Anyone who has flown into or out of Faro Airport cannot failed to have noticed the wonderful sculpture in the middle of the roundabout at the entrance to the airport showing a group of people looking up at the sky. It is called Os Observadores (The Plane Spotters) and was created in 2002 by the sculptors Teresa Paulino and Pedro Félix in 2002, being the winning entry of a competition run by Faro Airport for students at the University of the Algarve to create a design for the roundabout. The figures are crudely carved in limestone and depict a disparate group of ordinary people, including a man with a suitcase, a woman with a dog, another woman with a child, a business man, a man with a book and a couple with their arms around each other, who are all caught in a single act of looking up at the sky. They appear serene as they watch the planes take off and land and the sight of them always makes me smile.
Although there are only 13 official public holidays in Portugal it sometimes seems as if there are more. This is partly due to the fact that events which aren’t technically public holidays are celebrated as if they were, such as Carnival (Shrove Tuesday) in February or March, and partly due to the vast number of patron saints’ days or the commemoration of regional historical events throughout the country which are celebrated as local holidays. The popular saints’ days in June bring a month of holidays in various regions of the country, starting with the Festa de Santo António (Feast of Saint Anthony) in Lisbon celebrated on 12 and 13 June, followed by the Festa de São João (Feast of Saint John) in Porto and Braga on 23 and 24 June and the Festa de SãoPedro (Feast of Saint Peter) in Sintra and Évora (among other places) on 28 and 29 June. In addition, every village and town has its own dedicated day at some point during the year which is honoured with traditional festivities.
The 13 official holidays are very important to the Portuguese and when four of them (Corpus Christi, Republic Day, All Saints’ Day, and Restoration of Independence Day) were abolished by the then Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, in 2012, as an attempt to increase productivity during the financial crisis, it was one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation of Passos Coelho’s government. One of the first things that António Costa did when he became Prime Minister in 2015 was to reinstate these four holidays. Each public holiday is celebrated on the day it falls, even if it falls on a weekend. However, if it falls on a Tuesday or Thursday many people take the opportunity to have an extra-long weekend by taking the Monday (if it falls on a Tuesday) or the Friday (if it falls a Thursday) off as a ponte (‘bridge’) between the public holiday and the weekend. One of the highlights at the start of the new year is looking at a calendar to see how many long weekends and ‘bridges’ there are in the year ahead.
The following are the 13 official public holidays observed throughout the country:
Banks, post offices and other public services are closed on national and local public holidays (this also includes some museums) and public transport runs to a reduced timetable. However, large shopping centres and shops and restaurants in tourist areas should be open as usual. Churches will be closed to tourists while Mass is taking place.
The first time I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Portugal (A Passagem de Ano, also sometimes known as Réveillon or Véspera de Ano Novo) it is amazing that I made it through the following year, as, according to Portuguese tradition, I did everything wrong. I ate chicken for dinner on New Year’s Eve, wore a coat with a button missing, had no money in my purse and toasted the new year with water (as I had to catch a very early flight the next morning). Since then Portuguese friends have advised me on how to celebrate New Year’s Eve properly in order to achieve success and happiness in the year ahead.
For many people the night begins with a family dinner of seasonal food similar to that of Christmas, including the ubiquitous bolo rei (king cake), followed in the early hours of the new year with a sustaining bowl of caldoverde (a comforting soup made of potatoes and a green leafy vegetable similar to kale, usually served with slices of chouriço in it). At midnight most towns and cities have a firework display, and often have live music in the main square. The best places to celebrate New Year’s Eve are Lisbon (in Terreiro do Paço), Porto (on Avenida dos Aliados), Coimbra (in the lower part of the city), Albufeira (on Praia dos Pescadores) and in Funchal on the main island of Madeira (which has one of the biggest fireworks displays in the world).
Throughout Portugal most people, young or old, still observe a few simple customs:
At midnight everyone eats 12 raisins, one at each stroke of the clock, and makes a wish with each raisin.
The new year is toasted with a glass of champagne or sparkling wine, based on the notion that alcohol brings health and vitality.
People hug and kiss their loved ones at midnight, to bring them luck throughout the year, and wish them Feliz Ano Novo, Próspero Ano Novo, Bom Ano Novo or Boas Entradas.
