Playwright David Hare chose Paula Rego to paint his portrait for the National Portrait Gallery. Hare was going to choose Lucien Freud but “didn’t want to be stark-bollock naked lying next to a whippet.” Rego is a genius, but this was an unusual choice. Rego mostly paints women. Robert Hughes has called her “the best painter of women’s experience alive today.” Moreover, Rego normally doesn’t accept portrait commissions. Her wild mix of mythology, sexuality and magic realism don’t seem suited for the task.
Nevertheless, Rego took on the Hare commission:
Hare wasn’t thrilled with the result. “I looked mad as a hatter,” he said, “It isn’t a portrait of someone I’d necessarily want to meet – or at least be very close to. I was very shocked when I saw it. It’s very distressing. It’s a portrait of someone in a great deal of distress.”
Rego disagreed. “On the contrary! It’s an affectionate picture, a picture of a man of the theatre. It’s not at all shocking. He just looks handsome. He’s thinking, he’s introspective.”