Realism and naturalism in Portugal

Portrait of Antonio Soares dos Reis by Marques de Oliveira via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Antonio Soares dos Reis by Marques de Oliveira, picture by Joseolgon via Wikimedia Commons

On a recent visit to Porto I spent a happy afternoon in the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis and particularly enjoyed the work of some of the 19th century Portuguese artists, none of whom I had heard of but who deserve to be better known.  On my return to England, I discovered that the University Library had very few books dealing with these individual artists; further searching on COPAC and the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal revealed that, in fact, very little has been published so far on them but we will be keeping an eye out in the future for any new publications dealing with them.

The museum is named after the sculptor António Soares dos Reis (1847-1889) and it contains a good collection of his works in a dedicated room. Soares dos Reis showed early artistic talent, creating small wooden and clay figures, and was enrolled in the Porto Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 14 where he excelled.

Photo of O Desterrado in Museu Soares dos Reis by Angelo Romano from Groningen via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of O Desterrado in Museu Soares dos Reis by Angelo Romano from Groningen via Wikimedia Commons

In 1867 he gained a scholarship to Paris but had to leave there four years later after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war. He was able to complete his scholarship in Rome where he worked on O Desterrado (The Exile), considered by many to be his masterpiece. He returned to Portugal to acclaim and was in much demand in the following years. In 1881 he was appointed Professor at the Porto Academy of Fine Arts but in the same year he suffered a setback – his sculpture O Desterrado was entered in and won first prize in the General Fine Arts Exhibition of Madrid but he was accused of not being its creator and he was upset by a slanderous article in a Lisbon newspaper. From then on he went into a decline and his health suffered.  In 1885 he married a younger woman with whom he had two children but their relationship was not happy.  By 1889 he felt completely misunderstood by all around him and shot himself in his workshop, aged just 42.


Viscondessa de Vinhó e Almedina

The University Library has two interesting books in which to find out more of his life and works: Soares dos Reis : memória e reconhecimento by Mónica Baldaque and Bernardo Pinto de Almeida (1995.12.102) and we are the only UK library to have Álbum fototípico e descritivo das obras de Soares dos Reis : livro centenário, 1889-1989 (S403:65.b.9.143), a facsimile reprint of a work first published in the year of his death. The sculpture in the museum that most impressed me was his Viscondessa de Vinhó e Almedina, a marble figure of a girl with fine details such as lace dress edging and pearl buckles on her shoes.  Close-up detailed images of this figure can be viewed here.

2 artists

Top: self-portrait by Silva Porto; Bottom: bust of Marques de Oliveira by Soares dos Reis, both via Wikimedia Commons

António Carvalho de Silva Porto (1850-1893) and João Marques de Oliveira (1853-1927) were both born in Porto where they began their artistic studies.  They studied together at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris for several years during the 1870s and were influenced by the Barbizon school of painters. On returning to Portugal Silva Porto moved to Lisbon where he taught landscape painting at the Academia das Belas Artes while Marques de Oliveira remained in Porto, teaching at the Academy there and becoming director of the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis in 1913. Both continued to paint, particularly landscapes, and were champions of outdoor “en plein air” painting. A useful starting point to find out more about them and other 19th century Portuguese artists would be Historia de la pintura portuguesa 1800-1940 by Antonio Trinidad Muñoz (405:43.c.200.13)

See below for a small selection of paintings by these two artists that can be viewed in the Museu Soares dos Reis.

Katharine Dicks

One thought on “Realism and naturalism in Portugal

  1. I can confirm that the museum is a wonderful place to visit – especially if you need to escape the heat of the city!

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