In the beginning of 2018, I embarked on a slightly experimental project: a series of portraits of Lisbon-based artists and writers (both female and male) lesser-known outside of Portugal. The series is currently exhibited at Photo Eat gallery in Amadora and you can read more about the project here, on my painting-dedicated website. Below I would like to present Part I, the heroines of my paintings, whilst the gents will be presented in Part II. I hope you enjoy reading about these fascinating women as much as I did whilst researching and painting them. Admittedly, this research took me a while because in some cases there is virtually no information in English on the internet, so whilst writing these bios, I was mostly using Portuguese sources, which are listed below the text (incidentally, all photographs are used under the Fair Use licence).
Please note that the Lisboetas project and the artworks are protected by registered copyright. Any commercial use and reproduction of this work in any form constitutes copyright infringement and is strictly prohibited. If you’d like to share the images on your website or social media, please include a link to this site. Thank you!
The portrait of Amália Rodrigues, which, incidentally, was the first one created as part of this series, is also the first one that got sold. But who was the Queen of Fado, the fascinating singer whose death affected the Portuguese so deeply that the president announced a three day national mourning and was the chief mourner at the singer’s state funeral? The circumstances surrounding the birth of Amália are just as mysterious as the singer herself. According to her own anecdote, she was born when the cherry tree came into blossom. As one of nine children growing up in a poor household, she had to cease her education at the age of 12 in order to help her parents financially. For a few years she was selling fruit and tourist souvenirs in Alcântara, and it was only thanks to winning a “Queen of Fado” competition at the age of 18 that she was able to earn money from singing. And soon later her life turned into a fairy tale, as her fame reached beyond Alcântara, Lisbon, Portugal and Europe, marking the beginning of a 50-year international recording and stage career, with US, Britain, and France becoming her primary markets. She collaborated with famous poets and film-makers, recorded songs in several languages (especially Portuguese, French, English, Spanish and Italian) and performed at major concert venues. World-wide famous as a performer, Amália led a quiet personal life, faithfully married to an engineer, Cesar Seabra, for 36 years. Notoriously shy, clad in black, she would call herself a pessimist, adding that she had all the sadness that fado demands in a singer. In Portugal, the country whose capital was destroyed in the famous earthquake and fire in 1755, whose almost six-century long empire vanished in a painful way, and which suffered from one of the longest-surviving right-wing regimes in Europe, the notion of saudade (translated as “deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing”) has been a vital part of the culture, and Amália’s songs of the tragic past are the quintessence of it. And the singer herself is an important part of the Portuguese political history – by recording Zeca Alfonso’s “Grandola Vila Morena”, the song broadcast on the radio on 25th April 1974 which became the hymn of the Carnation Revolution (the anniversary of which will be celebrated this Wednesday), Amália became symbolically tied to the triumph of democracy, and was later awarded the Grand Cruz da Ordem de Santiago da Espada, the country’s highest decoration, by socialist president Mario Soares.
