Sunday, 23 October 2011


“All is ephemeral, - fame and the famous as well” - Marcus Aurelius

For Art Sunday today, a little-known painter from Portugal. His name is João Marques de Oliveira and he was born in Porto, Portugal, on August 23rd, 1853, dying on the 9th October 1927 at the age of 64. He was a naturalist painter who specialised in painting landscapes, portraits and genre scenes. In 1864 he joined the Porto Academy of Fine Arts, completing the course of the history of painting in 1873. He lived in France from 1873 to 1879, with his colleague Silva Porto (1859-1893), with whom he studied in the Porto Academy. Both of the painters received a bursary for further study from the Portuguese Government after competing for a painting prize.

Both painters are considered the initiators of naturalism in Portugal. In 1876 and 1877 he travelled with Silva Porto to Belgium, the Netherlands, England and Italy, where he remained for some time. De Oliveira participated in the Paris Salons of 1876 and 1878. In 1879, he returned to Porto and with Silva Porto, introduced “plein air” outdoor painting to Portugal. Back in Portugal, De Oliveira created with Columbano Bordallo Pinheiro, the Lion Group, so named because its members met in a brewery of the same name. From 1881 and until 1926 he taught at the Porto Academy of Fine Arts, where he held the post of Director. His friend Silva Porto was appointed Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Lisbon.

Naturalism in art refers to the depiction of realistic objects in a natural setting. The Realism movement of the 19th century advocated naturalism in reaction to the stylised and idealised depictions of subjects in Romanticism, but many painters have adopted a similar approach over the centuries. Naturalism is a type of art that pays attention to very accurate and precise details, and portrays things as they are.

De Oliveira’s work is painterly, full of vivacious brushstrokes and with a good understanding of colour and light. His landscapes have a more impressionistic quality to them, while his large easel genre paintings owe much to Gustave Courbet, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes or even to Jean-François Millet who was active earlier. During his travels, the artist would have familiarised himself with the prevalent styles of the time and he made his choice, leaning towards realism and classicism while wilfully ignoring the more modern waves of surrealism, expressionism, fauvism, cubism, and abstract expressionism – especially so later in his life when he returned to Portugal to assume the directorship of the conservative Porto Academy of Fine Arts.

As such, his work has been somewhat neglected, as the critics class his painting as derivative and backward-looking, rather than innovative and of a personally distinctive style. However, his work has much to offer and I believe he merits more attention. While his painting is highly decorative it is also lively, and his skill as a fine draughtsman cannot be denied. The painting above of 1892 “Waiting for the Boats” shows a beautiful use of colour and light, is beautifully composed and drawn, while the artist conveys skillfully the expectation for the return of the fishermen by their wives and daughters on the beach. Such scenes of everyday life are the mainstay of naturalism, with the artist often making a social comment by the themes he chose.


  1. Porto! Close to where a good friend of mine was born and then, like this lovely artist, leaving for the Netherlands where she finished her art history degree in Leiden. Now she's back in Portugal, guiding Dutch tourists around all the beautiful sites. On the side she's a cartoon artist. Many creative types from Portugal!

  2. Lovely painting by an artist I had never heard of! Certainly worth looking for some more of his work...
    Thanks for the introduction, Nicholas!