Amadeo de Souza Cardoso: the life and the work of a fabulous painter!


20 Apr
20Apr

The majority of the Portuguese painters and sculptors are still unknown worldwide. I believe that this is due to the fact that Portugal was always a peripheral country far away from the new European art movements that appeared throughout the centuries in many European countries.

Moreover the majority of the Portuguese population is not aware of the geniality of many Portuguese painters such as Veloso Salgado, Henrique Pousão, António Carneiro or Eduardo Viana or of the enormous talent of sculptors like António Soares dos Reis, António Teixeira Lopes or Joaquim Machado de Castro.

A genius is born 

Amadeo de Souza Cardoso is among the group of outstanding painters that still have not achieved the fair recognition that they really deserve. He was born in Manhufe, in the stunning region of Amarante (a small city situated 70 km east of Porto), in 1887. His parents had 12 children: he was the fifth son. His father, José Emídio, inherited the family’s fortune, completed his studies in Porto and established himself as a respectful winemaker in Manhufe. José Emídio’s ancestors immigrated to Brazil, when Napoleon’s French army invaded Portugal in the beginning of the 19th century (1807-1811). In Brazil, they were able to make a great fortune with the diamond trade business.

Lisbon, 1905: the future architect

Amadeo’s father allowed him to go to Lisbon to study Architecture in the Academy of Fine-Arts, in 1905. Lisbon was at the time a much more cosmopolitan city than Porto or Amarante. It was and still is the capital and the country’s biggest city.

Lisbon was on the edge of a republican revolution: the Portuguese Monarchy, founded in the 12th century, was constantly being criticized by the republicans together with the corruption and the incompetence of the Portuguese politicians. The revolution finally occurred on October 5, 1910, two years after the assassination of the Portuguese King Carlos I in Lisbon, in the Commerce Square. Consequently, the monarchical regime was abolished; the Bragança Royal family fled into exile; and the First Republic was instituted. This new republican regime lasted until 1926, when it was overthrown by a military revolution. The Portuguese First Republic was marked by an enormous political instability, serious economical and social issues such as continuous strikes and generalized poverty and hunger among the Portuguese population. The fact that Portugal joined the First World War, in 1916, with the intent of protecting the African colonies from the German army did not help the extremely fragile Portuguese economy.

Amadeo belonged to a conservative and catholic family that supported the monarchical regime. His uncle, Francisco, used to go on hunting expeditions with King Carlos I. Amadeo did not believe in the republican movement and he supported the Portuguese Monarchy until the end.

He did not witness the Republican Revolution because, in 1906, he left Lisbon and went to Paris to live and to continue studying architecture. He was tired of Lisbon’s everyday life and deeply displeased with the academism, the accepted ideas or the lack of originality! He was eager for something new and Paris was the answer.

The life in Paris

In 1906 Paris was a centre of modern art and new ideas. Amadeo lived in Montparnasse, a district famous for the bohemian life of artists such as Picasso or Max Ernst. Amadeo will quickly lose interest in architecture and decides to continue his career as a modernist painter. He spends 8 years in this fabulous city. It was surely a very fertile period of time for him because he established very good relationships with some of the best painters of that time such as Amedeo Modigliani (who would become one of his closest friends), Juan Gris, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Francis Picabia, Paul Klee and Marc Chagall as well as with other great Portuguese painters like Acácio Lino or Eduardo Viana. He was aware that he was part of a time of change.

Amadeo attends meetings and dinners with other artists and has the opportunity to exhibit some of his paintings in the Paris’ salons as well as in other cities like Hamburg, Koln, Berlin and London. Simultaneously, he makes some drawings and caricatures to some Portuguese and French newspapers and has the privilege to admiring the paintings of the primitive Flemish painters on a trip to Brussels.

Modernism: a new artistic movement

Modernism was a new artistic movement in fine-arts, philosophy and literature that wished to break with the past, with the traditional and accepted ideas and art conceptions.

This new artistic movement probably had its roots in the end of the 19th century and influenced a great variety of painters such as Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) or Henri Matisse (1869-1954). These modernist painters defended a radical change and opted to represent objects with different lines, forms and colors. Cubism, for example, was a modern art style that fragmented the object and used geometric shapes to express the different angles of that same object.

Amadeo: a complex painter

Amadeo never despised his origins. In his letters to his uncle, Francisco, and to his wife and friends we can perceive that he loved the local traditions (such as bullfights, for example) and enjoyed the intense colors of the countryside during his horse rids in the Marão Mountain. Furthermore, Amadeo seemed to enjoy when his mother and sisters kneeled in the kitchen and prayed to God whenever thunderstorms haunted the rest of Manhufe’s inhabitants.

Simultaneously, Amadeo loved the velocity and the dynamism of modern life in a big and cosmopolitan city like Paris. The mountain and the city have always divided Amadeo, who followed the modern art movement but at the same time did not rebel against or ignored the past (like it was defended, for example, by Filippo Marinetti, the founder of the futurist movement, in 1909, who wanted to destroy the cult of the past and to found a new civilization based on science, machinery and technological changes). Amadeo expressed all these feelings and conceptions in his works of art.