But unlike Christmas, which is based around Christian traditions, scratch beneath the surface and on 31 December you will find people upholding New Year’s Eve superstitions and rituals that go back to pagan times, particularly among the older generations in rural areas. Many of the rituals are focussed on ensuring that wealth is achieved in the year ahead, such as the following which are all believed to attract money.
Eat chocolate on New Year’s Eve.
Keep a bay leaf in your wallet throughout the year.
Put a bank note in your right shoe on New Year’s Eve and then use this note for your first purchase of the new year.
Ensure there is money in your pocket or wallet on New Year’s Eve, so that you don’t start the new year with no money, as this state will last throughout the year.
Stand on a chair with money in your hand (to symbolize a promotion or rise in status in the new year) and then come down with your right foot first, or climb onto a chair with your right foot first with money in your hand. These both mean you start the new year with money which is thought to attract more money.
Throw money into the house or up into the air at the stroke of midnight to bring about wealth to all who live there.
Wear yellow underwear to encourage financial success in the coming year.
Avoid wearing clothes that are dirty, torn, coming unstitched, have buttons missing or are too tight-fitting to avoid financial problems.
Dance around a tree at midnight.
Many other rituals at the stroke of midnight are based around getting rid of the bad spirits of the past year.
Hop on your right leg three times at the stroke of midnight with a glass of champagne in your hand, without spilling it, and then throw the champagne over your shoulder without looking behind you to get rid of all your problems from the past year. It will also bring luck to the people whom the champagne lands on!
Bang pots and pans out of the window at midnight to make as much noise as possible. Nowadays fireworks have the same effect.
Turn on all the lights and open all the doors in the house so that the old year can leave and the new year can enter, then at midnight go outside and re-enter the house with your right foot first.
Have a clean house, replacing anything that doesn’t work and throwing away old crockery and other broken items to rid the house of negative energies. In the past people used to throw broken vases and crockery out of the window into the street below, but nowadays people maintain this tradition by throwing streamers and confetti.
There is also a desire for harmony in the family in the new year brought about by yet more rituals.
Put new bed linen on the bed on New Year’s Eve to ensure a happy love life in the ensuing year.
Avoid arguments on New Year’s Day, to keep familial peace in the year ahead.
Other customs are based on a desire for good luck, health and happiness in the new year.
Avoid eating chicken as the last meal on New Year’s Eve, as it is believed that eating chicken will make happiness in the year ahead fly away.
Choose the colour of the underwear you wear on New Year’s Eve based on what you want to achieve in the year ahead. Blue underwear is thought to bring good luck, white will bring peace, green will bring good health, red is for love, brown will bring career success and, as mentioned above, yellow underwear will bring financial success.
Wear new clothes on New Year’s Day to represent a new start to the year ahead.
Keep the champagne cork from the bottle of champagne for the entire year to come to renew your strength.
Swim in the sea on New Year’s Day as it is said to renew the body and soul at the start of the year.
So, this New Year’s Eve at midnight I’m going to cover all the bases and will be hopping on my right leg three times with money in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other, then will throw the money up into the air while eating 12 raisins and banging my pots and pans. I’m not superstitious, but you never know …!
One of the most enduring images of Christmas in Portugal is the traditional nativity scene (presépio) which can be seen in every church, in every town or village square and in most family homes. Some of the most noteworthy nativity scenes can be seen in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, while, in contrast, an eclectic exhibition of nativity scenes, containing approximately 2700 scenes from around the world, is on display in the Igreja de São Francisco in Évora (which is also famous for the Chapel of Bones). The collection is owned by Fernando and Fernanda Canha da Silva, who have been collecting nativity scenes since 1973 and it is now on permanent display in the first gallery on the first floor of the church, along with a temporary exhibition, which changes annually, in the second gallery. The collection ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous and from the simple to the elaborate. Each scene reveals something of the culture in which it was created, including a Chinese Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in traditional costume and a depiction of the birth of Christ in a Bedouin tent accompanied by camels in place of the ox and ass. Many of the scenes have been made by local craftsmen using traditional materials, such as clay, wood, cork, wool, tin, ivory, ox horn and even seeds: there is a detailed scene painted on an ostrich egg, cork figures in a sardine tin, miniature scenes in cups, a naïve rustic scene where Mary and Joseph are dressed as traditional Portuguese farm labourers, and a tin field ambulance with the holy family in the back. The more unusual scenes include the depiction of Jesus on the cross with a nativity scene inside his belly, a carved wooden pagoda-like structure with a propeller at the top, a hippie-looking Mary and Joseph with an evangelist preacher-like Angel Gabriel accompanied by two enormous donkeys, and a piece of contemporary glass art by Mónica Favério, in which three very surprised characters seem to be floating around in outer space.