Margarida de Abreu
Another portrait which sold is of Margarida de Abreu, the founder of classical ballet in Portugal, often referred to as the mother of Portuguese dance. Just like the Polish dancer and teacher Marie Rambert who revolutionised British ballet, Margarida de Abreu was a woman with such charisma and power that I felt compelled to paint her (the fact that we share the same day of birth I took as an omen). Born on 26 November 1915 in Lisbon, she received a profound humanistic and artistic education. At the age of 17 she began her musical studies in Geneva, followed by a few more years of training in Berlin, Vienna and London. She returned to Portugal in 1939 and started teaching dance at the Portuguese National Conservatory (now called the Lisbon Theatre and Film School) where she would teach until the age of 70. In her 1946 manifesto, de Abreu defined ballet as “an intimate and almost orchestral association between dance, music, spirit and decoration” and announced the formation of her teaching studio and dance company, Circulo de Iniciação Coreográfica (CIC, literally translated as “circle of choreography initiation”) which later gave birth to Bailados Margarida de Abreu, Bailado em Acção and Grupo Studium. Described as “an example of love and perseverance” by Wanda Ribeiro da Silva, long-time teacher at the Ballet Gulbenkian and former president of the School of Dance, Margarida dedicated 60 years of her life to dance. She taught generations of students, both at the conservatory and her Lisbon studio, not merely the technique but also how to “feel the movement”; developed choreography for countless ballets and collaborated with film-makers Manoel de Oliveira and António-Pedro Vasconcelos on choreography for their films. She was awarded several medals and trophies, including “Ordem de Instrução Pública”, “Casa de Imprensa”, and “Almeida Garrett Medal” and in 2005, a year before passing away, she received Editorial Verbo’s “Annualia Prize” from the Portuguese president, Jorge Sampaio. In comparison to Marie Rambert, whose “Quicksilver: Autobiography” provides tons of information on her fascinating life, there was little I was able to find about Margarida. Still, everything I’ve read about her and the captivating beauty, joy and charisma I saw in the recordings of her in a dance studio when she was already in her eighties, made me want to honour her with a portrait.
Another portrait that has found a new owner is of Beatriz Costa, aka “the princess of the Portuguese cinema”, “the fringe girl”, “the queen of the chorus girls” and “the Lisbon brand”. Beatriz da Conceição Costa was born in a village near Mafra on 14 December 1907. At the age of four, she went to live with her mother and mother’s new husband, an army officer, in Tomar where they stayed for six years, eventually moving to Lisbon in 1917. As a young girl, Beatriz worked at home as an assembler, sewing pieces of footwear, and then chose the embroidery profession. It was only at the age of 13 that she finally learned to read without a teacher’s help (“by intuition”, as she would later say) – a fact she was never ashamed of, saying in a somewhat provocative tone (which characterised the six books of memoirs she wrote after retiring from the stage) that she did not repudiate her country origins, “not least because Rembrandt was also the son of a miller”. At the age of fifteen, thanks to her stepfather, the young woman began to work as a showgirl in the “Tea and Toasts” revue (1923) at Teatro Eden and then performed in “Rés Vés” at Teatro Maria Vitória. In 1924, she left for Brazil with Companhia Portuguêsa de Revistas do Teatro Eden, which marked the beginning of her career in Brazil, where she would return many times in the future. Described as an actress who “combines the liveliness of youth with irresistible seduction”, she conquered the hearts of the Brazilian audience, becoming, as was described in the press, the enfant-gaté of the country. In Lisbon, she charmed the audience in a number of revues at Teatro Trindade, Teatro Joaquim de Almeida, Teatro Maria Vitória and Teatro Apollo, where she first appeared with a Louise Brooks-style fringe that eventually became her signature look. In the late 20s and early 30s, she starred in a couple of silent films by Rino Lupo, Leitão de Barros and Artur Costa de Macedo, and in 1933, she debuted in the first full-length sound film in Portugal, “The Song of Lisbon” by Cottinelli Telmo, playing alongside Vasco Santana and Antonio Silva. But the thirties decade was mostly about revue theatre, both in Portugal and Brazil, and in the 1940s she joined forces with Oscarito performing together in several shows. In 1947, she got married in Mexico to artist Edmundo Gregorian and for two years the couple travelled across Europe and the Mediterranean. When Beatriz Costa returned to Lisbon at the end of 1949, she came on her own (“I love freedom”, she would conclude) and soon after returned to the stage in a revue made to greet her return, titled “She Is There”. But despite the very enthusiastic response from the Portuguese audience upon her return, she preferred to return to Brazil, where besides performing, she would visit museums and art galleries. Beatriz returned to Lisbon in the mid-50s and in 1967 finally settled at the Tivoli Hotel, though she never stopped travelling. A decade later, she published her first memoir, “Sem Papas na Língua” (“outspoken”), followed by several more books. Asked about her career, she would say that “All I knew was how to laugh and that’s what I still do best”. Beatriz Costa died peacefully during her sleep in room 600 of the Tivoli hotel in Lisbon on 15 April 1996.
Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen
Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen was born in Porto on 6 November 1919. Her mother, Maria Amélia de Mello Breyner, who came from an aristocratic family with strong liberal traditions, was an avid reader, and, according to Sophia, criticized her daughter for “not reading anything”. Sophia spent her childhood in a manor house in Campo Alegre (now the Botanical Garden of Porto), acquired by her grandfather Andresen in the late nineteenth century, “a fabulous place”, as Sophia remembered it. One of the family traditions, documented in the autobiography of Sophia’s cousin, writer Ruben A., was Christmas performance organised by the children in the family. It was during one of these celebrations that Sophia had her first contact with poetry. She was three years old and couldn’t yet read, when a maid, outraged to see the girl excluded from the cast of artists, taught her to recite “A Nau Catrineta”, an anonymous Brazilian poem. But her proper introduction to Portuguese poetry happened thanks to her maternal grandfather who gave her to read books by Camões and Antero. Exceptionally close to Papa Tomás, Sophia learned from him that “not all intellectuals are intelligent” and that one should “reject exaggeration, bookishness and pretentiousness”. No less remarkable than Quinta do Campo Alegre, judging from the frequent references in Sophia’s poems and short stories, was a summer holiday home on the Queirosian beach of Granja; a white house in the middle of the dunes, opening directly onto the sand, “so much so that we always had the sea critters jumping inside the house”. Sophia’s formal education began at the Colégio do Sagrado Coração de Maria, where she studied between the age of 7 and 17, followed by a few years of Classical Philology course at the Faculty of Letters of Lisbon, which Sophia abandoned halfway through, returning to Porto. She began writing at the age of twelve, and a decade later published her first poems in the “Cadernos de Poesia” thanks to the literary critic Luís Forjaz Trigueiros who was a friend of the family in their Granja times. The first proper book though, an anthology of poems, came out in 1944 and was funded by her father. Its title, “Poesia”, corresponded to the book’s stripped-down perfection and remains one of the most amazing debut books of contemporary Portuguese poetry. In 1946 Sophia married lawyer and journalist Francisco Sousa Tavares and settled permanently in Lisbon where she would eventually look after their five children. In the early years of motherhood, Sophia wrote relatively little. In fact, between 194, her literary debut, until 1957, she published only three books. But the following year she published another book of poetry, “Mar Novo”, and made her debut in children’s literature with “A Menina do Mar” (The Sea Girl) and “A Fada Oriana” (The Fairy Oriana). Besides literature, Sophia was a political activist. She was openly opposed to Salazar’s regime and its followers, and supported the candidacy of General Humberto Delgado. As a devoted Christian, she was also a member of the Catholic movements against the former regime. Before 25 April 1974, Sophia joined the National Commission of Support for Political Prisoners and her slogan (which later got immortalized in a famous painting by Vieira da Silva), “Poetry is on the street”, was popular among the thousands of demonstrators. After the Carnation Revolution, Sophia made a brief incursion into politics as an MP for the Socialist Party but unlike her husband, who remained active in politics, Sophia soon withdrew from the political scene and dedicated the last 30 years of her life to writing. However, she never failed to take a stand in the causes she cared about. In 1999 she became the first woman to receive the highest Portuguese award for poetry, the Prémio Camões, and in 2014, ten years after her death, her body was transferred to the National Pantheon, making her the second woman, after Amália Rodrigues, to receive such honours.
