entry: General Conditions
One way, two directions
the MNAC - Museu do Chiado Collection, from the present back to 1850
It is often said that the After Modernism exhibition, held in 1983 and directed by Luis Serpa, played a key role in taking Portuguese art into the postmodern period.
Despite the intentions to break away from modernist thought and practice in Portuguese art, the exhibition did not have the desired effect, given that the institutional and educational environment lacked the structural ability to develop a new artistic and critical discourse, and it was not until the 1990s that new developments were permitted.
The 1980s were therefore characterised by a “return to painting”, by a situationist neo-expressionism with the Homeostéticos (Pedro Proença, Pedro Portugal, Xana, Manuel João Vieira, Ivo and Fernando Brito) and by a reformulation of sculpture, due to the influence of neo-objectualism with Rui Sanches, Pedro Cabrita Reis and José Pedro Croft. Ângela Ferreira led the more contemporary approach to the idea of operative sculpture, in which materiality is analysed as a projection of the surrounding environment in its social and political formulations, whilst João Pedro Vale, in the 1990s, explored the content of national identity and gender.
Photography increasingly became a space in which many of the artistic concepts of modernity could be reformulated, namely with Coimbra Photography Meetings, held from 1980 onwards bringing vitality and making it possible to establish an international meeting of Portuguese photography. Jorge Molder and Júlia Ventura were the protagonists of two diverse moments of divergence in the way in which self-representation raised new questions in a break from the figurative methods of modernity. João Tabarra and Augusto Alves da Silva expanded the formal and documental limits of photography, inserting social and political concerns into the artistic discourse.
The 1990s were also characterised by the emergence of a multimedia language which was useful and fundamental to the affirmation of contemporaneity in Portuguese art, as is the case of the two artists Alexandre Estrela and João Onofre, in whose works video is presented as a critical and artistic space with great diversity, encompassing spheres as diverse as perception or popular culture.
Through the twentieth century: continuities and disruptions
During the 30s, the innovative direction of the first modernist movement, informed by European avant-gardes, drifted towards a series of artistic proposals that Antonio Ferro’s “politics of the spirit” sought to harmonise with the ideals of the regime. Despite relative acceptance, the directions taken by individual artists such as Almada Negreiros and Mário Eloy ensured the continuation of the modern project.
The perspective on landscape was freed from the persistent naturalist legacy and depicted abandoned and disturbing places (Dominguez Alvarez) or conveyed the modern desire for cosmopolitanism, even when combined with the intimate and local scale of the city (Carlos Botelho). The opening up of the landscape to new artistic and conceptual directions also emerged as a path towards abstraction (Fernando Lanhas). In the 50s and 60s the abstract lyricism of Vieira da Silva coexisted with the geometric abstraction tried by Joaquim Rodrigo and explored within the spatial limit by Nadir Afonso, whilst, in sculpture, Jorge Vieira sought formal synthesis through dematerialisation.
Likewise, during the 40s and 50s, the surrealist explorations of António Dacosta, Fernando Azevedo, Marcelino Vespeira and Mário Cesariny showed new paths leading from figuration. In the context of World War II, social issues also acquired relevance in fine arts, and were the beginnings of the neo-realist movement of which Júlio Pomar is one of the main representatives.
After the surrealist and neo-realist experiments, the narrative tension gained unprecedented contours with the new figuration of the 60s. Paula Rego’s Self-Portrait in Red (c. 1962) is exemplary of the ambiguity between fiction, dream and autobiography. The 1960s and 70s represented a period of marked change in Portuguese art, which has since kept up with the international contemporary movements, as is clearly demonstrated in the works of Lourdes Castro, René Bértholo or Julião Sarmento.
The questioning of artistic genres, with experimentalism taking place in the areas of film, photography, performance and installation, and the redefinition of the status of the artist and the public, or the boundary between art and object, were the dominant themes. Along with new paths of abstraction (Jorge Pinheiro, Pires Vieira and Ângelo de Sousa), the poetics of the body and self-representation are considered to be one of the major themes of twentieth-century art, as exemplified most eloquently in the work of Helena Almeida.
Pathways of modernism
The persistence of rural narratives, explored by artists taking a late naturalist line, in idyllic and unchanging perspectives on people’s ways of life, reflect the situation of a traditionally agrarian country. This picturesque rusticity, linked to an alleged national identity, distorted the public opinion of art and created discontinuities in the development of modern Portuguese art.