Unlike the large-scale baroque nativity scenes in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, the exhibits in the collection on display in the Igreja de São Francisco are small, often personal, depictions of the birth of Christ, but despite, or maybe because of, their simplicity they express a heartfelt belief.
Igreja de São Francisco, Praça 1⁰ de Maio, Évora. Open daily (except 1 January, Easter Sunday, 24 December (afternoon) and 25 December): 1 June to 30 September 9am-6.30pm; 1 October to 31 May 9am-5pm. Entrance is included in the Chapel of Bones ticket: €4.
The variety of pastries on offer in Portugal is endless. Everyone knows about the ubiquitous pastel de nata (custard tart), but the pretty town of Sintra (approximately 30km from Lisbon) also boasts two sweet pastries that give the pastel de nata a run for its money: the travesseiro and the queijada de Sintra.
The travesseiro is a rectangular puff pastry shell, sprinkled with sugar, surrounding a filling of egg yolks, sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon. The name ‘travesseiro’ means ‘pillow’ and describes the shape of the pastry. The original convent recipe was revived by the owner of the Casa Piriquita bakery in Sintra in the 1940s and the café is still famous for its travesseiros today, although they can also be found in cafés and bakeries all over Sintra.
The queijada de Sintra, which translates as ‘Sintra cheesecake’, is nothing like the cheesecake sold in the United Kingdom. It is a small tartlet with a thin, crispy pastry shell filled with a mixture of egg yolks, flour, sugar, cinnamon and queijo fresco (a Portuguese mild, white cheese with a custard-like texture; the closest cheese to it outside of Portugal is ricotta). This recipe dates back to the thirteenth century, when, it is said, the queijada was used as a form of currency. In the late-nineteenth century King Carlos I made queijadadas popular when he came to stay in the Pena Palace, his Sintra summer residence, and asked the Casa Piriquita bakery to make them for him. Like travesseiros, these little tartlets can now be found in cafés and bakeries all over Sintra.
Portugal has a rich and varied art history dating back to the fifteenth century, but little is known of it outside of Portugal. Through the centuries there have been Portuguese artists who deserve to be judged as equal to the great artists from other parts of Europe and below is a brief introduction to some of those artists.
Nuno Gonçalves (active c.1450-c.1491)
The Renaissance painter Nuno Gonçalves is acknowledged as the founder of the Portuguese school of painting and the ‘Portuguese Primitive’style. He was the court painter to King Afonso V and in his most famous painting, Painéis de São Vicente (Saint Vincent Panels c.1470) he puts a religious subject in a contemporary setting making it an important record of Portuguese society in the mid-fifteenth century. It was originally part of an altar in Lisbon Cathedral and is now one of the prized exhibits in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon. There are six panels, the larger two central ones both show Saint Vicent, the patron saint of Lisbon, in the foreground dressed in red and gold robes and surrounded by the nobility and other important members of Portuguese society, including the royal family and the Archbishop of Lisbon. In the other four panels other sectors of Portuguese society are represented, including knights, monks, a fisherman, a Jewish scholar, a beggar and a city official. However, it is debated who the actual members of the royal family are and in particular the figure in black to the right of the Saint in the third panel, who is generally thought to be Prince Henrique the Navigator, as it was painted during Portugal’s golden Age of Discovery, but there is a convincing argument that it is his brother King Duarte and that Henrique is in fact the kneeling figure in the fourth panel and that depicting him kneeling was a political attempt to humiliate him.