Another fascinating woman in my “Lisboetas” series is Natália Correia, a poet and social activist, born on 13 September 1923 on the São Miguel island of Azores. At the age of eleven, Natália’s mother moved with her two daughters to Lisbon where Natália began her studies at the Lyceum Filipa de Lencastre. The girl got eventually expelled from the school for refusing to keep her school notebook (because no-one was able to explain to her its use) and had to finish her high school education in a private college. Resisting the pressure from her family to pursue law, she chose a career in journalism and began working for the Rádio Clube Português, gradually expanding her interests and getting acquainted with literature, drama, translation, as well as television. During her work on the TV program Mátria, she developed her own theory of feminism, which was somewhat misaligned with the politically correct format of the movement. Matricismo, as she called it, portrayed the woman as an archetype of liberal eroticism: passionate and feminine. Her growing interest in erotica wasn’t, however, met with sympathy from the authorities and the publication of her work Antologia da Poesia Portuguesa Erótica e Satírica (Anthology of Portuguese Erotic Poetry and Satire) in 1966 resulted in a three year suspended sentence. A champion of love (“Those who cannot face a scandal for the sake of love, are incapable of loving”), Correia was married four times: in 1942, to Álvaro Pereira; in 1949, to William Creighton Hyler; in 1950, to Alfredo Machado and in March 1990, to Dórdio Leal Guimarães. The true love of her life was her third husband Alfredo, a much older widower that had a great impact on her personal life (the love letters from the young Correia to the much older Machado are a literary gem in itself), whereas her fourth marriage at the age of 67 was much more a marriage of convenience with a collaborator and friend. As an artist, Correia was influenced by surrealism, Galician-Portuguese poetry, and mysticism, and her work spans a wide spectrum, from poetic romanticism to satire. She wrote poetry, novels, essays, theatre and poetry anthologies; her Sonetos Românticos (Romantic Sonnets), for which she received the Grand Prize in Poetry from the Associação Portuguesa de Escritores (Association of Portuguese Writers), are considered the pinnacle of her literary achievement. Thanks to her feisty nature and charisma, she was active in the movements opposing the Estado Novo regime of António Oliveira Salazar, regularly intervening politically on the side of arts and culture, in the defence of human and women’s rights. Together with José Saramago, Armindo Magalhães, Manuel da Fonseca and Urbano Tavares Rodrigues, she helped to create the FNDC, Frente Nacional para a Defesa da Cultura (the National Front for the Defense of Culture) and in 1991 she was awarded the Ordem da Liberdade (Order of Liberty). Natália Correia died in the early morning of 16 March 1993 in Lisbon, of a heart-attack, after returning from the Bar Botequim. It was a place where she would frequently go, causing a stir, as she often talked to the prostitutes and read them her poems upon leaving the venue: “Girls, do not consent to being humiliated, remember you are the priestesses of love”. In my painting, Correia is pictured against the Monument of the Discoveries, which was first developed as a temporary sculpture in 1939 by Portuguese architect Cottinelli Telmo and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida, and then re-developed in 1958. As a romanticized vision of the Portuguese explorations in the vein of the Estado Novo regime, it is one of those controversial monuments which cannot be seen without the political layer, just like the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. And naturally, Correia, who was so opposed to the regime, would not purposefully pose in front of any piece of architecture that bore its mark, but just like thousands of other Lisboners, she would have passed it on her walks, for the sculpture is just as much a part of the city as she was. The painting is an attempt to say that one cannot escape and wipe out history, and just as one street will be trodden by millions of people of opposing ideologies, the same juxtaposition happens with architectural pieces, which embrace an abundance of meanings given to them over time.
