Editorial Feature

10 Portuguese Painters You Need To Know About

Explore the art created in this rich country

Portugal has been home to many different styles of art over the centuries. The artists behind these works are still celebrated today, but with such a rich and varied pool of talent to peruse, where do you start? Well have no fear, because here are 10 Portuguese artists and their work to get you started. Ranging from the 16th century to today, these artists explore different themes and techniques, but many of them are united in the sense of national identity that comes through in their art.

Grão Vasco

Vasco Fernandes (c.1475–c.1542), better known as Grão Vasco ("The Great Vasco"), was one of the main Portuguese Renaissance painters. Born in Viseu, in northern Portugal, it was here Vasco began his career by joining the team of painters who created the main altarpiece of Viseu Cathedral (1501–1506). After working in the Lamego Cathedral and then the Santa Cruz Monastery of Coimbra, the artist returned to Viseu and executed a series of altarpieces for the cathedral, which are considered his main works.

Overall, Vasco’s paintings pay great attention to detail. Aside from the Italian influences, inspiration from the masters of Flemish painting can be found through the artist’s treatment of light and shadows.

Last Supper by Vasco Fernandes (From the collection of Grão Vasco National Museum)
St. Peter by Vasco Fernandes (From the collection of Grão Vasco National Museum)

Nuno Gonçalves

Nuno Gonçalves was a 15th-century Portuguese court painter for King Afonso V of Portugal. He is credited for the painting of the Saint Vincent Panels (Paineis de São Vicente de Fora). The panels depict the main elements of Portuguese society in the 15th century: clergy, nobility, and common people.

Very little is known of his life, neither his birth or death dates are known, but documents of the time seem to indicate that he was active between 1450 and 1490. He is depicted, among several other historic figures, on the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries) in Belém near Lisbon.

Panels of St. Vincent by Nuno Gonçlaves (National Museum of Ancient Art)

Paula Rego

Dame Paula Rego is a Portuguese-born visual artist who is known for her paintings and books based on storybooks. Her memories of growing up in Portugal often inspire her paintings, particularly the stories and fairy tales told by her aunt and grandmother.

She is fascinated by the darker side of human behavior, and her paintings often reveal disturbing narratives of love and cruelty, focusing on victims of circumstances beyond their control. She draws on her own experiences, fears, and motivations, and inevitably her subjects are often women. Rego studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London and was an exhibiting member of the London Group, along with David Hockney and Frank Auerbach. She was the first artist-in-residence at the National Gallery in London.

Sleeping by Paula Rego (From the collection of Arts Council Collection)
Possessão I-VII by Paula Rego (From the collection of Serralves Foundation)

Amadeo de Souza Cardoso

Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso (1887–1918) was a Portuguese painter whose early works were stylistically close to Impressionism. Around 1910, influenced by Cubism and Futurism, he became one of the first modern Portuguese painters.

His style was vivid in form and color and, while his works at first appear random and chaotic in their compositions, the artist has ensured the work is carefully balanced. Cardoso’s work remained almost unknown after his death, until 1952 when a room dedicated to his paintings at Municipal Museum Amadeo Souza-Cardoso gained public attention.

Dame by Amadeo de Souza Cardoso (From the collection of Museu do Caramulo)
The Leap of the Rabbit by Amadeo de Souza Cardoso (From the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago) 

José Malhoa

José Vital Branco Malhoa, known simply as José Malhoa (1855–1933) was one of the leading names in Portuguese naturalist paintings in the second half of the 19th century. He often painted popular scenes and subjects, like his two most well-known works, The Drunks (1907) and Fado (1910). While Malhoa remained faithful to the naturalist style, in some of his works there are Impressionist influences.

Malhoa's House, also known as the Dr. Anastácio-Gonçalves House-Museum in Lisbon, was originally built in 1905 as a residence and studio for the artist. It was bought by Dr. Anastácio-Gonçalves, an art collector, a year before the painter's death and it became a museum in 1980. It showcases several items from his collection, namely works from Portuguese painters of the 19th and 20th century.

Paria das Maçãs by José Malhoa (From the collection of National Museum of Contemporary Art - Museu do Chiado)
Landscape with houses by José Malhoa (From the collection of Dionisio Pinheiro and Alice Pinheiro Foundation) 

José de Almada Negreiros

José de Almada Negreiros (1893 – 1970) was a Portuguese artist who was fascinated by the arts and set himself on a creative path early on. In 1913, age 20, he had his first individual exhibition, showing 90 drawings. He went on to explore painting, tapestry, engraving, murals, caricature, mosaic, azulejo and stained glass.

