Born 1935, Lisbon, Portugal.
From an early age Paula Rego attended an English language school in Portugal and at the age of sixteen was sent to a finishing school in Kent at which time she developed a desire to study art, becoming a student at the Slade School of Art from 1952 to 1956. Here she met fellow student Victor Willing whom she married in 1959.
Her exhibiting career began in 1962 with The London Group whose members at that time included Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Craigie Aitchson, Dennis Creffield and David Hockney. She was included in a group show at the ICA in 1965 and in the same year had her first solo exhibition at the Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes in Lisbon. She continued to exhibit regularly in the UK and Europe and by 1988 was given a retrospective which was shown at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon and the Serpentine Gallery in London.
Two years later she was appointed the first Associate Artist at the National Gallery when she produced a series of paintings and prints nominally based on nursery rhymes which reflected the hallmark of her mature style. Her work had become a form of figurative story-telling, often drawing upon the folk tales she learned from her grandmother as a young child in Portugal. They are psychologically charged works, depicting people and animals in ambiguous and disturbing situations; fear and violence are often present and underlying issues of injustice, especially against women, are repeatedly explored.
Major exhibitions have been held at Tate Britain (2005), Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (2007) and the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid (2007). She is strongly represented with over forty works in each of the Tate Gallery and the British Council Collection, as well as in numerous other public collections in the UK, Europe and the USA. In 1010 she was created Dame of the British Empire.