate offspring. The rabbit’s parents, therefore, will be disgraced by the behaviour of a daughter whose alienation from their own moral values is underlined by the fact that she belongs to a different species.

4More to the point, if the rabbit’s species differs from that of her parents, they, too, are themselves from different (and mutually antagonistic) sectors of the animal kingdom, the mother being a cat and the father a dog. Reproductive insularity (marrying a member of one’s ‘tribe’) might be said to be a reflection within the family of state isolationism outside it. And by the same token the implications of rupture from prescribed endogamy, as represented threefold within this curious family unit, stretch widely: what is in question here, other than the rabbit’s illicit fecundity outside approved social rules (unmarried motherhood) is the assertion of a generational repetition of transgressive reproduction, stretching back at the very least to the parents. The latter, being as they are a cat and a dog, each committed the sin of marrying the enemy, with the result of producing an alien child (non-rabbits who engendered a rabbit: a fecund one, as befits a rabbit, but in this case disreputably so). Intercourse with the Other (cat and dog), itself carries at least two further implications: first, a break from the fiction of the homogenous and united family as a bulwark of social stability. And second, the dangerous consequences, for any monolithic regime, of the act of sleeping with the enemy, behaviour likely to give rise to dangerous alliances outside the interests of the status quo. Exogamy ad absurdum, as here, the dangerous act of bringing the outside in, has clear implications beyond the nucleus of the family. It is the symbolic lowering of the drawbridge that might result in the infiltration of outsiderishness and difference: the infiltration of Kristeva’s abject into the status quo. In this context, we are left pondering the significance of the unidentifiable shadow lurking behind the rabbit, possibly the symbol of that unknown quantity: a new species arising out of unorthodox miscegenation.

5If in Pregnant Rabbit the exogamy of cat and dog couplings disrupts the imperative of Salazarista insularity, the same theme is heightened by the dangerous carnival of irreverent slapstick that characterises the Red Monkey mini-series, which includes two images to be discussed here: The Red Monkey Beats His Wife (fig. 2.3) and Wife Cuts Off Red Monkey’s Tail (fig. 2.4).

6The Red Monkey’s colour is perplexing with regard to a protagonist whose salient traits (husbandly authoritarianism and wife-battering) otherwise place him well within the mainstream of the social order he emblematizes. Red, however, under Salazarismo, was seen as a colour with such powerful political (specifically communist) associations that the very word, for example in otherwise anodyne book and film titles, led to almost automatic censorship by the state machinery. Here, therefore, it introduces an element of the paradoxical through its association with a protagonist who would otherwise appear to be on-message to the point of caricature vis à vis the patriarchal enforcement of wifely obedience within the marital home. The Monkey’s attack would fit easily within the Estado Novo’s boundaries of justifiable force exercised by husbands against wives. And if so, the colour red — of satanic as well as communist associations — might here become linked not to the identification of a party political affiliation but instead to an authorial gesture of indictment — by demonization — of the husband, and of the social conventions that condone his actions. This move on the part of the artist would therefore be doubly contentious, by lining up the interests of Catholicism (as the declared ally of state and patriarchal interests) on the side of the Devil.

Fig. 2.2 Lorenzo Lotto, Nativity (1523). Oil on panel, 46 x 36 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Wikimedia, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia. org/wiki/File:Lorenzo_Lotto_017.jpg

Fig. 2.2 Lorenzo Lotto, Nativity (1523). Oil on panel, 46 x 36 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Wikimedia, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia. org/wiki/File:Lorenzo_Lotto_017.jpg

Fig. 2.3 Paula Rego, The Red Monkey Beats His Wife (1981). Acrylic on paper, 61 x 105 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

Fig. 2.3 Paula Rego, The Red Monkey Beats His Wife (1981). Acrylic on paper, 61 x 105 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

7This reading is reinforced by another component of the image. The Red Monkey, as signposted by the title, is striking his wife, who holds their child in her arms in archetypal Madonna-and-Child pose. Behind him lurks a genuflecting figure with a dark faceless mass for a head and hands piously linked in prayer. It is tempting to construe the many contradictions built in to this image into a coherent indictment of the destructiveness — but also self-destructiveness — of the political order that Paula Rego attacked then and continues to attack now. Here we have a monkey whose colour, as stated, possibly disidentifies him from the right-wing ideological preferences to which we would otherwise suspect him of subscribing, in his capacity as autocratic husband and pater familias. Behind him (literally and metaphorically), stand the powers of the faceless but ubiquitous church and state, the latter two conflated into a single body, presumably in allusion to the 1940 Concordat. In a further complication that parallels that of the colour red on a fascist body, the representative of the established order here attacks the Madonna and Child (figures technically revered by that self-same order), as well as potentially, at a personal level, destroying the representative of the next generation, who is his own and therefore the status quo’s son and heir. The deed is witnessed by the kneeling figure whose presence contributes to the composition’s identification as a simulacrum of a Nativity (figs. 2.2; 7.4), or a Madonna and Child (fig. 4.17) or even a Pietá (fig. 4.18). Is the church condoning an attack on the Son of God? Or was the Son of God not actually divine, but the outcome of a not-so-immaculate conception? When a Virgin is not a virgin, what becomes of the edifices of patriarchy, church and state?

8The killing of another son and heir by the representative of those three institutions will be a central theme of the Father Amaro series discussed in chapter 3 (figs. 3.1; 3.2; 3.4; 3.5; 3.7–3.9; 3.12; 3.14; 3.19–3.21; 3.23; 3.27). In the Red Monkey series, an added dimension of marital aggression becomes apparent in the following picture, as does the identification of the eponymous figure with the power configurations already outlined. In Wife Cuts off Red Monkey’s Tail, fig. 2.4, the wife, now in her turn faceless (a frequent attribute of autocratic power in Paula Rego), stands with a gigantic pair of scissors in her hands, from which she carelessly lets drop her husband’s severed appendage.

Fig. 2.4 Paula Rego, Wife Cuts off Red Monkey’s Tail (1981). Acrylic on paper, 68 x 101 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

Fig. 2.4 Paula Rego, Wife Cuts off Red Monkey’s Tail (1981). Acrylic on paper, 68 x 101 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

The latter, red, tumescent and erect in the previous picture, here presents an antithetical aspect of greenness (decay), deflation and flaccidity. The monkey succumbs to projectile vomiting, behaviour reminiscent of that other famous picture of 1960 (fig. 1.1, Salazar Vomiting the Homeland), and thus becomes associated, through this bodily misadventure, with the eponymous protagonist of that earlier painting. More emphatically even than in that earlier image, here the monkey surrenders to an absolute loss of somatic self-control, as symbolized by the act of vomiting in public. And finally, to the right, behind the wife, in a pose that echoes that of the faceless figure at prayer in the previous picture, is an ambiguous black and white shape, cut in half by the edge of the picture itself, in formal reiteration of the dismembering act perpetrated by the wife upon her husband.

