In the early 1980s Paula Rego reached a turning point in her career: she abandoned collage and began painting directly onto canvas with acrylics. Due in part to this shift in medium, her paintings became less compressed and more settled as the narratives unfolded across the entire picture plane.
By the late 1980s, Rego also started working with models; she would produce a series of preliminary sketches to work through the difficulties that each story presented. During these collaborative sessions, her studio was transformed into a private playroom where both model and artist negotiated their way through a game of role-playing.
These large-scale paintings were first exhibited in London at the Serpentine in 1988. They appropriate the language of history painting to portray intense family dramas, centred around the experiences of women. The physically dominant female protagonists are the catalysts of action. Personal relationships are deliberately ambiguous and unsettling; each narrative is left open to a multiplicity of meanings. The sense of ethical ambivalence that resonates within each picture forces the viewer to draw their own conclusions.