Jorge Afonso was the court painter to King Manuel I and his son King João III during the Renaissance period. He also had a workshop in Lisbon in which many of the foremost sixteenth-century Portuguese artists trained and worked, including Gaspar Vaz and Gregório Lopes. His work was influenced by the Flemish painters of the time as can be seen in the most famous work attributed to him, an altarpiece painted for the Madre de Deus convent in Lisbon in 1515, sections of which are in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, including the painting Aparição de Cristo à Virgem (Apparition of Christ to the Virgin) in which, on the right half of the painting, the resurrected Jesus, who is naked from the waist up and wearing a red cloth around the lower half of his body, appears before a kneeling, praying Virgin Mary dressed as a nun inside a convent-like building, with what appears to be a cloister in the background. On the left-hand side of the painting, in an exterior scene stand four people three of whom are thought to represent Adam and Eve and John the Baptist or one of the other apostles. Behind them is a turreted castle-like building. The detail in the decoration on the pillars and also in the depiction of the naked human form is impressive.
Grão Vasco (c.1475-c.1543)
Vasco Fernandes, better known as Grão Vasco (the Great Vasco) was born in Viseu and, like Jorge Afonso, was influenced by the painters of the Flemish school. Although little is known of his early life, it is assumed that he trained in Lisbon or even abroad as there is a high level of technical competence in his work, as shown in the majestic São Pedro (Saint Peter, painted for Viseu Cathedral c.1529), on display in the Museu Grão Vasco in Viseu, in which Saint Peter, dressed in a regal gown and wearing a crown on his head, is seated on a throne looking directly out of the painting. He is blessing the viewer with his right hand with an open Bible on his lap. Behind him in two symmetrical windows are two scenes from the life of Saint Peter: being called by Christ and meeting a risen Jesus as he flees from his own crucifixion. The painting show a mastery of technique in the characterisation in Saint Peter’s facial expression, along with the use of rich colour, detailed decoration and delicate light. Another noteworthy work is from the original altarpiece of Viseu Cathedral which in 18 panels depicted scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, the early life of Christ and the Passion, painted between 1501 and 1506. The 15 surviving panels are now in the Museu Grão Vasco in Viseu, including a panel depicting the Adoration of the Magi (Adoração dos Magos) which is notable for the characterization of Balthazar as an Indian from Brazil shown wearing traditional clothes, a feather headdress and carrying a large arrow. Vasco’s representation, based on written accounts from the recently discovered Brazil, is thought to be the first image of a native Brazilian in Western art.
Gregório Lopes (c.1490-1550)
Gregório Lopes trained in the workshop of Jorge Afonso, whose daughter he married, and later became the court painter to King Manuel I andKing JoãoIII. His style shows a transition from the Flemish style favoured by his contemporaries to an Italian Renaissance style as shown in his most famouswork, Martírio de São Sebastião (Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, c.1536-38), painted for the Conventde Cristo in Tomar and now on display in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, which depicts a serene-looking Saint Sebastian in the central foreground of a landscape tied to a post wearing nothing but a cloth around his genital area with arrows in his chest. Either side of him in the foreground are two archers aiming arrows at him, while in the background is a city scene with people going about their daily life. On the extreme right-hand side there is a fire with thick smoke coming from it and a crowd has gathered to watch what is presumably an auto-de-fé. The colours are muted, dominated by shades of brown.
Gaspar Vaz (c.1495-1569)
Gaspar Vaz trained under Jorge Afonso in Lisbon and was a contemporary of Grão Vasco, also coming from Viseu, and their work is often confused, although his style is less technically competent and less detailed, particularly in the depiction of the human form. This can be seen in his painting Virgem da Anunciação (The Virgin of the Annunciation c.1530), done for the Igreja Matriz de Barreiro in Tondela, which now hangs in the Museu Grão Vasco in Viseu. In the centre of the painting the young Virgin Mary is shown seated, looking down with a serene expression on her face as she has just heard the Angel’s message, and her hands together not quite in prayer. A dove in a pool of golden light flutters near her head. A red curtain to the left of the painting contrasts with the brown of the wall behind her and the dark blue clothes she is wearing. While her face lacks character and her long thin fingers are anatomically incorrect, there is a delicacy in the way Vaz has conveyed light and shade in the curtain and her headscarf.
de Morais (active c.1539-80)
Cristóvão de Morais studied in Antwerp and later became the court painter to King João III and King Sebastião, painting many royal portraits. His most famous work, which can be seen in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, is the mannerist-style Retrato de D. Sebastião (Portrait of King Sebastião, c.1571-74), which shows the 16- or 17-year-old King dressed in armour with his left hand holding a sword and looking disdainfully at the viewer. Using a limited colour palette, the black background and dark armour dominate the painting, making the areas of colour stand out, namely King Sebastião’s face and hands and the richly ornate gold detail on the armour.