So Sorry For Your Loss

9Attacks on males by their female relatives provide the thematic thread I shall follow in my analysis of the series of seven paintings to be considered now, and to which I shall refer as the Family series. They include The Dance (fig. 2.5), Departure (fig. 2.8), The Cadet and His Sister (fig. 2.9), The Bullfighter’s Godmother (fig. 2.10), The Soldier’s Daughter (fig. 2.11), The Policeman’s Daughter (fig. 2.13) and The Family (fig. 2.14), in this rather than in chronological order.

  • 2 The Dance was painted in 1988, the year that Rego’s husband, Victor Willing died. It features two y (...)

10As individual perversity wreaks havoc on the ideal family in Paula Rego’s work, Portugal’s imperial strolls along foreign beaches are also reduced to uncertain palimpsests, both historically and in this artist’s map of memory. The Dance (fig. 2.5), one of her best known pictures, has attracted a number of interpretations, including John McEwen’s biographically-oriented reading and Fiona Bradley’s meditation on the relations between the male and female protagonists (McEwen, 1997, 168; Bradley, 1997, 19).2

11Whilst taking on board those readings, which are supported by Rego’s own son (see McEwen, 1997, 168), I should like to argue that in this seemingly happy or at least gently mournful picture, as in all the other family images to be discussed, Rego may also seek partly to explore the political preoccupations already discussed at some length. In doing so, she opens within the sphere of the familial a space for debate on the way in which the personal and the collective are linked through the workings of the ideological superstructure of the state’s colonial policy.

Fig. 2.5 Paula Rego, The Dance (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 273.3 cm. Tate Modern, London. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

Fig. 2.5 Paula Rego, The Dance (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 273.3 cm. Tate Modern, London. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

The Dance presents the romantic but also cosy setting of what appears to be a village al fresco dance. Judging by the clothes of the protagonists, it is taking place on a summer night on a beach against a background of sea and cliffs. History (or at least family history, but the two will become entwined), is introduced to the painting by way of the cycle of generations represented here: the foetus still in utero inside its pregnant mother’s body, the little girl, four young women and a middle aged or elderly one, as well as two young men, the model for one of them being the artist’s son, Nick Willing. Already, however, we are struck by a numerical gender imbalance. It is interesting to note that in an echo of the absence of viable males in the Girl and Dog pictures (figs. 1.13; e-fig. 6; e-fig. 7; figs. 1.21; 1.22; 1.23; 1.26–1.33), the women here dance with each other, with self-sufficient light-heartedness. Be that as it may, it is at this juncture that the combination of cast and background symbolism interact, to turn a village affair into a national concern.

12The scarcity of men, and in particular of mature and elderly men (the very youngest generation of males is potentially present in the shape of the child yet unborn), suggests the death or at least the departure of adult males before they can take their places in communal life as the village elders. In Portugal, the lack of men due to death or absence has always been primarily associated with one specific aspect of national life: voyages across the sea, here the background to the events of the dance: a sea which, whether during the period of the maritime discoveries and empire-building in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, or during the waves of economic emigration of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or by reason of the colonial wars in Africa in the second half of the twentieth century, or simply in the context of the life of a fishing nation, took the lives of young and middle-aged men across the country and inscribed premature bereavement as a collective problem.

Oh salty sea, how much of your salt
Comes from tears of Portugal!
To cross you, how many mothers wept,
How many children’s prayers were not met
How many brides were left bereft
That you might be ours, oh sea!
Was it worthwhile? Everything is worthwhile
If the soul is not too small.
Those who wish to turn the Bojador Cape
Must first conquer heartache.
Upon the sea God bestowed danger and the abyss,
But in it He mirrored paradise. (Pessoa, 1979)

Fernando Pessoa’s famous poem, half-lament, half-jingoistic exhortation to further sea-going efforts, articulates the ambivalence of a nation whose history of imperial power came at a price of human life that the country never fully accepted, and on one occasion resented sufficiently to topple a government. That turnabout in political fortune, the moment when the colonial enterprise that had shored up national economic stability in the twentieth century was deemed insufficient to justify bloodshed and political repression at home and abroad (in the African colonies fighting for independence), is cryptically signalled elsewhere in this picture. In the darkened background on top of the low cliff that overlooks the ocean, stands a fortress. Portuguese fortresses of this nature still pepper the coasts of East and West Africa and the length of South Asia, as the last vestiges of Portugal’s military and commercial outreaches over five centuries (fig. 2.6).

Fig. 2.6 A view of the ruins of Fort Chapora, Goa, India. Wikimedia, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Chapora_fort.JPG

Fig. 2.6 A view of the ruins of Fort Chapora, Goa, India. Wikimedia, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Chapora_fort.JPG

More to the point, they are also to be found along Portuguese coastlines, the most famous being that at Caxias on Lisbon’s estuary, which the fortress in this picture strongly resembles. Caxias, some five miles outside Lisbon on the Estoril coast, was the most infamous of Salazar’s jails, where political prisoners were held, often without trial, and tortured (fig. 2.7).

13As such, it still figures in the Portuguese imagination as one of the icons of a regime whose other defining characteristic was its attempt to construct a third overseas empire in Africa. Sea and fort, therefore, inscribe the process of history, both recent and remote, within the village and family theme of what has largely been regarded as at worst a melancholic, and at best a happy picture, yet in this reading appears tainted by a personal, a national and a political lament (men dead, lost at sea, men imprisoned). But the final and most disturbing note is struck, with typical Regoesque perverseness, through the depiction of women who, in view of the oblique symbolism, ought to be wretched but are not. The same thought-provoking light-heartedness will reappear in other paintings in this series. A shared thematic thread links The Dance to Departure (fig. 2.8).

Fig. 2.7 Caxias Fortress (Forte de São Bruno), Lisbon, Portugal. Wikimedia, CC BY-SA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Forte_de_S._Bruno_-_ Oeiras_ (108723153).jpg

Fig. 2.7 Caxias Fortress (Forte de São Bruno), Lisbon, Portugal. Wikimedia, CC BY-SA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Forte_de_S._Bruno_-_ Oeiras_ (108723153).jpg

Fig. 2.8 Paula Rego, Departure (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 151.4 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved

Fig. 2.8 Paula Rego, Departure (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 151.4 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved

I will digress briefly here to note that some attention has been focused in the past (Rosengarten, 1999a, 24) on the theme of incest in Paula Rego, in paintings such as for example Snow White Playing with Her Father’s Trophies (e-fig.14), The Cadet and His Sister (fig. 2.9), The Soldier’s Daughter (fig. 2.11), The Policeman’s Daughter (fig. 2.13) and The Family (fig. 2.14). A lot of ground remains to be covered on this topic, not just in connection with these pictures, but with others such as the Father Amaro series (figs. 3.1; 3.2; 3.4; 3.5; 3.7–3.9; 3.12; 3.14; 3.19–3.21; 3.23; 3.27), for the purpose of which Paula Rego drew upon an author, Eça de Queirós, who returned repeatedly to incest as a central theme in his writing. For the purposes of the current discussion, however, I shall consider incest abstractly, rather than in any sexual specificity, as the behaviour whereby clearly demarcated and prescribed rules of familial interaction are subverted within the very terms of those prescriptions, in order to deconstruct them. Thus, if family love was one of the proclaimed linchpins of the Salazar regime, it is at the very least perverse to carry that notion of familial love to a point (incest) at which the fabric of society itself comes under threat. The approved concept of love for one’s kin, when appropriated and warped, undermines that which, in a less extreme rendition, it purportedly shored up. Incest may thus be seen to engage with the notion that while it is true that in well-adjusted communities family members love each other, they clearly must do so only up to a point and only in a certain (non-sexual) way (Bell, 1993; Herman and Hirschman, 1977).