Modernist artists in the early twentieth century hardly ever formed part of artistic and museological circles. Instead, they decided to settle in Paris, as was the case of Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, represented in the Museum by a small group of works. Cabeça (c. 1913-15), work of expressive and synthesised lines, reflects the dominance of the pictorial in unfinished planes which remain autonomous of the drawing of the mask. Almada Negreiros remained in Madrid at the beginning of his career, and created a unique piece in the decorations of the Muñoz Seca Theatre (1929).
Across the country, the reaction of modernist artists to this unfavourable national context manifested itself in gatherings that took place in cafés and nightclubs such as the Brasileira do Chiado and the Bristol Club, where they put forward their innovative proposals. Nu, by Eduardo Viana (1925), a decorative piece painted for this club, expresses an unusual sensuality in Portuguese art and makes use of colour to build planes and volumetrics with reference to Cézanne.
Modernism, which was clearly marked by an alignment with the international avant-gardes both during the 1910s and in some widely criticised expressionist works by Mário Eloy (Menino e varina, 1928), submitted itself to a classicist balance at the end of the decade, in accordance with the new ideological context.
At the turn of the century: naturalist narratives and modernity
Silva Porto and Marques de Oliveira put forward proposals for modernity which were inspired by the naturalistic landscapes of the Barbizon School (Charneca de Belas ao pôr-do-sol, Silva Porto,1879) and similar to the international avant-gardes of Manet or Boudin (Praia de banhos, Marques de Oliveira, 1884). However, the innovative lighting and colour effects gave way to scenes of a sunny purity in ”veristic” narratives that followed in the wake of the romantic generation’s theme of customs (Volta do mercado, Silva Porto, 1886) which nevertheless were rarely urban or bourgeois (Praia das Maçãs, José Malhoa, 1918).
In contrast to this idealised image of the rurality of the Portuguese people, the portrait stands out as an individual affirmation of bourgeois values, with creative colour constructions similar to those used in the “open air” naturalist movements (Retrato de Abel Botelho, Antonio Ramalho, 1889). Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, a pioneer of realism, introduced a discourse of modernity into portraiture, clearly manifest in the exemplary, somewhat symbolic, image of the poet Antero de Quental, seen as a spectre who personalises the tortured decadent spirit of the late nineteenth century and of the “Vencidos da vida” group. It was during this turn of the century period that we can place the sculpture of Soares dos Reis, a synthesis of romantic and classical values and the innovative naturalist proposals (O desterrado, 1872) that ushered in pre-modernity.
In the early twentieth century, Nocturno, by António Carneiro (1910), showed an innovative independence from the pictorial through an intense and radiant dark green which covers the entire surface of the canvas. Thus, this group ends with a painting linked to symbolist poetry; far from the narrative processes of representation and atmospheric naturalist values, this work is a bold proposal of modernity, featuring a unique monochromatism that is free from figurative references.
Scenery, customs and portraiture in the second half of the nineteenth century
The novelty introduced by the painting that rendered scenes as they were observed in nature ensured the success of Cristino da Silva’s painting Cinco artistas em Sintra (1855). Dating from the beginning of the Portuguese romantic period, this work reveals the pre-naturalist intentions of this generation. Their romantic ideals, acquired late in view of the naturalist taste of the Barbizon School, during the middle of the century, were linked to the painting of the landscape, folk customs and the group portrait of the five artists (Tomás da Anunciação, Francisco Metrass, Vítor Bastos, João Cristino da Silva and José Rodrigues). Passagem do gado, also by Cristino (1867), situated at this cross point of references, expresses dramatic feelings and shows the plenitude of a real landscape, scaled to depict a panoramic view of nature. Tomás da Anunciação also records the local light and “veristic” spontaneity of an agricultural activity (Na eira, 1861), despite the heightened drama of a shipwreck by Cristino and the scenographic magnificence of Metrass, in narrative sequences.
At the end of the century, a different narrative emerged through the fixation on bourgeois interiors (Leitura de uma carta, Alfredo Keil, 1874), just as the portrayal of the individualistic affirmation and aristocratic elegance of the Lisbon of the Fontismo Period was succeeded by the representative portrayal of the ascendant bourgeoisie, captured by Miguel - Angelo Lupi. Based on the power of the image, the portrait is a nascent concept of realism diluted in generational shifts as regulatory romantic and naturalist elements.