Naturalism in Portuguese painting is represented here by the remarkable example of “Haystacks”. Painted in 1880 by Artur Loureiro, this work marked the early days of the movement in Portugal, which was imported rather belatedly from France. The quality and sensitivity of this work highlight the importance of a painter who has since come to be regarded as a relatively secondary artist in relation to the guiding figures of Silva Porto, Columbano, Marques de Oliveira and, inevitably, Malhoa. This latter figure was perhaps the artist who was mainly responsible for the excessively long duration of the movement in this country, resulting essentially from the fact that the seal of approval of both official and private taste was given to his anecdotal tics of including an increasingly rural content in his painting and his clear attempts to please all and sundry.
One exception to this evident stereotyping, not only of the accepted style of painting, but also of the general taste, was undoubtedly the end-of-century oeuvre of Aurélia de Souza. She provides one of the finest examples of a particular kind of female sensitivity that is closely correlated with the practice of António Carneiro, represented here by one of his later works. Both artists remained aloof and isolated in their artistic strongholds in Porto, and their reflections on the nature of painting were later continued through the work of Carlos Carneiro, the son of the latter artist, and his peculiar form of meditative sensitivity. There is no doubt that the work of Rodin was known to these artists, through their apprenticeships or periods of residence in Paris, but perhaps they were unaware of the tellurian force of his eroticising drawings, which the Museu do Caramulo also presents here.
The possibilities of the Portuguese avant-garde artists are also shown in this collection, timidly at the internal level by Eduardo Viana, in his “fauve” remembrance of Matisse or Dufy, and internationally through the unique and meteoric work of Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, who founded himself caught between the assimilation of the “analytical” Cubist influence of Picasso and Braque and the Orphic influence of Delaunay. All of these influences were fused together in a singular style of painting that, in 1913, the precise year of the work exhibited here at the museum, encouraged the artist to pour all of his pioneering energies into abstraction.
Picasso himself is represented at the Museu do Caramulo by an excellent still life, a painful testimony to the troubled period of the Second World War. For almost five decades, this was the only work of the great painter to be publicly exhibited in Portugal. Dufy is also represented by a painting that clearly illustrates his great elegance and joie de vivre, qualities that are also expressed in ceramic form.
Once the tumultuous impetus of early Portuguese Modernism had faded, largely because of the premature deaths of Amadeo and Santa-Rita, the movement was given a second wind, this time somewhat weaker, with paintings of a more mundane content that exhibited an inevitable Parisian influence. In the 1920s, António Soares was the great interpreter of these elegant refinements with cosmopolitan aspirations, clearly represented by the intellectual gatherings at “A Brasileira”, the café where Gualdino Gomes was such a charismatic figure. The painting of this work clearly lingered in the artist’s memory, amidst the “fauve” remembrances of a work by Dufy or one by Van Dongen, as illustrated by a quite remarkable “Pierrot” dating from 1944, the sudden inspiration of a painter who was gradually becoming more and more academic and losing his modernist touch. The same “fauve” influence became linked to a deliberate primitivism in the work of Francisco Smith, an artist with a long Parisian career.
Soares’s style was undoubtedly much more valid than the cold academic style of Eduardo Malta, officially demonstrated in the “Portrait of Salazar”. This painting is, however, of great sociological interest, and clearly representative of the dictator’s artistic preferences and complicities, equally pursued by the mundane national elite.
At that time, the Surrealist vanguard movement was unknown in Portugal – but one of Dali’s late works has remained at the Museu do Caramulo, as well as a sculpture by Jorge Vieira, the collator of the movement when it finally broke through in the 1940s. This piece clearly demonstrates the impact of that imagery on his work as a creator of hybrid and highly humorous beings.
Of the official sculptors, or those who were rendered official through the public commissions made by the New State in the decades from the 1930s to the 1950s, the museum displays works by Leopoldo de Almeida, the most representative of them all, but also by Barata Feyo, Canto da Maya and Martins Correia, pieces that oscillate between expressive contents, Art Déco or decorative stylisation.
The work of the “Paris School” is superbly demonstrated in the oil painting by Vieira da Silva, displaying her lyrical abstractionist sensitivity, but also in the delicate ceramic piece by Marc Chagall – not to mention the unequivocal and singular quality of Picasso as a modeller, with his ceramics depicting human forms.
In ceramics, Miró also found a privileged medium of expression for his pictorial calligraphies, which were radically distinct from the expressive tendencies of Hein Semke or Hansi Stäel, this latter artist being represented here by a magnificent vase. As the museum’s collection demonstrates, ceramics was also experimented with as a medium by Jean Lurçat, known above all for his radiant tapestries, an art form whose importance he was largely responsible for renewing at that time, having an unequivocal influence on Portuguese tapestry itself.
By Rui Afonso Santos