14The implications of this, moreover, clearly extend beyond the confines of the family. Within an authoritarian state, the distinction of categories and the demarcation of differences become arguably more important than in democratic regimes, since they govern the general process whereby individuals, entities and behaviours are classified and either authorized or excluded by the established order. Incest, therefore, the behaviour which with absolute literalness brings together what ought to be kept apart, is a crime in itself, but it is also the thin end of the wedge: other than undermining at a very specific level the family metaphor of the happy state, its transgression of the rules of sexual intercourse gestures also to the wider dissolution of pre-set boundaries between other categories (specifically the mutual exclusivity of consanguinity and sex), as prescribed by a variety of ideological and state desiderata. Incest may thus come to act as the metaphor for more abstract considerations regarding the dissolution of categorical differences within any number of definitions — black and white, right and wrong, good and evil, morality and immorality — whose mutually exclusive essence thereby becomes blurred or relativized.

  • 3 It has also been suggested to me that the girl’s attire may indicate a lower-class status, such as (...)

15In Departure (fig. 2.8) a girl, possibly a sister, grooms a man’s hair prior to the eponymous act.3 He sits and she stands on a terrace overlooking the sea, against a background of high ramparts headed not now by a fortress, but by residential dwellings: in Paula Rego the locus delicti of family life with a twist. Beside the two protagonists, on the floor of the terrace, is a valedictory old-fashioned travelling trunk, presumably the young man’s, with his travel coat draped across it. The symbols of departure set against the background seascape may be argued to carry the same ocean-bound/imperial/colonial connotations of other Rego pictures. Here, however, the poignancy is exacerbated by the coffin-shape of the trunk, to which the coat adds either the quasi-funereal aspect of ritual draping, or, alternatively, the impression of a fallen body.

  • 4 Regarding the young man in Departure, Rego had said: ‘Incest leads nowhere. His future is destroyed (...)

16Auspices of a doomed national imperative, however, be it economic migration or empire-building, are once again paraphrased by a cause of death much closer to home. Although the implement the girl holds in her right hand is a harmless comb, the position of the left hand may elicit an otherwise far-fetched uneasiness when an analogy is drawn with the hand of the maid on her mistress’s neck in The Maids (fig. 1.4), or those of the girls in Girl and Dog Untitled b, d, e and f (figs. 1.29; 1.31; 1.32 and e-fig. 7). This uneasiness is further exacerbated by the unexplained bloodstains faintly visible on the girl’s apron in Departure. These stains reflect the red discolouration on the ground by her feet, which also raise disturbing possibilities. Combing one’s hair is not an activity generally known to produce much blood loss. In this picture, therefore, it is not just familial and sexual love that become confused (see Paula Rego’s comments in interviews about a potential dimension of brother-sister incest in this work),4 but caring and violence too. Disturbingly, in an echo of the Girl and Dog pictures, grooming and killing, love and murder (kinslaying), also blur into each other, not for the first or last time in this artist’s work. Were the colonies really the happy children of the European motherland? Did those who set off to wage the wars that perpetuated the enterprise of empire have uniform support back home? When does empire-building turn into family division and kinslaying? Who is being punished here, and for what?

17The Cadet and His Sister (fig. 2.9) picks up a motif that will reappear over the following decade, namely that of men being dressed by women (The Family, fig. 2.14; Mother, fig. 3.19), possibly in an echo of those earlier dogs being simultaneously tended and emasculated.

Fig. 2.9 Paula Rego, The Cadet and His Sister (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 212.4 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

Fig. 2.9 Paula Rego, The Cadet and His Sister (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 212.4 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

The Cadet and His Sister casts yet another young man being readied, possibly for war, by his eponymous sister. He gazes at the backdrop of an avenue lined with cypresses (the traditional trees of cemeteries) which stretches into the distance. She kneels at his feet and ties his bootlaces, but succeeds, while in this genuflecting, ministering stance, to retain a commanding position in the picture, by virtue of her size and clearly-visible face, which contrasts with those of her more slightly-built brother, seen only in profile. Beside her on the ground are her handbag and gloves, the latter positioned at an angle that echoes the previously-established pattern of grasping hands (The Maids, fig. 1.4; Departure, fig. 2.8; Untitled b, fig. 1.29; Untitled d, fig. 1.31; Untitled e, fig. 1.32; Untitled f, fig. 1.36), and also the tulip shapes on the cloth and skirt of Untitled c, fig. 1.30 and Untitled f, e-fig. 7).

18In small scale in the foreground left-hand corner is a small cockerel, and it is tempting once again in the case of this picture to work from the small but significant detail to the more obvious larger ones, since the cockerel provides the point of entry for a fusion of the personal and the collective. In Portuguese legend and iconography this bird and in particular the one known as the Barcelos cockerel, after the town involved in the mythical events associated with this animal, was a bird-shaped metal weather-vane, which saved from the gallows a Galician man, falsely accused of a crime. To this day painted wooden or clay Barcelos roosters can be bought in souvenir shops, tourist outlets and markets all over Portugal. The suggestion that the bird is significant might be an instance of over-interpretation: Paula Rego often wrong-foots her overly enthusiastic exegetes (the current author included) by saying that she includes objects such as this cockerel or the pink pig in In the Wilderness (fig. 3.23) for no other reason than because she liked their colour or shape, or simply felt like it. At the risk of disregarding this hint, one may be forgiven for seeking further meaning in an object as laden with symbolism as the Barcelos rooster being included in a picture depicting young men going off to war. What one makes of it is, literally, another story. The inclusion, in a picture about military endeavour, of a mythical beast that saves a foreigner (and a Spanish foreigner at that) from the wrongful arm of the Portuguese authorities, raises questions of law, justice and nationalist entitlement in Portugal’s dealings with other nations.

19The cockerel, therefore, in contrast as we shall see to cypresses (in cemeteries filled with the bodies of young men killed for the motherland), signals the defeat of the status quo by an individual, and destabilizes the interests of the nation as a significant subject in this painting of family history. The war, signalled here by the soldier’s status, thus ceases to be a background detail and becomes central to this example of family portraiture and history painting.

