Paula Rego studied at the Slade School of Art in the 1950s and later settled permanently in London. However, memories of growing up in Portugal often inspire her paintings, particularly the stories and fairytales told by her aunt and grandmother.

She is fascinated by the darker side of human behavior, and her paintings often reveal disturbing narratives of love and cruelty, focusing on victims of circumstances beyond their control. She draws on her own experiences, fears and motivations, and inevitably her subjects are often women.

Although she frequently tackles controversial subjects, Rego’s art is not usually political in its objectives. However, this triptych was created in response to a referendum in Portugal to legalise abortion. Whilst living in Portugal she had seen the terrible suffering of girls undergoing back-street terminations, and she was angered by the reluctance of the Portuguese public, who failed to turn out in sufficient numbers, to face the issue. These works were created with intention of reopening debate on the subject.

Each image focuses on one girl as she endures the agony of her situation alone. The images do not shock with blood or mess, but rather with the everyday degradation and private suffering of their subjects. Rather than presenting them as victims, Rego portrays the girls as dignified and triumphant in the face of their overwhelming circumstances.


  • Title: Triptych
  • Creator: Paula Rego
  • Date: 1998
  • Medium: Pastel on paper, mounted on aluminium
  • Dimensions: 3 panels: 110 x 100 each
  • Copyright: © Paula Rego
  • Artist's Dates: b.1935

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