How Many Miles to Babylon, 1989Paula Rego

How Many Miles to Babylon, 1989

Etching with aquatint, on velin Arches
Signed and numbered from the edition of 50
From Nursery Rhymes
Printed by Culford Press, London
Co-published by the artist and Marlborough Graphics, London
Plate: 32.2 × 21.1 cm (12.7 × 8.3 in)
Sheet: 52 × 38 cm (20.5 × 15 in)

How Many Miles to Babylon, 1989
How Many Miles to Babylon, 1989

’How Many Miles to Babylon’ is one of Rego's most lyrical etchings, delicate in both execution and spirit. If the rhyme has its prosaic meaning, particularly with its local applications, it also surely has another more literal and so dreamlike meaning. Babylon is obviously an unachievable destination, and dreaming must be the only way in which the voyage can be accomplished. The avenue of gigantic candles that dwarf the running, terrestrial girls, provide not only the illumination but the means of travel. The flying girls derive from them the means of propulsion and locomotion. There is a distinct whiff of Peter Pan here, too, not least because the children can fly. The running girls, particularly the last three, seem to be enchanted by the candles, and the only ambiguity about this dreamlike sequence is whether the flying girls - there are, in fact, half a dozen of each - are the running girls flying/dreaming.

T. G. Rosenthal, Paula Rego: The Complete Graphic Work (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012), 55.

’How Many Miles to Babylon’ was such a difficult print to get right. The contrasts are very stark. All those intense white patches surrounded by black really tested me. It was a difficult time for Paula, too: Victor had just died, and she was grieving his loss.

Paul Coldwell, master printer