20And if The Cadet and His Sister (fig. 2.9) is a painting about the motherland as much as about the family, the theme of incest already discussed may simply be a way of noting a general dysfunctionality (of which incest would be the extreme instance), extrapolated from the dimension of consanguinity to its metaphorical counterpoint at the level of national life (Portugal and her old sister and enemy, Spain; Portugal and Galicia, which historically has nurtured a treasonous desire to abandon mother Spain and marry sister Portugal; rebellious colonial ‘children’, within the context of a war fought by young soldiers in Africa). Regarding the young man in Departure, Rego had said: ‘Incest leads nowhere. His future is destroyed’ (Rego, quoted in McEwen, 1997, 167). Whether destruction is always a bad idea, however, is a moot point, not least in the case of an artist who enjoys doing harm to those she loves.

21A reference to incest here would therefore underwrite once again the script of an imperilled motherland, whose Salazarista corporate image, based on the linchpin of the happy family utopia, is exposed as unviable and false. In this context, the background setting becomes important. The cypresses lining the avenue that stretches away from the protagonists, as mentioned earlier, are the traditional trees of Portuguese cemeteries, and their principal association is with death. Their presence in this image, therefore, as well as speaking for itself, also suggests that the white stone walls and benches are part of a cemetery setting — a less than auspicious scenario for a young soldier about to depart to war. It is perhaps eerily apposite, therefore, that the cypress avenue upon which his gaze is focused seems to lead nowhere.

  • 5 e-fig. 8 The revolution of 25 April 1974, which toppled the Estado Novo regime and restored democra (...)

22The sister whose tender attentions, if seen in the light of the Girl and Dog Untitled series, may be sinister, is dressed in blood-red clothing, one step beyond the discreetly blood-stained apron in Departure. Together with the militaristic red beret, her clothes offer further possibilities. Rego depicts severe female clothing in images of the same period, such as the mother’s suit in The Fitting (fig. 1.3), discussed in the previous chapter. Another point for consideration with regard to the sister’s attire in The Cadet and His Sister (fig. 2.9) is the symbolism of red, which, as outlined previously, was a colour of political (communist) and religious (satanic) ill-repute in the ultra-Catholic Estado Novo. Red, moreover, other than its left-wing and luciferine connotations, was also the colour of the carnations that became associated with the revolution that toppled the Estado Novo on 25 April 1974 (e-fig. 8).5

23That revolution took the form of a military coup by army officers, who are possibly evoked by this woman’s militaristic head gear and her family links to a young soldier. Furthermore, young soldiers, as previously stated, were the fodder whose deaths in the colonial wars sowed the seeds of dissatisfaction against the political regime of Salazar and paved the way for the April revolution and for democracy.

24This female protagonist’s clothes evoke one further association. Her suit corresponds to the fashion of the late 1930s and early 1940s, made visually iconic by many war-time films (primarily of British and American origin) both in Britain, where Paula Rego lives, but also in Portugal, where she was brought up. The 1930s and 40s saw the rise and consolidation of fascism in Europe. They were also the decades of Salazar’s drive for dictatorial power and the period in which, as discussed previously, he laid down his plans for a society in many ways analogous to Hitler’s Third Reich. The fashion of these clothes therefore acts as a double-edged sword: by evoking the period of World War II, it gestures both to the nature of Salazar’s wartime sympathies and to their frustration at Hitler’s eventual defeat. A tangential effect of these associations is the possibly circuitous but nonetheless tenable notion that if, in the 1940s, Salazar’s political inclinations led him to identify with a genocidal regime and with an unholy German war, his own wars of the 1960s and 70s (whose victims were not Jews but black Africans) here become tarred with an analogous brush.

25In The Cadet and His Sister (fig. 2.9) a woman sends off her close male relative to war and potentially to death. If this particular Portuguese war was fought in a morally indefensible cause, its gender effects in this picture may nonetheless entail a liberating impact not dissimilar to that temporarily achieved during World War II for women all over Europe. When the cat is away the mice are free to play, or to usurp the rights and privileges (including the donning of power clothing) that habitual fall to the monopoly of men. The same theme is repeated in the next two pictures, The Bullfighter’s Godmother (fig. 2.10) and The Soldier’s Daughter (fig. 2.11).

Fig. 2.10 Paula Rego, The Bullfighter’s Godmother (1990–1991). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 122 x 151.4 cm. Private Collection. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

Fig. 2.10 Paula Rego, The Bullfighter’s Godmother (1990–1991). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 122 x 151.4 cm. Private Collection. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
  • 6 With regard to a later picture, as discussed in chapter 3, Paula Rego discussed the desirability of (...)

In The Bullfighter’s Godmother (1990–1991), the two protagonists stand in a bare, monastic room, presumably his, as the godmother puts the finishing touches to her charge’s bullfighting attire. A young girl sits in a chair with the bullfighter’s traditional cape draped over her knees and onto the floor. The room is windowless and, although spacious, dark and claustrophobic.6 Its shadows have an ominous character, which potentially reiterates the motif of a final farewell evoked by the two pictures just discussed. And this latter aspect is emphasized by the brownish red, reminiscent of dried blood, which, together with grey, is the dominant colour in the room, acting as the omen for the kind of death a bullfighter might be expected to suffer. The atmosphere of foreboding is accentuated by the black clothes of the godmother (black, in Portugal, being traditionally reserved for mourning purposes), and specifically by the black tie worn by men (but here by the young girl), exclusively as a token of bereavement.

  • 7 In Portuguese bullfights the bloodiness of the pursuit is toned down: unlike in Spain, the bull is (...)

26A godparent in a Catholic country such as Portugal is the appointed conduit of godliness, religion, tradition and citizenship. His or her task is to guarantee that the godchild is raised in the Catholic faith, which in Portugal, during the years of dictatorship, was shorthand also for raising a son or daughter who would conform to the will of the state. This particular godmother is associated also with the bullfighting tradition which, in the Iberian context, is the purest distillation of masculine values. The art of bullfighting — and it is as an art that this pursuit is generally understood in Portugal — pays homage to the values of religion and patriotism, as well as to the quintessential male attributes of machismo and courage in the face of death.7 Under the Estado Novo, as we have seen, all four were seen as constituting the infrastructures of a country in which, according to the conjoined decrees of church, state and patriarchy, men were men and women were women. In bullfighting, men are brought together as in battle, as buddies, comrades or gladiators, pitted not against each other but against the bull which is the common (and identifiably different) adversary. Through bullfighting, male solidarity against a categorized Other is reaffirmed for the greater good of the status quo.

