In the centre of this painting, two girls, dressed in costume, lie asleep. Two other girls are seen in the background; one leans on a tree trunk and the other opens out a cloth as she kneels by a pelican. A sprig of blossom and a rake, complete with menacing shadow, occupy the foreground. These symbols, which recall the highly coded vocabulary used by artists during the Renaissance period, contribute to the ambiguous atmosphere of this painting, which seems to veer between innocence and danger.
Paula Rego has often taken her inspiration from the imaginary world of children, and in particular folktales from her native Portugal. From 1985, Rego began to work in a more realistic figurative style and she embarked on two series known as the ‘Girls and Dog’ paintings and the ‘Family’ pictures. ‘Sleeping’ prefigures ‘The Nursery Rhymes’, a series of etchings from 1989 also in the Arts Council Collection.