Josefa de Óbidos (1630-1684)
Josefa de Ayala e Cabrera (better known as Josefa de Óbidos)is Portugal’s most famous Baroque artist and a rare female artist at a time when most artists were men. Josefa lived in Óbidos all of her adult lifeand the name Josefa de Óbidos comes from the fact that she often signed her paintings ‘Josefa em Óbidos’. Her father, Baltazar Gomes Figueira, was also anartist who had spent some time in Seville and became interested in the bodegón style (a still life with objects from daily life, especially food and drink), which he shared with Josefa. She was educated in a convent and although she never took religious vows she lived a nun-like life, remaining chaste throughout her life. Many of her paintings have a religious theme, but she combines it with the everyday and there is a sense of innocence in them far removed from the traditional religious images. This can be seen in Agnus Dei (c.1660-70)) in the Museu de Évora in which the focus is on a lamb with its legs bound lying on a dark table against a dark background. On the table a line in Latin from the Bible, ‘occisus ab origine mundi’ (‘slain from the foundation of the world’) is written. All the light is coming from the lamb which lies serenely awaiting its fate (symbolizing Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God) and the only bold colour in thepainting comes from a Baroque wreath of flowers and grapes that surrounds the lamb. It is very reminiscent of the still lives with food and drink that she is most famous for. These are characterized by a horizontal arrangement of everyday objects in bold colours against a very dark background, as exemplified in the painting Natureza Morta: Caixas, Barros e Flores (Still Life: Boxes, Earthenware and Flowers, c.1660-70) in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon in which two boxes, a glass bowl on a silver stand and a red earthenware jar are lined up horizontally on a table against a black background. There are large red flowers wrapped around the jar, which also extend into the background, and also small white and red flower heads scattered on the table in the foreground. The materials of the wooden boxes, the glass bowl, the silver stand and the red earthenware jug are skilfully conveyed from a palette of red, white and brown and the vibrancy of these colours draw the eye to the painting.
Domingos António de Sequeira (1768-1837)
Domingos António de Sequeira initially trained at the public drawing classes in the Caetanos Convent in Lisbon and then continued his training in Rome. On his return to Portugal he became the court painter tothe Prince Regent João (who later became King João VI) and painted many royal portraits and episodes from history in the Neo-classical style. In the 1820s he moved to Paris and then returned to Rome where he remained until his death. During this time he was influenced by the developing Romantic movement and his later works, many of which have religious themes, are in the Romantic style,focussing more on the emotions of the characters rather than on realistic depiction and are considered by many art historians to be his best works, as can be seen in O Beijo de Judas (The Judas Kiss, c.1820-30) in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon. In this painting done in Indian ink and white gouache on brown paper he depicts Jesus being kissed by Judas while being surrounded by the soldiers who have come to arrest him. Jesus is lit up by a bright light that one of the soldiers is holding, while everything else is in shadow and this, combined with Sequeira’s relaxed brushstrokes gives the painting an emotional and disturbing quality.
José Malhoa (1855-1933)
José Malhoa is one of the main famous Portuguese Naturalist painters. He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Lisbon and was later influenced by the French Barbizon school and was a founder member of the Grupo do Leão (Lion’s Group), a group of intellectuals, artists and writers who met in the Leão de Ouro café in Lisbon, in 1880. He painted scenes often showing ordinary people from the poorer parts of society, including Os Bêbados (The Drunks, 1907) on display in the Museu de José Malhoa in Caldas da Rainha, which shows a group of peasants in a state of inebriation after drinking the new wine on St Martin’s Day and O Fado (The Fado, 1910) on display in the Museu da Cidade in Lisbon, in which he captures the underbelly of the working-class districts of Alfama and Mouraria at a time when fado was performed ininsalubrious brothels and bars. The painting depicts a poor and dirty prostitute listening with rapture to a man playing the guitarra. In order to get authenticity, Malhoa used real people as models: namely, a petty criminal called Amâncio and a prostitute called Adelaide da Facada (named after a scar she had on her left cheek).
Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro is considered to be the greatest late-nineteenth-century Portuguese painter, who captured the changing Portuguese society at the end of the century in his Naturalistic portraits. He came from an artistic family: his father was an artist and his brother was the caricaturist and ceramicist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro. He attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Lisbon and then continued his studies in Paris. His work is characterized by his sober use of colour, often painting in brown tones, giving a dark appearance and with broad brushstrokes that lead to lack of definition. He painted many of the major figures of the time, including the writer Eça de Queiros and the Republican politician Teófilo Braga. Along with José Malhoa, he was a member of the Grupo do Leão and one of his most famous works is O Grupo do Leão (The Lion’s Group, 1885) on display in the Museu do Chiado – Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea in Lisbon. The painting, which was done for the café, shows the modern artists of the time (including the aforementioned José Malhoa (seated sideways in the foreground on the left with his hand on his leg) and Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (sat on the other side of the table on the right, wearing a hat) as well as Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro himself (standing behind Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, wearing a top hat)) sat and standing at a table grouped around a central figure (António Carvalho de Silva Porto, the artist who introduced the Barbizon school to Portugal, sat in the middle on the other side of the table) in an arrangement which makes reference to the Last Supper. It is a huge monochromatic interior scene which is like a photograph in which everyone is caught in a moment looking at the viewer, but is made abstract by the use of light and shadows and blurred lines.
António Carneiro (1872-1930)
António Carneiro studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Lisbon and then moved to Paris where he became interested in the Symbolist movement. On his return to Portugal he became involved in the cultural magazine A Águia (The Eagle) as artistic director from its foundation in 1910 to 1927. He also taught in the School of Fine Arts in Porto, while continuing to paint. He painted a prodigious amount of portraits, but his real interest was in landscapes and over the years his style developed from the early Naturalist landscapes influenced by the Barbizon school to paintings which conveyed an expression of his personal response to the landscape, as can be seen in Contemplação (Contemplation, 1911), on display in the Museu do Chiado – Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea in Lisbon. In this painting a young woman is standing on some craggy rocks overlooking the sea. She is wearing a very large hat and we cannot see her face. The clothes she is wearing are painted in similar shades of light pink and purple to the rocks and sky and she has become part of the landscape. The painting is imbued with a sense of melancholy.
Eduardo Viana studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts inLisbon and then moved to Paris in 1905, where he became interested in the works of Cézanne and the Fauvist movement. On his return to Portugal in 1915, he lived with Sonia and Robert Delaunay, the founders of the Orphism art movement which used geometric shapes in bold colours. This further influenced his style and he began creating works that were abstract, such as A Revolta das Bonecas (The Dolls’ Revolt, 1916), on display in the Museu do Chiado – Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea in Lisbon. In this painting Viana uses circles, rectangles and triangles in contrasting colours to depict deconstructed dolls.
Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso studied architecture at the School of Fine Arts in Lisbon for a year and then moved to Paris to continue his studies. There he met other ex-pat Portuguese artists, including Eduardo Viana and abandoned architecture to concentrate on painting. He also became friends with the avant-garde artists Constantin Brâncuși, Amedeo Modigliani and Sonia and Robert Delauney and after his return to Portugal at the outbreak of the First World War he set up the group La Corporation Nouvelle (The New Corporation) with the Delauneys, Eduardo Viana and José de Almada Negreiros, in which they were all experimenting with Orphism, influenced by Cubism but with abstract images in bold colours. However, it is hard to define Souza-Cardoso’s style, as he was influenced by many of the artistic movements of the early twentieth century and his work shows elements of Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism and Fauvism. His 1914 work Pelas Janelas (Desdobramento – Intersecção) (Through the Windows (Unfolding – Intersection)), on display in the Museu Coleção Berardo in Lisbon, is a Cubist-influenced painting in which he uses a series of simple geometric shapes in natural shades of blue, green, yellow and orange layered over each other to give perspective.
