Wikipedia merits the inclusion of only twenty two Portuguese women painters in its listing. A reading of their biographies indicates the social divisions which frustrated so many of their endeavours. Those who were so fortunate as to belong to middle class, artistic families were enabled to study abroad. Paula Rego studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and , after marriage to Victor Willing, acquired dual nationality, British and Portuguese, and remained there for the rest of her creative life. Similarly, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva went to Paris, married fellow artist Hungarian Árpád Szenes and became a citizen of France where she stayed until death in 1992. Deolinda Fonseca , after graduating at the Faculdade de Belas-Artes in Porto, became permanently resident in Denmark where her work has been praised by critics for its strength of character . All three continued to exhibit at exhibitions held in museums and universities of Portugal.
Of course, some Portuguese artists were born abroad . Maria de Lourdes Ribeiro (known as Maluda) was born in Goa and moved from there to Mozambique where she formed a painting group known as Os Independentes. Later, aided by a Gulbenkian Foundation grant, she moved to Paris and interacted there with the Portuguese colony led by M.H. Vieira da Silva. Katharine Swift was born in Ireland but became resident in Portugal at an early age when her father, Patrick, founded the famous Porches Pottery with its free flowing style of painting ceramics. This led to her opening the Estudio Destra in Silves in the 1980s and the launch of new styles in the art of decorative wall tiles.
In fact it was in the artistic world of decorating ceramics and designing fabrics for the textile industry that many poorer Portuguese women worked because they could not afford to enter the Fine Arts. It was indicative of a 20th century society which still believed that household duties and the raising of children came before creative expression in the Arts.
This paucity of female painters is demonstrated by any examination of the catalogues of galleries across the country. For example, the Núcleo de Arte Contemporânea in Tomar received in 2004 the generous gift from leading art critic José-Augusto França of two hundred works by forty artists of whom only seven were female : Lourdes Castro, Mariam Fala, Alice Jorge, Albertina Mãntua , Maria Lucília Moita, Cristina Valadas and Ana Vidigal of whom only the first is included in the Wikipedia listing.
Fortunately this imbalance was partly redressed by the exhibition held exactly one year ago at the Gulbenkian “All I want – Portuguese Female Artists from 1900 to 2020” when two hundred works by forty women were displayed. In this location, one was able to appreciate the vast range of styles and subtleties of Portuguese feminine art ranging from the huge colourful installations of Joana Vasconcelos, through the painstaking abstracts of Vieira da Silva to the flamboyancy of Paula Rego´s surreal, satirical narratives. The immediate conclusion is that there cannot be a generic Portuguese School of female art because of its highly complex and cosmopolitan nature but a reading of John Berger´s famous Ways of Seeing convinces me that, through feminine eyes at least, these wonderful, creative women who bravely faced adversities, prejudices and inequalities merit praise for their “Portugalidade”.