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  • Writer's pictureFrancisca Gigante, MA

A Brief History of Museu Coleção Berardo in Lisbon

What is Museu Coleção Berardo?

Museu Coleção Berardo, or the Berardo Collection Museum in English, is a gallery of modern and contemporary art in Lisbon that houses works by Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.

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Museu Coleção Berardo History

Here within the Belém Cultural Centre is the Museu Coleção Berardo (or Berardo Collection Museum), a charming gallery that displays some of the most powerful and significant works of modern and contemporary art in Portugal. Inaugurated in 2007, the museum takes its name from José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo, an art collector of considerable standing who was once reputed to be among the wealthiest people in Portugal.

Born in Funchal, on the island of Madeira, Berardo decided at the age of 18 to emigrate to South Africa – despite his father’s disapproval, and the fact that he had no family there nor spoke any English. It was in South Africa that Berardo amassed a fortune through profits generated from investments in the mining sector; this phase of his life also first sparked his interest in art. Self-taught, Berardo would frequently visit museums and galleries, and as a young man organised an exhibition of pre- and post-apartheid works.

Given the eclecticism of Berardo’s taste, the museum’s collection of more than 900 works is highly diverse; given its discernment, it’s also highly prized, valued in 2007 by the auction house Christie's at €316 million. The Berardo Collection Museum presents throughout its galleries the main artistic movements that arose from and depicted modernity, and these movements are classified by the gallery’s structure of two permanent and two temporary exhibitions, which constitute the country’s largest display of art of the 20th-century New Avant-gardes.

As you wander through the galleries, whose exhibits follow a chronological order from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day, you’ll enjoy paintings in the strikingly recognisable style of Cubism, the distorted shapes of Surrealism and peculiar Dadaist compositions; Nouveau Realism, Pop Art, Minimalism and the varied works of the post-war period. Paintings by celebrated artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Piet Mondrian, and Joan Miró are all on display. The challenge to the traditional canons, the expression of political, economic, and social tensions, as well as the intense interest in the unconscious aspects of artistic creation, felt to have been neglected, all made these bold and innovative artists react to the traditional representation of reality. Their works are on permanent display at the museum and are part of an ever-changing dialogue with the various works from other collections exhibited temporarily in the adjacent rooms.

As well as offering an enlightening journey through 20th-century artistic expression, the Berardo Collection Museum has also gathered a small but enviable archive of documents with more than three dozen published titles, which preserve the memory of the various exhibitions, celebrate the museum’s heritage, and promote the study of the gallery’s collection. It’s lucky, in retrospect, that José Berardo had the foolhardy courage to stick to his guns and sail to South Africa.

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