José de Almada Negreiros (1893-1970)
José de Almada Negreiros was a Modernist artist and part of the avant-garde Futurist movement. He was an artist in the fullest sense of the word, for, as well as paintings, drawings and murals, he also wrote novels, poems and essays, could turn his hand to acting and dancing and designed theatrical sets. During the Salazar dictatorship (which lasted from the 1930s to the 1970s) he managed to walk a fine line between his government-approved public works and his private works that were critical of Portuguese society at the time. He is most known for his richly coloured paintings with abstract geometric elements, as seen in the Retrato de Fernando Pessoa (Portrait of Fernando Pessoa, 1964), which can be seen in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon and is a replica of a portrait he created in 1954 for the Irmãos Unidos restaurant in Lisbon, a restaurant that the Modernists would meet in. In the portrait of Portugal’s greatest Modernist writer, Fernando Pessoa is portrayed sitting at a café table with a cigarette in one hand and his other hand resting on a piece of writing paper which is lying on the table with a pen across it. Also on the table is a coffee cup and two books, the cover of the top one reads ‘Orpheu 2’ (the name of the Modernist literary magazine that Almada Negreiros and Pessoa created together in 1915 and of which only two editions were ever published). The predominant colours in the painting are bold reds and oranges in geometric patterns on the floor and back wall, with the solitary figure of Pessoa, in the middle of the painting, dressed in black with his distinctive hat, glasses and moustache.
Júlio Pomar (1926-2018)
Júlio Pomar studied at the School of Fine Arts in both Lisbon and Porto, but did not complete the course. In the 1940s he was influenced by the Neo-realism movement and around the same time joined the Portuguese Communist Party, and both of these influences were reflected in the themes of his work. Many of his works were considered politically subversive by the Salazar regime. By the early 1960s, when he moved to Paris, he had begun to move away from Neo-realism and was experimenting with other styles and even other media. Over his long career he produced works in various media, including painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture and collage. The painting O Gadanheiro (The Reaper, 1945), on display in Museu do Chiado – Museu Nacionalde Arte Contemporânea in Lisbon, is an example of Pomar’s Neo-realism period. The painting is a portrait of a farm labourer cutting wheat with a scythe. However, the image is distorted with parts of the man’s body being out of proportion. In the foreground, the scythe dominates the painting as it moves through the wheat, which along with the storm clouds in the background, gives a sense of menace. The subject matter was politically subversive as, by putting the worker at the centre, it drew attention to the social and political situation of the working class in Portugal at the time.
José Escada (1934-1980)
José Escada was a painter and three-dimensional artist. He studied at the School of Fine Arts in Lisbon and then was part of the Movement for the Renewal of Religious Art (MRAR) and the Café Gelo Group with other artists in the late 1950s, before moving to Paris where he lived for 10 years. His paintings were abstract and later he created three-dimensional cut-outs and collages, inspired by Matisse, in which he explored the relationship between shape, light and shadow, as can be seen in Le Rève Argente (The Silver Dream, 1967), on diplay in the São Roque Antiguidades e Galeriade Arte in Lisbon. The relief is composed of cut-outs in aluminium emerging from the background creating concave and convex patterns, in such a way that the viewer gets a different viewing experience depending on where he or she is standing. In the late 1970s his work became more figurative and autobiographical, as can be seen in O Atelier (The Studio, 1979, private collection), a personal and intimate interior showing the artist’s view from his desk as he works of the room that has become his world.
Paula Rego (b.1935)
Paula Rego is arguably the most internationally known Portuguese artist, having lived and worked in London since the early 1950s, where she studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and later became Artist-in-Residence at the National Gallery. She grew up in the Fascist dictatorship of Salazar’s Portugal in a middle-class family where wealthy women were encouraged to do nothing and many of her paintings reflect this repressive society. Her works are often disturbing and funny at the same time and her art is a place where she can explore her desires, fears and memories, as can be seen in the surrealist Self-portrait in Red (1962), on display in Museu do Chiado – Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea in Lisbon, which contains fragmented autobiographical elements far removed from traditional self-portraits. The background is bright red with a collage of fragmented images painted or glued on, including a figure of a young girl in the centre surrounded by images of grotesque children’s story-like characters. In her later works Rego has used a more figurative style in which women are often portrayed with manly features and the themes of domination, sexuality, fear and grief recur. In The Family (1988, Marlborough International Fine Art), painted as her husband was dying of a degenerative illness, the mannequin-like man is seated on the bed being dressed, undressed or even sexually abused by two of the three females in the room. The characters are distorted and complex emotions, ranging from tenderness to anger, are suggested, giving a sense of unease.
The Inquisitors’ Manual (O Manual dos Inquisidores, 1996) is an epic, sprawling novel set in the second half of the twentieth century, centring on Senhor Francisco, a Minister in Salazar’s government, in the years before and after the 1974 Revolution. With not one narrator, but many, the novel depicts a Portugal under the strict regime of the dictatorship and the years after the Revolution when many people’s lives still seemed to be marked by poverty and drabness.