Helena Roque Gameiro
I discovered Helena Roque Gameiro relatively recently, when I went to see an exhibition of her sister’s work, Raquel Roque Gameiro, at the fantastic Casa Roque Gameiro which used to be the family house. Helena was born on 2 August 1895 in Lisbon to watercolour painter Alfredo Roque Gameiro and Maria da Assunção de Carvalho Forte Roque Gameiro. She spent her childhood in their Amadora house, which was built in 1898 and extended under the direction of Raúl Lino with the complicity of Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, where, according to Helena’s great granddaughter Ana Mantero, “drawing and painting was as natural as sleeping or eating”. Besides cultivating the family values, the Roque Gameiros put a lot of emphasis on art education and the value of work. It is no wonder that all five of Alfredo’s children — Raquel, Manuel, Maria Emília vel Mámia, and Ruy — followed in their father’s footsteps and became successful artists. At the age of fourteen, Helena was already teaching drawing and painting classes at the D. Pedro V atelier in Lisbon, which was a family workshop opened in 1911. In 1910 she exhibited for the first time at the Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes at a time when girls, although technically allowed to enter the fine art faculty, in reality were encouraged to paint only in the privacy of their homes. Helena continued to exhibit at SNBA in the following years, eventually winning the 1st prize in watercolours. In 1919 she was hired as the first teacher of the School of Applied Arts in Lisbon founded by her father, and spent twenty-five years teaching, eventually becoming a director of the school that would give rise to the current art school, Escola António Arroio. Helena was 25 years old when she developed a great desire to show her paintings to the Brazilian public. Despite the turbulent journey (the seasickness of the long Atlantic crossing made her lose weight, and the turbulence of the sea resulted in many frames, which she and her father had packed carefully in Lisbon, getting broken), the four months she spent with Alfredo in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were incredibly successful. In 1923, Helena participated in the Collective Exhibition of Portuguese Watercolours in Madrid, where she exhibited side by side with Leitão de Barros, painter and cinematographer whom she had met at an ice skating ring in Amadora and married that same year. And it was during this very exhibition that Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain bought one of Helena’s works. After the wedding, Helena was very much involved in her husband’s films, being responsible for the research and acquisition of costumes and props, but she continued to paint and exhibit nevertheless, often together with her father and sister Raquel. Her watercolours, mostly depicting flowers, can be found in several national and international museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rio de Janeiro. Helena continued making watercolours until the very end of her life. According to her granddaughter Joana Leitão de Barros, she would carry her easel into the garden, in search of the perfect light. She died in 1986 at the age of 91.
Vieira da Silva
Here’s another fascinating woman, whose portrait, like Amália’s, seems to have gathered a lot of sympathy. Maria Helena Vieira da Silva was born on 13 June 1908 in Lisbon. As a daughter of a diplomat, the young girl travelled widely with her affluent parents and encountered an array of avant-garde groups, such as the Italian Futurists and the Ballets Russes. She became familiar with art at a very early age also thanks to her grandfather, founder of the journal O Século in Lisbon. In 1919, at the age of 11, she entered Academia de Belas Artes in Lisbon to study drawing with Emília Santos Braga. Then in 1928, she left her native country for Paris where she enrolled in Emile-Antoine Bourdelle’s sculpture course at the Académie de La Grande Chaumière. Her initial interest in sculpture eventually gave way to painting, which she began studying under the tutelage of Fernand Leger and Othon Friesz. As she absorbed a variety of influences – from the geometric abstraction of the group Cercle et Carré and Joaquín Torres-García to the decorative style of Pierre Bonnard – she was developing her own style, which drew from cubism, futurism, and constructivism. She explored a variety of themes, including landscapes, games, city streets, atmospheric effects, the seasons, and spatial arrangements, and in all of her paintings she’d convey a striking sense of space and perspective maintained despite the jagged shapes. In the early 1930s she met Jeanne Bucher who would become her main dealer as well as a lifelong friend, and in 1933 she had her first solo exhibition at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher. Besides a few paintings, she exhibited illustrations from “Ko et Ko les deux esquimaux”, a children’s book developed and illustrated by Vieira, with text written by her friend Pierre Guéguen. Massimo Campligi, friend of Vieira’s, mentioned the work to Jeanne Bucher, who decided to publish it, in a print run of 300 copies, after a major publisher of children’s books had passed on the opportunity, thinking the book as “overly apocalyptic”. The gallery later published two other books, “Et puis voila” in 1951 and “Élégie pour Philippe-Maguilen Senghor” in 1986. At the outbreak