27In this boys-only club, however, Paula Rego’s painting strikes a dissonant note. What is in question here is not God-the-Father — the summit of that pyramidal structure of male values that bullfighting works to shore up — but a godmother. The latter thus emerges as the usurper of masculine concerns, rights and duties. The female figure stands tall, taller than the young man, whom, moreover, standing in loco parentis to him as she does, she doubly infantilizes. She is hieratic and spectral, and wears black garments that seem improperly to anticipate a death foretold. And if she is sending him to his death, her didactic and pastoral roles, inappropriate in any case — given that she is a woman — constitute not so much a generational handing down of tradition, but its premature nipping in the bud, since this very young man’s career will end almost before it has begun.

28In any case the godmother, by virtue of being a mother and not a father, inevitably jolts the process whereby heritage, tradition, nationhood and authority are typically passed down the hierarchy that descends from God through political rulers, to husbands, fathers and sons, traditionally bypassing the subaltern female sex. In this picture, instead, both tradition and the right to its transmission (analogous to Adam’s Genesiacal monopoly over naming the world in Eden) are hijacked by the godmother, who, in handing these things down to the next generation of young males, simultaneously anoints and damns the emblematic youth represented here. When Jehovah created the world, including of course Portugal as God’s own country, the achievement was commemorated by the fiat that there be light. Altogether properly here, in this portentous room, the sources of light are on the whole mysterious, apart from the free-standing table lamp whose radiance, however, is veiled by a black shade. The latter would be more suitable to a satanic seance than in the preamble to bullfighting, that most orthodox of Portuguese rites of honour.

29Light and darkness, and the semantic ramifications they set up, are also of the essence in The Soldier’s Daughter (fig. 2.11).

30Once again I will begin here with an analysis of two figures who, although located in the foreground, have their impact at first glance reduced to secondary status by virtue of their reduced scale. They are an exiting soldier with his pack slung over his shoulder, and a faceless, woman veiled and kneeling with hands linked in prayer, in the archetypal posture of the mater dolorosa. The effect of their diminutive stature is compounded by their positioning in the dark corners of the painting, which accentuates the contrast with the much larger and sunlit figure of the central protagonist.

Fig. 2.11 Paula Rego, The Soldier’s Daughter (1987). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 151.4 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

Fig. 2.11 Paula Rego, The Soldier’s Daughter (1987). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 151.4 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

31The scenario conjured up by these two figures is clearly that of the archetypal ‘men must work and women must weep’ script, which is, however, comprehensively given the lie by the other components of the painting. These involve the central figure of a girl, presumably the daughter of the title, busy plucking a dead goose. She sits under a broad archway in sunlight, against a background of buildings and a rampart which may lead to the sea but is blocked by a closed gate. At first glance, the girl is engaged in a suitably feminine task: preparing the bird for the meal that will feed the family. Other components of the picture, however, raise the question of who exactly is about to have his goose cooked here. The obvious answer appears to be already given, in view of the fact that we are dealing again with the tale of a departing soldier, presumably bound for war.

32The inauspiciousness of his departure seems to be emphasized by the fact that the soldier is not following the obvious exit route, up the steps, through the gate, out to sea, sun and bellicose glory, but is rather descending through an obscure path into a darkness haunted by a weeping figure (the kneeling woman). Perhaps for this reason his size is disproportionately small, in a literal rendition of the performance of his death or disappearance. More than the question as to who is dead or dying (man or goose), the painting invites speculation as to who is doing the killing. If the soldier is to die in battle, or has already done so, a fact which would give his fading presence here the status of a ghost, his obvious killers would be the nation’s enemies. However, it is also possible to argue that the national interests that dispatched him into battle are responsible for his death.

33Furthermore, back home, matters are even less transparent. The daughter who at first glance appears obediently to fulfil her part in the traditional division of labour (men fight, women nurture; men kill and die, women breed), may here be seen to be blurring those boundaries. She sports inappropriate festive flowers in her hair (an intertextual allusion to the accessorizing of other, more openly dangerous female counterparts in In the Garden, fig. 1.15, Snare, fig. 1.23 and Prey, fig. 1.28) and her grip on the goose is unforgiving. Presumably she has already been responsible for wringing its neck, which, in an echo of the Red Monkey’s tail in an earlier picture (fig. 2.4), is now broken and limp. The goose, furthermore, is not simply dead; in death it is subjected to further mutilation by plucking, which evokes the shaved dog and the groomed man in Untitled f (e-fig. 7) and Departure (fig. 2.8) respectively. The place in the sun claimed by this young girl therefore accrues further significance.

34The goose has long-standing mythical associations with love and conjugal fidelity; in some traditions, moreover, was thought to be homologous with the swan, itself linked to feminine beauty and the virtues of helplessness, sacrifice and gender submissiveness, and identified with the cultural icon of the Virgin Mary (Becker, 1994, 130): ‘behold the handmaid of the Lord’, Luke 1: 38. The fact that, in this painting, those qualities may have met their deaths at the hands of a young girl recalls Virginia Woolf’s notorious exhortation to women, urging them to discard the chains of stereotypical femininity and domestic confinement by symbolically murdering (specifically, and of particular relevance to this picture, strangling) ‘the Angel in the House’:

I discovered that […] I should need to do battle with a certain phantom. And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem, ‘The Angel in the House’. It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing […]. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her — you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it — in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. […] And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. […] Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: ‘My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the wiles and arts of your sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. […] And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself […]. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. […] I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. […] She died hard. […] Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer. (Woolf, 1943, 150–51, italics mine)

‘Women must kill the aesthetic ideal through which they themselves have been “killed” into art. [… Until quite recently] the female imagination has perceived itself, as it were, through a glass darkly’ (Gilbert and Gubar, 1984, 17). The goose/swan that represents that Marian ideal in Rego’s picture meets its death at the hands of an unangelic daughter. She sits clutching the victim of her crime, disloyally adorned in celebratory red flowers, at the moment of yet another death: that of her departing father.

35The demise of the father and the resurgence of the angel-killer may also be tortuously evoked through other mythical reverberations emanating from the symbol of the swan.

Fig. 2.12 Anonymous, Leda and the Swan (16th century). Oil on panel, 131.1 x 76.2 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wikimedia, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Leda_and_the_Swan_ (Philadelphia_Museum_of_Art).jpg

Fig. 2.12 Anonymous, Leda and the Swan (16th century). Oil on panel, 131.1 x 76.2 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wikimedia, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Leda_and_the_Swan_ (Philadelphia_Museum_of_Art).jpg
  • 8 The theme of Leda and the swan has inspired painters and sculptors alike: Michelangelo, Leonardo an (...)

