7 Portuguese Artists You Should Know

Meet some of the many women who have shaped, and continue to shape, Portugal's artistic heritage

By Google Arts & Culture

Angel (1998) by Paula RegoOriginal Source: Collection Ostrich Arts Ltd

For centuries, women artists from Portugal have explored history, power, the human body, and much more. In contemporary times, Portuguese women artists continue to innovate and excite with conceptual art that takes tradition into the future.

Starting in the 1600s and proceeding to the present day, scroll on for a brief timeline of the power, playfulness, and pertinence of art by Portugal's women. 

St. Joseph with Child Jesus (17th century) by Josefa d’AyalaMNAA National Museum of Ancient Art

1. Josefa de Óbidos (1630-1684)

Josefa de Ayala Figueira spent her whole life in the small, rural town of Óbidos from which she takes her name. In an art world dominated by men from the cities, she established herself as one of the foremost Baroque painters in Portugal.

Working in miniature forms in her early career meant that she developed an eye for human detail, such as these blushing cheeks of St. Joseph and the young Christ. Zoom in for yourself here.

Self-Portrait (c. 1900) by Aurélia de SousaOriginal Source: Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis

2. Aurélia de Sousa (1866-1922)

If there's one constant in the history of Portuguese women painters, perhaps it's an unflinching depiction of human emotion. Just like Josefa, Aurélia de Sousa paints detailed traces of complex feelings on people's faces.

In her famous self-portrait, emerging from a dark background, de Sousa's strong, calm gaze carries with it a weight of silent passion, perhaps symbolized by the striking red of her clothing. Look closer.

Big-headed woman (1960) by Rosa RamalhoOriginal Source: Museu de Olaria / Município de Barcelos

3. Rosa Ramalho (1888-1977)

This strange character is the work of ceramicist, Rosa Ramalho. After giving up her art to raise a family, Ramalho achieved fame when she took up ceramics again at the age of 68, speaking to the resilient creativity of Portuguese women artists.

Her pottery is powerful and playful, with a unique vision, and she has become a beloved figure in the history of Portuguese art. Learn more about the artist's universe here.

La Scala ou Les Yeux (1937) by Maria Helena Vieira da SilvaOriginal Source: Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger, Paris

4. Maria Helena Viera da Silva (1908-1992)

Da Silva was a leading artist of the European abstract expressionist movement, especially the Art Informel school which incorporated improvisation and exploration.

Her paintings aim to change our perspectives of space and thought. These mesmerizing eyes certainly encourage you to look at things differently! Learn about her unceasing dialogue with perspectives and Portuguese history here.

Christa Maar's projected shadow (1968) by Lourdes CastroCalouste Gulbenkian Museum

5. Lourdes Castro (b. 1930)

Meet the artist who paints with shadows. Lourdes Castro's work ranges from abstract painting to cutouts which manipulate light itself to explore the unsettled nature of reality. 

She also creates 3D collages and sculptures. Learn more here.

Mother (1997) by Paula RegoCalouste Gulbenkian Museum

6. Paula Rego (b. 1935)

No list of Portuguese artists would be complete without mention of Paula Rego, a true titan of modern painting and the artist behind some of the most powerful portraits of the 20th century. 

Like some of her predecessors, Rego takes a stark and unapologetic look at the lived realities of being human (and particularly being a woman) in a harsh world. An outspoken feminist, she aims to radically overhaul the male-dominated 'gaze' of Western art.

Her representations of figures are direct and 'real', but she achieves this by engaging with myth and storytelling. Learn more about her engagement with classic literature here.

A World of IllusionsOriginal Source: Courtesy of the Artist and Goodman Gallery

7. Grada Kilomba (b.1968)

A prominent contemporary Portuguese artist, Kilomba makes conceptual installations and films exploring post-colonialism and personal trauma.

This video work is part of the 2021 exhibition, "All I Want: Portuguese Women Artists from 1900-2021". Learn more about Kilomba's storytelling artworks here.

These are just a few of more than forty women artists celebrated by All I Want. Discover them all here.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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