of World War II, Vieira da Silva and her husband, painter Arpad Szenès, fled to Portugal before moving to Rio de Janeiro. They returned to Paris in 1947, and became naturalized French citizens less than a decade later. Vieira da Silva was the first woman to receive the Grand Prix Nationale des Arts from the French government in 1966, and was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1979. She exhibited her work widely, winning a prize for painting at the São Paulo Art Biennial in São Paulo in 1961 and between 1966-76 she made a stained-glass window for the St. James church in Reims together with Josef Sima. In 1988, Vieira created azulejo panels for the new Cidade Universitária underground station in Lisbon. In 1986, she was commissioned by Senegalese President Léopold Senghor to make three burin and aquatint plates which would accompany the six poems Senghor had written in memory of his son Philippe who passed away suddenly on 7 June 1981. The shadow of death hovered doubly over Vieira da Silva’s work at that time, for a few months earlier she had lost her husband. The twenty canvases she exhibited at the 1986 exhibition, “La densité de la transparence” showed the influence of the dramatic and intense experiences she was going through. Vieira da Silva was working continuously both in Paris and at her Lisbon studio, a former silk factory, until shortly before her death on 6 March 1992 in Paris. Two years later, Museu Arpad Szenes – Vieira da Silva Foundation was opened in Lisbon as a place to study the works of Arpad Szenes and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, as well as other artists, intellectuals and friends contemporary to them. The foundation is located near nº 3 of Alto de São Francisco, where Vieira lived with her mother and where she always returned with Arpad and later on her own during her visits to Portugal.
Mily Possoz, a prominent figure of the first generation of Portuguese modernist painters, was the eldest daughter of Henri Émile Possoz and Jeanne Anne Rosalie Leroy. Her parents, who were both Belgian, got married in London in the beginning of 1888 and came to Portugal that same year. Mily’s father, a chemical engineer, had previously worked as an artillery officer in the Belgian Army, a career he interrupted for unknown reasons. The couple came to Portugal because Henri had been hired as a chemistry teacher at the Industrial School of Caldas da Rainha (the same one where artist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro taught). Mily was born on 4 December 1889 in Lisbon; however, her birth was recorded only months later, at the time of her baptism which took place in Vila das Caldas, which is why her birth place is often a subject of confusion. She was baptized in the Parish Church of Caldas da Rainha on June 8 1889 and registered under the name of Emília Possoz. Mily Possoz benefited from a solid artistic education, especially in painting, which she began at the German school and the atelier of the painter Emília dos Santos Braga, where she would have met her future friend, Vieira da Silva. At the age of 16, she continued her artistic apprenticeships abroad – in France (where she attended the Académie de La Grand Chaumière in Paris); Germany, where she learned engraving with Willy Spatz, and also Belgium and Holland. She returned to Portugal in May 1908, starting an artistic journey that led her to participate in collective and individual exhibitions, becoming one of the most important Portuguese artists of the first half of the 20th century. In 1922, she went to Paris for the second time and lived with the painter Eduardo Viana. She participated in the Exhibition of Five Independents in 1923 and became an active member of the Jeune Gravure Contemporaine society. She was friends with the Japanese-French painter and printmaker Tsuguharu Foujita, a friendship that had a big impact on her lithographs and drypoints. It is worth emphasising that besides painting, Mily was an excellent illustrator and designer, specialising in engraving and printmaking. In 1940, she got invited by the architect Cottinelli to participate in the decoration of the Portuguese Pavilion of the Great Portuguese World, decorating the Japan Room with motifs inspired by the 16th century Nanban art. She illustrated “O Livro da segunda classe”, a primary school reading book published in 1958, which remains in the school-related memories of many Portuguese. In 1956, she collaborated with Gravura – Sociedade Cooperativa de Grabadores Portugueses, of which she remained a member until the end of her life. The following year she met the art collector Machaz who commissioned several paintings for the decoration of the Hotel Tivoli. As an artist, Mily received numerous awards for her paintings, including the Gold Medal at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937; Prize Amadeu de Souza-Cardoso in 1944; Drawing Prize José Tagarro in 1949; Prize of Columban Painting in 1951, and several others. Her work is in the collection of the Gulbenkian Foundation Museum, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Gallery and the Cleveland Museum. The uniqueness of Mily Possoz was, in the words of art historian Raquel Henriques da Silva “the feminine tenderness of her style and subjects: landscapes, real or imagined portraits, cats and urban scenes, almost always coloured with whimsical hues, ingenuous and complex, that allowed her to remain a timeless girl”.