Most notoriously in Greek mythology, the swan was the disguise adopted by Zeus in order to rape Leda, as depicted in any number of canonical images in the history of art (fig. 2.12).8 That particular gesture of masculine and divine despotism, encapsulated in the claiming of a godly droit de seigneur, had issue. Leda gave birth to twin girls, Helen and Clytemnestra, each of whom would in a different way become responsible for significant male deaths. Helen’s adultery and elopement led to carnage at the siege of Troy (Achilles, Paris, Hector, Ajax), but had even wider, indirect repercussions. One of the key players of the Trojan War was her brother-in-law, Agamemnon, Menelaus’s brother and Clytemnestra’s husband. Agamemnon, as is well known, set off for Troy to fulfil his duty to his brother, and for that purpose sacrificed his own daughter Iphigenia to the gods for the sake of a favourable wind. At the end of the Trojan war, he was murdered by Clytemnestra in revenge for their daughter’s death.

36The rape of Leda by that original swan (whose Regoesque avatar has his own actions nipped in the bud) in the original myth sets off a chain reaction of events made memorable in the Homeric epic and in the tragedies that enshrine the earliest stirrings of Western culture. The tenor of these stories, seen from one angle, is the pitting of man against woman or husband against wife in betrayal and death, and the unleashing of conflicts at home and abroad. In the course of these, some women admittedly die (Iphigenia, Clytemnestra), but enough survive and escape with impunity (Helen, Medea), to gloat ad infinitum in their unpunished crimes. The plot of female criminality allowed to go scot-free was immortalized by the tranquil words of Helen in The Odyssey and Medea’s lighthearted goodbyes in Euripides’s play, Medea. In The Odyssey, Helen, now back in Sparta with her lawful husband following the fall of Troy, whose destruction she had arguably provoked, is visited by Telemachus, son of Odysseus, on a mission to seek news of his missing father, who had failed to return home from the war. On this socially embarrassing occasion, she serenely refers to her past Trojan self as the ‘shameless creature that I was’ (Homer, 1984, 68). More scandalously still, in Medea, in the aftermath of her murder of her own children in retaliation for her husband’s betrayal, the eponymous heroine orders an annual feast by means of which the people of Corinth (but not she herself) will solemnize and ‘expiate this impious murder’. As for Medea herself, ‘I […] will go to Athens’ (the seat of justice as articulated by men) ‘to make my home’ (Euripedes, 1989, 60). Helen’s understatement regarding the consequences of her actions and Medea’s absolute escape from retribution tacitly acquit female actions that bring down male civilizations: an outcome possibly also favoured by Paula Rego.

37This returns us to The Soldier’s Daughter (fig. 2.11) and to this particular death. Here, too, hallowed domesticity strays towards an imminent bloodbath. The girl and the dead goose (or swan), which, rather than doing the raping is itself being ‘plucked’, are in a solitary place. They are entirely alone, since the soldier and the weeping woman appear to exist in a different dimension, as attested by their minuscule size and shadowy presence. The girl is partly sheltered by an archway, but with no indication of an intent to conceal herself, and although the perspective is unclear, she may be partially visible from the white building, whose windows, however, are blank. If in the parlance of the standard detective story we ask who was the last person to see this goose alive, in the absence of any obvious witnesses, the accusing finger points to this apparent criminal, who, as is so often the case in Paula Rego’s work, appears serenely at ease at the scene of her crime. ‘I […] will go to Athens’. And why not? Greece is a nice place for a well-deserved break.

38The next picture, The Policeman’s Daughter (fig. 2.13), also bears a title that places it within the realm of the familial and the domestic.

39A girl or young woman sits in a room by a window without a view, alone except for a black cat, and polishes a man’s boot, presumably that of the eponymous policeman and father. Light streams in through the window, but whether it is sun or moonlight is not clear. Ruth Rosengarten has detected in this work both sexual tension conducive to yet another reading of incest (the daughter’s hand inside the father’s phallic boot), and the metonymical allusion of that authoritarian boot to state power. In this reading, therefore, familial (paternal) and political (state) authority become enmeshed (Rosengarten, 1997, 75). If so, however, the interweaving of masculinity and femininity, and of personal and collective interests, is far from simple.

40Both in Portuguese and in English, Paula Rego’s two languages, to clean someone’s boots (or more specifically to lick them), signifies submissiveness to the point of abjection. In a specifically Portuguese context, and in a country in which, to this day, it is not uncommon for men to have their shoes polished by young boys in the street in exchange for a small payment (echoes of the kneeling seamstress in The Fitting, fig. 1.3), there may also be a class dimension inherent in the notion of not being obliged to clean one’s own footwear. Here the act possibly alludes to nothing more than filial conformity to the female domestic duties that traditionally facilitated male activity in the public sphere. Thus, the daughter polishing the boots — or boot — which is her father’s badge of state-authorized power, appears at first glance to submit to and collude with the premises of a hierarchical, divided, class-ridden, gender-unequal world.

Fig. 2.13 Paula Rego, The Policeman’s Daughter (1987). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 151.4 cm. Saatchi Collection, London. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

Fig. 2.13 Paula Rego, The Policeman’s Daughter (1987). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 151.4 cm. Saatchi Collection, London. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
  • 9 Paula Rego, however, does not acknowledge a link between Mapplethorpe’s photograph and her own work (...)

41Male power, like God’s, therefore, is represented in the shape of the father’s boot, which stands for him in absentia. But is that in fact the case? In another possible reading, all that remains of the man in this enclosed place is in fact a void, his absence made conspicuous not by a pair of boots but rather by a useless, unmatched one. A man wearing only one boot, clearly, will limp. This single boot, furthermore, carries all the implications of what is symbolically being done to it. Fiona Bradley refers the image of the arm, elbow-deep inside the boot, and its powerful sexual charge, to Rego’s awareness of the controversy that surrounded Robert Mapplethorpe’s ICA photography exhibition of the same year as this picture, and which included an image of ‘fisting’, a fist rammed inside a man’s anus (Bradley, 1997, 22).9

42If what is in question both in Mapplethorpe and in Rego is anal sex or even rape, and in Rego not now the rape of a mythical female Leda but of an unnamed male — and, more to the point here, of a father — incest, the act which in the father-daughter modality habitually carries connotations of paedophilic abuse, now undergoes a reversal of the customary gender positions in relation to brutality and helplessness. The standard distribution of power according to gender and family role, whether in the context of voluntary sex or of forcible intercourse, is radically turned inverted also, more clearly even than in the Girl and Dog images discussed in the previous chapter. And given the father’s defining characteristic, namely his status as policeman, as laid down by the picture’s title, it is not simply paternity in its domestic and familial guise which is involved here, but a whole network of symbolic fathers: law makers, law enforcers, heads of state, rulers, fathers of the nation, priests and even God-the-Father himself. This leads to further complications. For example, if in Salazar’s vision for the nation, men appeared as parents in many different permutations (fathers of their daughters, of their wives, of their female parishioners, of their country and of its colonies), women, as discussed before, were acceptable not just primarily but exclusively as mothers and daughters, within the domestic confines of the home space. Paula Rego takes on this monolithic discourse on its own terms, and exposes the appalling fragility at the heart of paternalistically-defined power. The boot being dutifully polished (the male organ being manually stimulated) becomes also the hole or the anus into which a violating hand and a muscular female arm are brutally rammed, in an enactment of the most humiliating sexual act performable upon one man, usually by another. The submissive daughter, busily going about the domestic activities that sustain the father’s career interests, becomes the raping demoness who breaks every last taboo, and who, disturbingly, does so while paradoxically continuing to fulfil the role of the angel in the house. In Paula Rego’s work, as will be discussed in chapter 3 with reference to The Ambassador of Jesus (fig. 3.4), the right hand, conveniently, often does not know what the left hand is doing. In The Policeman’s Daughter, while one hand rapes, the other hand ministers, in mockery of the maternal tactic of being cruel to be kind. Through the agency of this dutiful daughter dressed in the generic white of adolescent communicants, young brides and novice nuns, a veneer of polish, thick or thin, is imposed upon unreconstructed masculinity, while at her hands extant regimes willy-nilly undergo assorted reforms.