Amadeo was at the same time a figurative and an abstract painter who used geometric forms in his paintings and was influenced by the works of art of Gino Severini (1883-1966), Fernand Léger (1881-1955), Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Juan Gris (1887-1927) and Georges Braque (1882-1963). He was simultaneously an Impressionist, a Cubist, a Futurist, an Expressionist and a Symbolist. Amadeo did not follow any art school: he hated the academism and the imitation of ancient works of art (he despised Renaissance art, for example). He always looked for authenticity and for total freedom in his paintings. Amadeo had no predefined style: he was constantly changing. His paintings are colorful and passionate and try to depict the perception of dynamism and the movement of objects.  

The international recognition

Amadeo de Souza Cardoso achieved international recognition in 1913 when 8 of his paintings were exhibited in the Armory Show, the first International Exhibition of Modern Art that contributed to introduce modernist paintings in the United States. This exhibition was held between February and May and Amadeo was one of the 300 painters (and among them were names such as Manet, Gauguin, Van Gogh or Cézanne) that had the honor to show some of their works. Moreover, he was one of the 10 best selling painters in that exhibition!

The modernist movement in Portugal

Amadeo was probably the first Portuguese modernist painter and partly responsible for introducing modernist painting in the Portuguese provincial and closed-minded society in the beginning of the 20th century.

The naturalist paintings of Portuguese painters like José Malhoa (1855-1933), Henrique Pousão (1859-1884) or Silva Porto (1850-1893) still influenced many other painters at the time. The modernist paintings of Eduardo Viana (1889-1967), Santa-Rita Pintor (1889-1918) or Almada Negreiros (1893-1970) were not well received by the Portuguese conservative society. The modernist artists were always a minority and they were not able to develop their art during the First Republic or during the Portuguese dictatorship (1926-1974), a dictatorial regime supported by the military that used art as a vehicle of political propaganda.

Back to Portugal: 1914 - 1918

Amadeo came back to Portugal because of the beginning of the First World War in 1914, after having passed by Barcelona where he met the fabulous architect Antoni Gaudí. In Portugal he continued to work intensively in the atelier that his father, José Emídio, built for him in, the Ribeiro House in Manhufe. It became his creative centre.

During this period of time he was able to exhibit some of his paintings, even though the Portuguese society was not open, in general, to new ideas and different art trends. In 1916, for instance, more than 30 thousand people visited his exhibition in Porto: the large majority did not accept his work or understand his paintings though. It was probably the first great modernist painting exhibition in Portugal. In Lisbon there was also an exhibition of his paintings but the majority of the Portuguese newspapers just ignored him and his work was considered to be bizarre and extravagant.

Amadeo: the husband

During his time in Portugal, Amadeo got married in 1914 to Lucie Pecetto, who he met in Paris years before. They already had a relationship and they even got a child together while living in Paris: nobody knows what happened to the child. It is possible that the child was handed over to a nanny or to another family. So basically Amadeo got married to Lucie to be able to introduce her to his conservative and catholic parents.

The pandemic flu 

In the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century Portugal suffered several epidemics. The bad sanitarian conditions, the lack of sewage pipes in many houses and the inexistence of a public health system helped to spread diseases like smallpox, typhus, malaria and diphtheria that killed thousands of weak and poor as well as wealthy people.

In 1918, with the end of the First World War, a pandemic flu quickly spread worldwide and affected Portugal, namely the cities of Lisbon and Porto. The accurate number of victims is quite difficult to establish due to the lack of rigorous records but many historians believe that between 30 to 50 million people were killed (a lot more people than in the First World War which killed around 9 million people). In Portugal, 60 to 150 thousand people were probably killed by the pandemic flu. Among the victims of this horrible tragedy were Amadeo de Souza Cardoso and some of his brothers and sisters. The great modernist painter died in Espinho, in his family’s summer beach residence. In Paris, Modigliani, his very close friend, suffered a lot when he knew about his death. So did his wife Lucie and the rest of his family.

Amadeo’s paintings nowadays: where to see them in Portugal

After her husband’s death, Lucie Cardoso, returned to Paris, where she lived and died in 1989. She returned a few times to Manhufe. It is known that Amadeo’s family gave her a monthly pension. She tried to promote her husband’s paintings and some of them were once again exhibited in Paris, in Chicago, in Lisbon (1952) and later in Porto (1956). Nowadays, Amadeo’s paintings are present in museums around the world such as the Art Institute of Chicago (“The Leap of the rabbit”) and other paintings belong to private art collectors.

Lucie also donated some paintings to the Amarante Municipal Museum https://www.amadeosouza-cardoso.pt/, located in Amarante (45 minutes by car from Porto) and where you can see a lot of his paintings, drawings and caricatures. If you come to Portugal I strongly recommend that you visit this stunning and charming city which is crossed by the Tâmega River. On the other hand, if you visit Lisbon go to the Modern Art Centre of the Gulbenkian Foundation, an art Foundation that acquired a great quantity of Amadeo’s works in the end of the 20th century https://gulbenkian.pt/museu/. The rest of his works are spread in different museums all over the country. The year of the centenary of Amadeo’s death (2018) was widely ignored in Portugal: and honestly I do not know how to explain this. What I do know is that Amadeo de Souza Cardoso was a fabulous painter who produced more than 100 works of art (drawings, caricatures and paintings) and who left this world too soon! I hope that someday he achieves the recognition that he truly deserves! 

Nuno Alegria

Tour Guide in Portugal



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