Catalogue entry

T03839 Nanny, Small Bears and Bogeyman 1982

Acrylic on paper 47 1/4 × 59 7/8 (120 × 152)
Inscribed ‘Nanny/Paula Rego 1982’ on back of paper
Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the friends of the Tate Gallery 1984
Prov: Edward Totah Gallery 1982, from whom purchased by the Patrons of New Art, 1984
Exh: Paula Rego, Paintings and Prints, Edward Totah Gallery, September–October 1982 (7); Paula Rego Paintings 1982–83, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, September–October 1983 (3)

In an interview with the compiler on 24 April 1984 Paula Rego described the subject of the picture as follows:

The story of the picture comes from an episode in the autobiography of Elias Canetti which a friend of mine told me about (I have not read the book myself). Canetti had a nanny whose boyfriend always wanted to cut out the little boy's tongue. I started to do this picture because I knew the story; to do a picture I always need a story to start with, although as I go along the story may change or the picture may change. I did this bogeyman, on the left, who is the boyfriend of the nanny and who is going to cut off the tongue of the little boy who, in the picture, is a little bear. The bear is tied to the nanny; the one who is most wicked is not the bogeyman but the nanny who has strapped him up. She is so possessive and horribly evil that while I was painting the front bear another little bear appeared behind it. This little bear is like the twin of the other one - it's really the shadow if you like, the shadow also in a sort of psychological sense of the good little bear and the bad little bear. The bad little bear is sad and they are both bewildered and frightened because they are going to have their willies cut off.

The picture refers very loosely to Rego's experience of human personalities during her childhood in Portugal. She uses animals to stand for people because their features may be exaggerated without reaching the point of caricature. The animals are not chosen in advance to represent specific people ‘but the animals appear and then I recognise certain people after that’.

T03839 is one of a series of works on paper. Rego stated that she always works in series. The figures were drawn in first and then the paint was applied with sponges and then brushes. She employs paper because it is absorbent and smooth and she ‘can make an absolutely clean mark. You don't need priming, you don't need stretchers and when you have finished you just draw out the next sheet and it doesn't stop the flow.’

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986