  • 10 Alternately good and bad luck in Britain; bad luck in Portugal.

43The unconvincing innocence of the girl, in any case, is promptly given the lie by the black cat, a truly Regoesque index of ambivalence. In her study of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, Lucy Rollin identifies cats as archetypally female: nurturing mothers but also murderers (Rollin, 1992, 31). Even Puss in Boots, according to Jack Zipes (2012) was originally female. In Portuguese, Cinderella, famously risen from the ashes (cinders) to triumph and queendom, is also called ‘Gata Borralheira’ (she-cat in the hearth). The cat has further associations with the serpent in Khabbalist Jewish tradition, and was imported into Christian lore with the same charge of wrongdoing. During the Middle Ages and enduringly in children’s fairy tales, cats, and more particularly black ones, were considered to be witches’ familiars, the symbol of the Devil (Becker, 1994, 53), whilst in popular superstition they are the harbingers of bad luck.10 In this picture, therefore, the cat as the devilish partner-in-crime of this disquieting policeman’s daughter embodies a multifaceted onslaught against patriarchy (the father), dictatorship (the policeman) and religion (God as the antithesis of Satan/magic), which in Portuguese national life stand — and here fall — together.

44With reference to this image, Germaine Greer and Colin Wiggins (Guardian 20 November 2004) discuss a video played at an exhibition of Rego’s work at the Tate Britain, in which Robert Hughes sought to link Rego’s work to a great anti-fascist tradition of art, connecting the jackboot in The Policeman’s Daughter to a symbology of totalitarian power. Greer and Wiggins contest Hughes interpretation and counter it by quoting Rego herself as saying that the girl in the image ‘is a very obedient girl’ who conspires to perpetuate male authority. I would argue that it takes a bad case of tin ear to miss the sarcasm in Rego’s comment.

45I will conclude my consideration of this series of paintings with a work appropriately titled The Family (fig. 2.14).

Fig. 2.14 Paula Rego, The Family (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 212.4 cm. The Saatchi Collection, London. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.

Fig. 2.14 Paula Rego, The Family (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 212.4 cm. The Saatchi Collection, London. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
  • 11 Rego’s husband, Victor Willing, became incapacitated by multiple sclerosis and died an invalid in 1 (...)

Critical approaches to this image have differed widely. John McEwen links the final version to its initial subject and title (The Raising of Lazarus), which he connected to the biographical fact of the artist’s widowhood in 1988, the year the picture was finished (McEwen, 1997, 167–68).11 Ruth Rosengarten avoids biographical data, preferring to bring to this image a reading that emphasizes the antagonism of the two central female protagonists towards the helpless male (Rosengarten, 1997, 75). Her approach dovetails with the points I shall now raise, which also emphasize the aspect of force variously exerted against the man by a coven of three Shakespearean witches, although McEwen’s reading also supports the love-hate syndrome detected by my earlier analysis of, for example, the Girl and Dog images as clear cases of wishing to harm those one loves (Rego, quoted in McEwen, 1997, 138).

46The juxtaposition of the man against his two immediate antagonists, and the positioning of the latter’s arms, refer us back to the postures of any number of girls and dogs in images discussed previously (Two Girls and a Dog, e-fig. 4; In the Garden, fig. 1.15; Untitled b, fig. 1.29; Untitled d, fig. 1.31; Untitled e, fig. 1.32) and to the same themes of harassment, bodily harm and violent, untimely death. The check or crossbar pattern on the little girl’s skirt also sets off echoes of prior works (the prison-bar motif of the skirt pattern in Untitled a, e-fig. 6 and Untitled b, fig. 1.29; of the fence posts in Untitled c, fig. 1.30; of the pattern on the bedspread in Untitled e, fig. 1.32; of the playpen bars in Untitled f, e-fig. 7), as does her position (reminiscent of the girls in Snare, fig. 1.23, Untitled g, fig. 1.33 and Baa Baa Black Sheep, fig. 6.3), tauntingly standing between the legs of a man who, possible incest aside, is manifestly debarred from taking advantage of the possibilities raised by such provocation, due both to his invalidism and to restraint by sheer force (the woman who holds him from behind). Whether standing between a male’s legs (The Family, fig. 2.14; Baa Baa Black Sheep, fig. 6.3) or holding him between theirs (Snare, fig. 1.23; Untitled g, fig. 1.33), therefore, in Paula Rego it always appears to be a case of girls on top. Compositionally, the way in which the juxtaposition of the protagonists in The Family evokes that of many of the girls and helpless dogs of earlier works lends force to Agustina Bessa-Luís’s argument that those dogs represent men (Rego and Bessa-Luís, 2001, 16), and Rego’s own statement that she was ‘painting something about Vic’ in the last stages of his illness (Tusa, 2000, 10).

47Be that as it may, sexually and otherwise, the male figure in The Family (fig. 2.14) appears to have reached the end of the road, as indicated by the greenish pallor of his skin. The point is cruelly hammered home through antithesis, by way of the figure of the third female protagonist, a small girl whose piously conjoined hands contrast with her improbably pregnant body. Since biologically — given her apparent age of six or seven — pregnancy is not a possibility, both it and the little girl herself, in her capacity as the youngest member of the cast, may be argued to represent the future: a future that she personifies, as well as being pregnant with it (‘grávida de futuro’, Lispector, 1990, 98), in sharp contrast to the man, who clearly has none.

  • 12 Details regarding both aspects of the oratory were obtained in conversation with Paula Rego.

48The little girl stands near a painted wooden oratory. One panel depicts what appears to be an altogether proper scene of piety: Mary Magdalene stands by and watches as Saint Michael, in his habitual representation, slays the Devil in the shape of a dragon. Other than the slayer of dragons and demons, Saint Michael was also the saint who weighed up the souls of the dead (psychostasis), in order to measure their just deserts (Hall, 1991, 208), a role that may explain his connection here with Mary Magdalene, who in her turn represents the embodiment par excellence of carefully balanced female sin and virtue. If Mary Magdalene, like Helen of Troy and Medea, signals the ambivalence evoked by a woman’s sins left unpunished, the bottom wooden panel of the oratory offers another take on the battle between good and evil. This time it depicts the affront caused by expecting thanks for refraining from sin: the panel depicts La Fontaine’s fable of the wolf and the stork. In this tale, the wolf chokes on a piece of food and begs the stork to help. The stork does so by pulling out the piece of food with its long beak, and is offended when the wolf fails to thank it. The wolf retorts that its thanks were expressed by refraining from eating the stork.12 In Paula Rego’s universe, criminals (usually female) habitually go all the way, and when they hold back from full-blown criminality, it is a case of being thankful for small mercies. In this paradigmatic picture, in fact, the self-restraint of the wolf does not appear to find an echo in the ‘real world’ of the protagonists, two of whom appear to be on the verge of enforcing an untimely death upon the third. And yet again, as elsewhere in this artist’s work (Time: Past and Present, fig. 1.8; The Policeman’s Daughter, fig. 2.13; Mother, fig. 3.19), the background to a scenario of juxtaposed dead-ends and unholy worlds-without-end is the vindictive desolation of a window with no view, opening onto nothing.

Notes

1 In an interview with Rachel Campbell-Johnston on the release of his 2017 documentary about his mother (‘The visions that haunted Paula Rego’), Willing recalls Rego telling him that, as a student at the Slade School of Art in the 1950s, she had several abortions before she finally had a child by Victor Willing, who at the time was still married to another woman. Conflicting feelings about pregnancy and the difficulties faced by some women run through Rego’s output, from her mid-to early works to more recent paintings: Pregnant Rabbit Telling Her Parents (1982, fig. 2.1); Untitled: The Abortion Cycle (1988, figs. 4.3–4.5; 4.14; 4.15; 4.24–4.26; 4.30; 4.31; 4.37; 4.38; 4.41; 4.49); some of the Virgin Cycle (2002, figs. 7.1; 7.3; 7.9; 7.10; 7.11; 7.12; 7.19; 7.20).

2 The Dance was painted in 1988, the year that Rego’s husband, Victor Willing died. It features two young men whose features bear a strong resemblance to the dead man, and who may have been modelled by the couple’s son. The painting has more commonly been interpreted as an attempt at catharsis (‘saying goodbye to Vic’).

3 It has also been suggested to me that the girl’s attire may indicate a lower-class status, such as that of servant rather than sister to the male protagonist. Whether the twin of past and future aggressive female relatives or of the murderous maids of a previous painting, the props and accessories pertaining to this figure, as I argue here, renders her a menacing rather than nurturing presence.

4 Regarding the young man in Departure, Rego had said: ‘Incest leads nowhere. His future is destroyed’ (Rego, quoted in McEwen, 1997, 167). She also alludes to associations with incest in works of this period (The Cadet and His Sister) and later ones (for example in the Father Amaro series).

5 e-fig. 8 The revolution of 25 April 1974, which toppled the Estado Novo regime and restored democracy, began as a military coup but was welcomed by the general population. As the army took over key institutions and locations, women lined the streets and placed red carnations in the barrels of the soldiers’ guns. Photograph posted by ‘This day in History — 25 April 1974:Portugal’s Carnation Revolution’, Club of Mozambique, 25 April 2017, © Club of Mozambique, https://clubofmozambique.com/news/this-day-in-history-25-april-1974-portugals-carnation-revolution/

6 With regard to a later picture, as discussed in chapter 3, Paula Rego discussed the desirability of sets using mirrors which increase the impression of space without, however, granting her protagonists the advantage of an open window for the same effect. In fact, in many of her paintings she either depicts windowless rooms, as here, or at best paints windows without a view (Time: Past and Present, fig. 1.8; The Policeman’s Daughter, fig. 2.13; Mother, fig. 3.19).

7 In Portuguese bullfights the bloodiness of the pursuit is toned down: unlike in Spain, the bull is not killed at the end.

8 The theme of Leda and the swan has inspired painters and sculptors alike: Michelangelo, Leonardo and Rubens, to name but a few.

9 Paula Rego, however, does not acknowledge a link between Mapplethorpe’s photograph and her own work. Sketches and studies for this image, indeed, do not present the hand inside the boot, but rather holding the outside of it in an enfolding gesture. I am grateful to Robert Hinde for pointing this out to me.

10 Alternately good and bad luck in Britain; bad luck in Portugal.

11 Rego’s husband, Victor Willing, became incapacitated by multiple sclerosis and died an invalid in 1988, the year this image was created.

12 Details regarding both aspects of the oratory were obtained in conversation with Paula Rego.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 2.1 Paula Rego, Pregnant Rabbit Telling Her Parents (1982). Acrylic on paper, 103 x 141 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 43k
Titre Fig. 2.2 Lorenzo Lotto, Nativity (1523). Oil on panel, 46 x 36 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Wikimedia, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia. org/wiki/File:Lorenzo_Lotto_017.jpg
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 22k
Titre Fig. 2.3 Paula Rego, The Red Monkey Beats His Wife (1981). Acrylic on paper, 61 x 105 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 45k
Titre Fig. 2.4 Paula Rego, Wife Cuts off Red Monkey’s Tail (1981). Acrylic on paper, 68 x 101 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 41k
Titre Fig. 2.5 Paula Rego, The Dance (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 273.3 cm. Tate Modern, London. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 45k
Titre Fig. 2.6 A view of the ruins of Fort Chapora, Goa, India. Wikimedia, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Chapora_fort.JPG
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 30k
Titre Fig. 2.7 Caxias Fortress (Forte de São Bruno), Lisbon, Portugal. Wikimedia, CC BY-SA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Forte_de_S._Bruno_-_ Oeiras_ (108723153).jpg
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 19k
Titre Fig. 2.8 Paula Rego, Departure (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 151.4 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 30k
Titre Fig. 2.9 Paula Rego, The Cadet and His Sister (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 212.4 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 25k
Titre Fig. 2.10 Paula Rego, The Bullfighter’s Godmother (1990–1991). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 122 x 151.4 cm. Private Collection. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 42k
Titre Fig. 2.11 Paula Rego, The Soldier’s Daughter (1987). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 151.4 cm. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 33k
Titre Fig. 2.12 Anonymous, Leda and the Swan (16th century). Oil on panel, 131.1 x 76.2 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wikimedia, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Leda_and_the_Swan_ (Philadelphia_Museum_of_Art).jpg
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 32k
Titre Fig. 2.13 Paula Rego, The Policeman’s Daughter (1987). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 151.4 cm. Saatchi Collection, London. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 31k
Titre Fig. 2.14 Paula Rego, The Family (1988). Acrylic on paper on canvas, 212.4 x 212.4 cm. The Saatchi Collection, London. Photograph courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, all rights reserved.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/9756/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k

Acheter

Volume papier

amazon.fr
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search