Casa das Historias Paula Rego art gallery, Cascais

Stuart Forster reports from the Casa das Historias Paula Rego art gallery in Cascais, Portugal.

The Casa das Historias Paula Rego – the ‘Paula Rego Houses of Stories’ – is an eye-catching centre for the display and appreciation of contemporary art in Cascais, 30km (20 miles) from Lisbon.

This attraction is named after artist Dame Paula Rego, who was born in Lisbon in 1935 and went to school in Cascais. Rego married the artist Victor Willing and holds British citizenship. The Casa das Historias Paula Rego holds a permanent collection of their work and also shows temporary exhibitions of work by other artists.

Rego’s work is renowned for being interpreted in numberous ways so it’s called the ‘house of stories’. ‘Museum’ was deemed inappropriate and less accessible. Her works have sparked debates about the role of women in society, idealisation of the representation of women and discussions about Portugal during the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar and Estado Novo (New State) regime that was overthrown in 1974.

Casa das Historias Paula Rego

The minimalist interior design encompasses high ceilings, white walls and even lighting which help to create a sense of space and serenity in which works by leading artists can be appreciated over an area of 750 square metres. The lighting makes this a good venue for viewing paintings, sketches, etchings and drawings.

The building was designed by the Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, who was awarded the 2011 Pritzker Architecture Prize, which is regarded as the world’s most prestigious award for architectural achievement.

The Casa das Historias Paula Rego has a simple but attractive facade, constructed using concrete impregnated with a red dye. Cascais gets a significant amount of sunshine throughout the year – varying from an average of 125 hours in January to 375 hours in July – and one of the characteristics of this building is that its appearance changes during the course of the day, thanks to the variations in the intensity of the hues and the effect of the colour of the sky on the red walls.

Though the design of the building is distinctly contemporary, it has two towers that echo the architectural heritage of this region. They are a reference to the twin chimneys of the National Palace, in Sintra, and open space within the chimney in the kitchen of the monastery of Alcobaça.

The space within one of the towers hosts the Casa das Historias Paula Rego’s shop, which stocks books on art and architecture, postcards and art prints, plus a range of general souvenirs from Portugal. The other is the home to a restaurant and cafe.  Lunches are served from noon until 3.00pm, with the emphasis being seasonal regional cuisine. Food and drinks bought in the cafe and restaurant can be eaten at tables inside the tower or out on the terrace.

Broadening appreciation of contemporary art

The Casa das Historias Paula Rego makes an admirable effort to widen the appeal of modern and contemporary art. Entry is free of charge. Yet there is also a commitment to providing education on matters relating to art and the interpretation of artistic works. Lectures and discussions are regularly held in the gallery, sometimes within the exhibition spaces and sometimes within the building’s purpose built 200-seat auditorium.

English language tours can be arranged to fit with the visits of tourists visiting Lisbon on cruises and can be arranged on weekends for groups of six to 30 people.

The building is set within a park that hosted a historic event. In 1888 a young man named Guilherme Pinto Basto, who had studied in England and brought back a leather ball, organised a game of football here that has gone down in history as the first played in mainland Portugal.

For locals and visitors

Local people and visitors to the Casa das Historias Paula Rego are encouraged to enjoy the gardens, which are dotted with shade providing trees, to sit out and chat. Students can often be seen sitting on the grass sketching the building or simply enjoying the space to chat and enjoy the company of their friends. The informality of the gardens is one of their attractions.

A stone fortress known locally as the cidadela (meaning ‘citadel’), built in 1681 to defend the Tagus estuary, is situated just 200 metres away from the  Casa das Historias Paula Rego. The citadel opened as a pousada heritage hotel in 2012. The Parque Marachal Carmona, is on the opposite side of the Avenida de Republica, the road that runs by the front of the Casa das Historias Paula Rego, and is a pleasant place to stroll while enjoying a broad variety of botanical species.

If you’re in Lisbon this is an easy place to reach and can be combined well with a day trip to Cascais. A regular train service runs between Lisbon and Cascais, taking 35 minutes, and Cascais’s railway station is a ten minute walk from the Casa das Historias Paula Rego.

Further information

The Casa das Historias Paula Rego is at Avenida de Republica 300 in Cascais, Portugal. See the website for details regarding opening times and entry prices.

The Visit Portugal website has information about attractions across the country.

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