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  • Writer's pictureFrancisca Gigante, MA

A Brief History of Museu Bordalo Pinheiro in Lisbon

What is Museu Bordalo Pinheiro?

Museu Bordalo Pinheiro is a museum in Lisbon that hosts a varied collection of artistic work by 19th-century caricaturist and ceramicist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro and his son, Manuel Gustavo.

Museu Bordalo Pinheiroin building

João Carvalho, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Museu Bordalo Pinheiro History

Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro was one of the most influential figures in 19th-century Portuguese culture. Though he died at just 58, he left a distinguished legacy in the field of political caricature, sculpture and ceramics, and to this day is generally considered the ‘Father of Comics’ in Portugal. The Bordalo Pinheiro Museum was founded in 1916 by the poet Ernesto Cruz Magalhães, with the aim of showing the public his collection of newspapers, caricatures, ceramics and paintings by the renowned artist. Cruz Magalhães, a contemporary of Bordalo Pinheiro, admired the artist so much that he was shy about speaking to him, sometimes pretending not to see him in the street.

Bordalo Pinheiro founded and collaborated in a number of Portuguese and Brazilian satirical newspapers, always displaying his typical biting satire. Some politicians admired him even though they were mocked in his cartoons. The characters he created, in an attempt to lampoon 19th-century Portuguese society, would go down in history. The most famous of these creations were characters like Zé Povinho (a caricature of the poorer classes of the country), Maria da Paciência (or Patient Mary), and Ama das Caldas (or Nanny from Caldas). Bordalo Pinheiro worked alongside many renowned writers and his style is still imitated in Portuguese periodicals today. Although primarily remembered affectionately as a caricaturist, Bordalo Pinheiro was also a lover of good food, and would sometimes design souvenir menus for the dinners to which he was invited.

In 1884, he founded the Faience Factory of Caldas da Rainha, a place where he could innovate and bring to Portugal the neo-Palissy style, named after the French Renaissance ceramicist Bernard Palissy. Bordalo Pinheiro was dedicated to creating the most exuberant ceramic pieces, along with tiles and domestic ware. Here at the museum, you’ll find a varied and exciting collection of more than 13,000 pieces, among which the Manueline Vase and the ‘Arab’ perfumer equipment are some of the most impressive creations, as they continue Portuguese Medieval and Renaissance traditions. In fact, Bordalo Pinheiro’s reputation increased to such an extent that he represented Portugal at the Paris International Exhibition of 1889, where he was awarded the Legion of Honour and received a Gold Medal. Following this, he became one of the first Portuguese artists to employ the Art Nouveau style, as for example in his Dragonfly Fruit Bowl design.

His passion for animals can be seen in the number of different species he immortalised in fountains, vases and plates, among other pieces. Aesop and La Fontaine's fables were a great inspiration to the artist, as you’ll see in his Wolf and Stork sculpture. One of the animals he most often represented was the cat, since he worshipped them and even once declared he had been one in another life. Often Bordalo Pinheiro himself metamorphosed into other animals, in a range of peculiar self-portraits. The artist was a man of many faces and talents, a point that is lavishly illustrated by the museum’s eclectic and intriguing collection.

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