Maria Isabel Barreno
Maria Isabel Barreno, one of the most important Portuguese writers and feminists of the 20th century, was born in Lisbon in 1939, in a society repressed by the dictatorship. At the age of six, due to an illness, she discovered the pleasures of reading and “freeing herself with the word”, and she also began to write poetry (which she never published). She studied at a college run by nuns, the College of the Sacred Heart of Mary, and later graduated in Historical-Philosophical Sciences from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Lisbon. In 1962, she married Pedro Valente Pereira, with whom she had two children, Cristóvão and Marcos. She worked at the National Institute of Industrial Research, became editor-in-chief of the Portuguese edition of Marie Claire magazine and counsellor in the cultural area of the Portuguese embassy in Paris, where she settled at a time of great personal troubles, including the death of her newborn son. As a writer, Maria Isabel developed her very own style: psychological and sociological, empirical and philosophical, and marked by her passionate defence of women’s rights. She dedicated herself to the cause of feminism, taking part in the Portuguese feminist movement together with two other writers, Maria Teresa Horta and Maria Velho da Costa. Six years after Natalia Correia got a prison sentence for publishing “Anthology of Portuguese Erotic Poetry and Satire”, “The Three Marias” became another victim of Estado Novo censorship, after they had published the “New Portuguese Letters”, a book about the condition of the woman, her submission to the patriarchal and bourgeois order, domestic violence and gender, abortion, rape, incest, poverty, censorship, and women’s sexual expression. The book was banned by the regime on the grounds of being pornographic and resulted in a trial known as the “Three Marias” (“Caso das Três Marias”) that lasted for two years and was followed closely by international press and feminist movements, which organized protest rallies together with Portuguese embassies and consulates in London, Paris and New York. The case finally ended after the Carnation Revolution, on 7 May 1974, when the judge’s verdict pronounced the book as neither pornographic nor immoral, and he praised it as a work of art of a very high level. All the turmoil generated around the book contributed to the Constitution of the Republic of 1976 having enshrined the “absolute equality of rights for men and women”, and Maria Isabel often said that the Carnation Revolution had been the most important event of her life. Feminism remained inscribed in her literary work, and after the Letters, the author published other significant works, “The Death of the Mother” and “The Lord of the Islands”. The former, written throughout the 1970s, and published in 1979 by Moraes, is an important philosophical and sociological study on the historical evolution of the situation of women in the society. “The Lord of the Islands” from 1994, a “philosophy within the novel”, tells the story of an ancestor of her father who went to colonise Sal in the archipelago of Cape Verde, introducing the exploitation of salt in a colonial island. Maria continued writing and publishing fiction as well as sociological research and short stories, and received several awards, among them the Fernando Namora Prize (for the novel “Crónica do Tempo” in 1991), and the Camilo Castelo Branco and Pen Club Português de Ficção prizes for the short story book “Os Sensos Incomuns” (1993). In 2004, she became Grand Officer of the Order of the Infante D. Henrique. Besides writing, Maria Isabel Barreno developed activities in other artistic fields, namely visual arts, participating in various drawing and tapestry exhibitions. In 1998 she did a socio-literary experiment publishing “The Bridge” under the pseudonym of Ricardo Caeiro in Don Quixote de Nelson de Matos. Her goal was a Doris Lessing-style game where she would test people’s response to a book with an unknown name on the cover to see whether anyone would be able to guess its author (the book had a tape where it was said that it was of a known author). The experiment wasn’t successful, as there was only one person who guessed the author correctly, and most people would assume it was written by a man. Then finally, “Voices of the Wind” (“Vozes do Vento” 2009), a book about the history of her father’s ancestors in Cape Verde, was her last novel, published after a 15-year break in writing; the following year she published a book of short stories. Upon her death on 3 September 2016, Luís Filipe Castro Mendes, the minister of culture, said that “the richness of her thinking and the rigor of her principles have contributed greatly to a more fair, free and egalitarian society”.
