Two geniuses

Fernando Pessoa

We often celebrate rulers and conquerers, but a country without artists is just a mount of dust. Artists are the tellers of tales, the architects of meaning. During the 20th century, Portugal was recreated by the writing of Fernando Pessoa and reshaped by the painting of José de Almada Negreiros. They left us a country with a richer identity and a deeper imagination.

The paintings in the photo bring together these two great Portuguese artists. The first painting (on the left) was commissioned in 1954 by the owner of a restaurant where Orpheus, a modernist group that included Almada and Pessoa, used to gather. The second painting (on the right), commissioned by the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in 1964, is a mirror image of the original.

Pessoa visited Almada’s first exhibition and declared that the painter was not a genius. Out of respect, Almada did not paint Pessoa while the poet was alive. Because the exuberant portrait that the painter carried in his mind and later transferred to canvas shows that Almada was a genius.

If you’re in Lisbon, do not miss the exhibition of the works of Almada Negreiros on display at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum until June 7, 2017.

 

 

Mizette’s rugs

Composit Tapetes Mizette

Mizette Nielsen moved from Holland to Portugal and got into the production of textiles.  In 1976, she received a large order and started looking for a factory to execute it.

She traveled to Reguengos de Monsaraz to visit the Fábrica Alentejana de Lanifícios (Wool Factory of Alentejo). Entering the factory was like stepping into the 19th century. Inside, she found the last manual looms of the Iberian peninsula. Old weavers operated these looms with confidence and grace to make wool blankets traditionally used by shepherds to keep warm during Winter.

In the early 20th century, these blankets were often included in the trousseaux of Alentejo brides. But they had since fallen out of fashion.

Realizing that the factory might close soon, Mizette decided to buy it. “I could not stand the idea that the knowledge of these master weavers would be lost forever,” she said with quiet intensity. “I got them to teach the next generation of weavers. And this generation will teach the next, so that this chain that goes back centuries will be unbroken.”

The blankets produced in the factory are too heavy to be used in houses with modern heating and insulation. But they are sturdy, so they became popular as rugs. Mizette started by producing the traditional designs inspired by the colors of the Alentejo landscape. Then, in collaboration with Gil Kalisvaart, she added new designs that combine well with contemporary furniture.

Mizette’s rugs are one of the most beautiful thing you can buy in Portugal. They are works of art that link past, present, and future.

Mizette has a store in Monsaraz at Rua do Celeiro, tel. 266-557-159, email mizettenielsen@yahoo.com. You can also buy her rugs at A Vida Portuguesa. Click here for their website.

Ephemeral gardens in Viseu

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Every year, the Ephemeral Gardens festival jolts Viseu, a serene city in the interior of Portugal. Sandra Oliveira organizes this grand event, inspiring a large troupe of collaborators to adorn Viseu with modern art and serenade it with contemporary music.

Shops become installation spaces, ancient churches double as music venues, old walls serve as canvases for street art. Every plaza seems to have its own DJ, every garden its own sculpture show.

Stores, bookshops, restaurants, and bars stay open until late. The flowers of the linden trees blend their fragrance with the aromas of chocolate, vanilla and popcorn. There are workshops to attend, movies to watch, performances not to miss. It is a wonderful celebration of the many ways in which the old inspires the new.

The Ephemeral Gardens (Jardins Efémeros) festival runs from July 1 to 10, 2016. All events are free. Click here to see the program. 

Portuguese pop art

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Pasteis de nata, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2014.

Andy Warhol captured the essence of American culture using simple images: the appeal of convenience with cans of soup, the allure of fame with portraits of Marilyn Monroe, the love of brands with bottles of Coca Cola.

We wonder how Warhol would have captured the essence of Portugal. A good candidate image is the pastel de nata. It is sweet, with an exotic touch lent by vanilla and cinnamon. The crust gives it substance and the combination is unforgettable.

The great Vasco

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Vasco Fernandes worked as a painter in Viseu during the first half of the 16th century. His prodigious talent earned him the nickname Grão Vasco, the great Vasco. According to legend, he once painted a fly that looked so real that his apprentices tried to shoo it away.

It is easy to believe this story when you’re standing in front of his masterpiece, a painting called Saint Peter that is the crown jewel of Viseu’s Grão Vasco Museum. The intricate architectural elements and background scenes are influenced by the work of Italian, German and Flemish painters. But the pope’s rugged face and gentle look are Portuguese.

Who was the model for the painting?  We like to think that it was a shepherd from the Estrela mountain. That the great painter trusted the keys of heaven to someone who on earth lived a simple life.

The Grão Vasco museum is located at Adro Sé in Viseu, tel 232 422 049.

 

Artistic pots and pans

 

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Silampos (“seelumpoos”) is a Portuguese brand of cookware that has produced great pots and pans since 1951. Joana Vasconcelos, a Portuguese contemporary artist, used these pans to build giant high-heel shoes. These sculptures were given pride of place in the Room of the Throne when Vasconcelos showed her work at the Ajuda Palace in Lisbon.

What would D. Maria Pia, the queen who lived in this palace, think about Vasconcelos’ work? We like it. And we always liked Silampos pots and pans, even before they mingled with artists in the royal court.

Lisbon treasures

Composit Viuva Lamego

We’re often asked whether you can see Lisbon in a day or two. Sure, you can drink an espresso at Brasileira, take a brisk walk through Rossio and Terreiro do Paço, climb to Alfama to tour the castle, and rush right back down to go to Belém. Once there, you can try the famous Pasteis de Belém and go for a quick visit of the Jerónimos monastery and the Belém tower.

You’ll have seen a lot, but you will not know Lisbon. The city doesn’t reveal itself on a one night stand. To understand Lisbon, you must take the time to walk around and discover its many hidden gems.

One of these gems is Viúva Lamego, a store that has sold handmade tiles and ceramics since 1849. The blue-tiled back of the building faces the bustling Avenida Almirante Reis. If you walk around in search of the main entrance, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of one of the most exuberant facades in Lisbon.

There are many other jewels to discover in Lisbon: beautiful gardens, graceful architecture, quaint shops, enticing vistas, and wonderful neighborhood restaurants.

Those who discover some of these treasures get hooked and as soon as they depart, they start planning to come back.

The Viúva Lamego building is located on Largo do Intendente Pina Manique, 25.