The opening of the novel is an initially confusing stream of consciousness by Senhor Francisco’s son, João, weaving between the past and present as he prepares to divorce his snobbish wife while thinking back to his early life with his father. The narration is reminiscent of the first part of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury where snippets of information are given that are expanded on later and which the reader tries to piece together to get a fuller version of the truth. The boy João has observed his father abusing the female members of his staff, taking a mistress and introducing him to a secret sister he didn’t know he had. Later in the novel these characters will get a chance to tell their stories in a series of ‘reports’ and ‘commentaries’ to an unseen author. Some characters reveal the fear they feel in giving this information (a legacy of the dictatorship’s harsh censoring of information), such as the steward’s daughter whose commentary includes parenthetic comments to the author, ‘(he won’t get better, will he? Swear to me he won’t get better, because if he gets better he’ll beat my brains out)’ (p21*). More and more characters are introduced to give their interpretations of the previous ‘report’ and to put João’s memories into context. Through this we learn about the unrequited love Senhor Francisco’s housekeeper, Titinia, has for him; a woman who can’t understand why he never made a pass at her, although the reader can deduce why when another character describes her as dressing ‘the way nuns dress when not in their habits’ (p223). We also hear the story of a young woman from a poor background who Senhor Francisco pursues and makes his mistress due to the resemblance she bears to his wife Isabella, who left him for another man when João was very young. At first it all goes well for her, as Senhor Francisco moves her and her mother into an expensive apartment in a fashionable part of Lisbon, but things start to go badly wrong firstly in the disapproving attitude of the caretaker of the building who makes it clear that she and her mother do not belong in the apartment block, and later when Senhor Francisco insists she dresses in the old-fashioned, torn clothes his wife discarded when she left him. When Senhor Francisco tires of her she has to return to the drab life she lived before. The most tragic character in the novel is Senhor Francisco’s illegitimate daughter, Paula, who is raised by a poor childless widow and only meets her father a few times in her life, but despite this lack of contact, she is labelled in her neighbourhood as the daughter of one of Salazar’s ministers; before the Revolution she is seen as someone to avoid as everyone she gets involved with is arrested and beaten up by the secret police, and after the Revolution she is ostracised and worse for being the daughter of a fascist. She unsuccessfully tries to get a share of her father’s farmhouse and estate from her half-brother, but he has already lost it to his ex-wife’s family who are building a luxury holiday resort on the land. Paula’s ambition, in a speech that is repeated like a mantra, is to have ‘a slightly better life than what my godmother was able to give me … an apartment in Lisbon, no matter if it’s small, no matter in what neighbourhood, and not to have to pinch pennies all month long, not to have to shop at the cheapest supermarket, to be able to go occasionally to a restaurant and eat a lunch I didn’t have to cook myself, to go to the movies on Saturday and forget that when I turn the key in my door there’s no one waiting from me on the other side, no one for me to take care of, to buy clothes for, to go on holiday with me in July to southern Spain.’ (pp228-9).
We learn through the eyes of other characters that she isn’t very pretty, João describes her as ‘a girl with glasses and no makeup, no satins and no lapdog, a sad-looking typist or switchboard operator’ (p49), and as the years pass her hair is greying, none of her lowly ambitions are realised and she remains desperately lonely until she manipulates a situation with an intellectually challenged colleague in order to have a baby.
This is a book about a Portugal damaged by almost 50 years of dictatorship, represented by Senhor Francisco who abuses everyone he is involved with but ends his own days in a care home humiliatingly unable to even urinate unaided. From the beginning it is clear that this is an important novel, not just in Portuguese literature, but in world literature. Antunes is a masterful writer who captures the intimate lives of ordinary people through their thoughts and memories, their hopes and their drab realities, expertly weaving the past and present with not a single extraneous word (although the sensitive translation into English by Richard Zenith should not be overlooked). Like Faulkner, who gave a voice to the people of the southern states of the USA, Antunes gives a voice to the people of Portugal. Antunes is the natural successor to José Saramago and Portugal’s hope for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
*António Lobo Antunes, The Inquisitors’ Manual, trans. by Richard Zenith (New York; Grove Press, 2003)