Maria Keil was born in Silves in 1914 and came to Lisbon to study painting at the Escola Superior de Belas Artes where her penchant for using a palette knife to paint was met with disapproval from her teachers. In 1933, she married the architect Francisco Keil do Amaral and two years later gave birth to their only son Francisco Pires Keil do Amaral (known as Pitum Keil do Amaral). Maria and Francisco became a wonderful creative duo, with him designing buildings and Maria their interiors. Among their most important projects are the original Lisbon Portela Airport and the Gold Medal winning Portuguese Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Expo, for which Maria made a decorative motif in Room IV – Overseas. Two years later she held the first individual exhibition of painting and drawing at the Larbom Gallery in Lisbon and in 1940 she was one of the artists of the Portuguese World Exhibition. The same year, she also designed stage and costumes for the “Legend of the Amendoeiras” ballet, performed by Companhia Portuguesa de Bailado Verde-Gaio and a year later, she won the Souza-Cardoso Prize for her Self-portrait. Already a versatile artist, Maria Keil was particularly interested in graphic design, an area where her elegant and concise style was particularly fitting. From the 50s onwards, she worked intensely as an illustrator of adult and children fiction, collaborating with a number of writers including Mário Dionísio, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Matilde Rosa Araújo or Aquilino Ribeiro, whom she was particularly fond of. As an author and illustrator she published five of her own books: “The Pau-de-Fila”, “The Gifts”, “The Three Apples” for children, and “Trees of Sunday” and “Angels of Evil” for adults. Between 1946 and 1956 she participated regularly in the General Exhibition of Fine Arts at SNBA in Lisbon, where she held two individual exhibitions, one in 1945 and then in 1955. For her the exhibition was a historical event, since it marked, in the scope of Portuguese art, the levels of innovation in the fields of furniture design and, above all, tile. And it is tiles that Maria is especially famous for. Her adventure in tile design began in the late 1950s when Francisco was commissioned to construct stations for the new Lisbon underground system and, naturally, asked his wife to bring colour and life to them. Since there was no budget for decoration, Maria came up with the idea of using tiles which were cheap, and she offered to design abstract patterns (Salazar’s legislation forbade using figurative motives), free from charge. It wasn’t long before azulejo became Maria’s medium of choice, a passion she developed after coming to a conclusion “that the world is full of good paintings… Architecture is a very serious thing, I found it more useful to do things for architecture”. And despite the vast scope of Maria Keil’s azulejo work (including the beautiful Sea panel in the Avenue Infante Santo in Lisbon), it is her designs for the Lisbon underground that she is best known for. With the exception of Avenida, Maria was the author of all the azulejo panels at the first 11 stations which were constructed between 1957-1959. These azulejos, drawing inspirations from five centuries of Iberian decorative tile design tradition, are a testimony to her artistic sensitivity and understanding of Portuguese history and tradition. In 1980 Maria she was awarded the rank of Commander of the Military Order of Santiago da Espada. Thanks to Keil’s work for the Lisbon underground, the production of azulejos, which stagnated in the 19th century, was revived and they got recognized as a form of artistic expression. Maria Keil died in Lisbon in 2012 at the age of 97. If you’d like get to know her work, take a stroll through Lisbon and a ride on the underground!
Whilst writing these mini-biographies, I’ve used the following sources: