Uniquely positioned within Portuguese art, Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro was Portugal’s greatest nineteenth century painter and the artist who most successfully expressed modern values. Initially, he recorded bourgeois environments as a radical chronicler of modern life. By the turn of the century, in spite of ambiguous turns in his career, he had become a meticulous observer of Portuguese society, documenting, over three generations and in works frequently characterised by a unique, unreal quality, members of the Portuguese intelligentsia and society’s most prominent figures from Antero de Quental to Eça de Queirós and Fialho de Almeida, Bulhão Pato, Batalha Reis, Teixeira Gomes, Raul Brandão, Teixeira de Pascoais.
Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro’s analytical portraits reveal an inner reality, as do his intimist paintings and unexpected decorative works. His acceptance, promoted by the press, consolidated by a socio-political elite seeking to shore up its position and endorsed by significant literary criticism, led to his consecration as a portrait painter and to a privileged artistic status demonstrated by his appointment as a professor at Lisbon’s Escola de Belas-Artes and as Director of the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea.
The different sections of this exhibition bring together seventy-three pieces relating to these themes. Most belong to the collection of the two hundred works held by the museum that he was Director of, from 1914 to 1927, but works were also lent from private collections, national institutions and international museums such as the Musée d’Orsay, the Palazzo Pitti and the MNBA in Rio de Janeiro, allowing works which have never previously been exhibited here to be seen in Portugal.
Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro’s work should be understood in a Portuguese context, as indicative manifestations of sociocultural and political changes, but also with reference to the complexity of the directions that he took, notably his political involvement with proactive republican bodies who commissioned him to produce three official portraits of the first Presidents of the Republic and also appointed him to the committee responsible for deciding on the design and colours of the Portuguese national flag.
Maria de Aires Silveira