Emmerico Nunes

Lisbon, Portugal, 1888 – Sines, Portugal, 1968

Half German through his mother's side of the family (a distant descendent of Ludwig II of Bavaria), from whom he also inherited an Italian descent, and half Portuguese through his father’s side, Emmerico Hartwich Nunes' work and life were strongly influenced by his condition as an artist divided between two native lands. Both psychological realms loom in the two types of art he practiced with an identically intense pleasure: satirical illustration and painting. With the former, he earned a comfortable living in Munique (1911-1916) and Zurique (1916-1918), after five years of training in Paris (1906-1911). The latter, he practiced always, without however being able to dedicate his attention exclusively to it, except for the last years of his life.

One of Emmerico Nunes’ defining features is the continuous line, exact and perfectly controlled, with which he captures and transcribes the uses and customs of his Bavarian contemporaries in the German magazine Meggendorfer Blätter (Munique, 1888-1944), of which he was one of the major contributors between 1911 and 1924. Such mastery implies a great complicity between artist, characters and themes, confirming in this the German ancestry inherited through his mother. A whole local world with which Emmerico identified permeates his caricatures of the time, and it is precisely from this identification that stems the excellence of his work, unique within the panorama of Portuguese art history. The drawings he produced for the Portuguese press don’t betray the same easiness, precise execution and graphic quality of the drawings of this period, which might be partly explained by the existential difficulties the artist experienced after his definitive return to his native country in the 1920’s.

Portuguese art historiography, which Alfredo Margarido once called a patriot’s historiography, is indebted to artists “between native lands” like Emmerico. If, on the one hand, his long collaboration with German periodicals and his recognition in a renowned European context could serve to gather some international laurels, the artist was as quickly relegated to hurried classifications of “petty bourgeoisie” and “naïf”. After the regressive practices promoted by half a century of dictatorship, it was important to inscribe Portuguese art within the panorama of modern history. This, in turn, led, within the immediate concerns of aesthetic comparison, to the compilation of indices that would allow for the approximation of Portuguese art to recognized international modern movements. Within this context, Portuguese art history practice at the end of the New State regime and after the 1974 revolution did not recognize in Emmerico’s work the desired symbols of modernity. He was rather labeled as a “conformist” and pushed to the periphery until today.

Over 40 years later and with the hindsight achieved only in time, the moment has come to review and to try new approaches to Emmerico Nunes’ vast oeuvre, which, alongside hundreds of satirical illustrations published in German, Swiss, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese periodicals, includes an ample and interesting production of paintings (portraits, self-portraits, landscapes), all of which still need to be studied and whose technical and aesthetic quality other painters and admirers of his work always considered superior to his illustrations.


Isabel Lopes Cardoso

May 2010

Updated on 20 april 2023

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