Almada Negreiros always called himself a futurist artist and the artist referenced the works of Pablo Picasso and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. However, his style encompassed far more than that and as such critics have always found it difficult to categorize his work. Many of his paintings and drawings showed common people in daily affairs or attitudes usual in socialist art. The artist emrbaced color and enjoyed playing with reality by distorting the figures of his subjects so much they became abstract patterns.

Afternoon nap by José de Almada Negreiros (From the collection of National Museum of Contemporary Art – Museu do Chiado)
Acrobats by José de Almada Negreiros (From the collection of National Museum of Contemporary Art – Museu do Chiado)

Joaquim Rodrigo

Self-taught Portuguese painter Joaquim Rodrigo began as a professor of agronomy in 1938. In 1951, he started showing his work in exhibitions of the collective Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes (SNBA) (National Fine Arts Society). During the 1950s, after seeing work by Victor Vasarely and Piet Mondrian during a visit to Galerie Denise René in Paris, he quickly abandoned figuration for an abstract style.

He exhibited in the Primeiro Salão de Arte abstrata (First Salon for Abstract Art) at Galeria de Março in Lisbon in 1954, the 4th Bienal de São Paulo in 1957, and the Brussels World’s Fair (also known as Expo ’58). Rodrigo changed course in the 1960s as Pop art took off in Europe and the United States, by developing a non-naturalistic, symbolic style that blended figuration and abstraction. Various critics have asserted the influence of aboriginal and other indigenous practices on Rodrigo’s works. In 1972 Rodrigo received his first solo show – a retrospective at the SNBA.

S.M. (Santa Maria) by Joaquim Rodrigo (From the collection of National Museum of Contemporary Art - Museu do Chiado)
Kultur, 1962 by Joaquim Rodrigo (From the collection of National Museum of Contemporary Art - Museu do Chiado)

Henrique Pousão

Painter Henrique César de Araújo Pousão (1859–1884) belonged to the naturalist generation of artists, though it’s clear in his works that he was influenced by Impressionism as well. When Pousão travelled to Paris, he was inspired by Manet, especially in his use of black in equal proportion to other colors.

Some critics feel his landscape works, that appear looser and more expressive in style, are a prelude to modern art and abstraction. You can see this approach in the abstract planes of color and textures in his 1882 paintings Miragem and Fachada de Porta Soterrada. Some of Pousão’s best works were painted on small wood panels no bigger than 100mmx 60mm.

The village of St. Sauves by Henrique Pousão (From the collection of National Museum Soares dos Reis)
Girl resting on a tree trunk by Henrique Pousão (From the collection of National Museum Soares dos Reis)

Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro

Portuguese realist painter Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (1857 – 1929) is usually referred to as Columbano. He is considered one of the greatest Portuguese painters of the 19th century, and has been compared to the likes of Wilhelm Leibl and John Singer Sargent.

Columbano was a master of realism and he specialized in portraiture. He painted portraits of some of the greatest names of Portuguese society and culture such as José Maria de Eça de Queiroz, Teófilo Braga, and Raul Brandão. What make his works stand apart from others, what Columbano's accuracy in conveying the personality of those he depicted. The artist was accurate in his interpretations but his brushwork was lively and managed to create a warmth in his pieces.

The Grupo do Leão by Columbano (From the collection of National Museum of Contemporary Art – Museu do Chiado)
The Grey Glove by Columbano (From the collection of National Museum of Contemporary Art – Museu do Chiado)

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

Born in Lisbon in 1908, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva was an abstract painter. After studying in Portugal, like many other artists she travelled to Paris in 1928 to continue her formal training by enrolling in Emile-Antoine Bourdelle’s sculpture course at the Académie de la grande chaumière. While there, she absorbed a variety of influences such as the geometric abstraction of the group Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square) and the decorative style of Pierre Bonnard.

Vieira da Silva’s early paintings were influenced by each of these trends, and her style melds Cubism, Futurism, and Constructivism. Early in her career she began producing her characteristic works which were heavily impastoed, and overlaid with a complex arrangement of small rectangles. In 1943, Vieira da Silva exhibited in Peggy Guggenheim's show Exhibition by 31 Women at the Art of This Century gallery in New York. By the late 1950s she was internationally known for her dense and complex compositions, influenced by the art of Paul Cézanne. She is considered to be one of the most important Post-War abstract artists although she is not a “pure” abstract painter.

City in Ruins by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (From the collection of Museu do Caramulo) 
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