About the Collection


The Modern Collection – chronological organisation:

Conceived from its inception in two different chronological sections – the first half of the 20th century and the second half of the 20th century to the present – since 2016, the Modern Collection has been organised around the principal chronological periods of 20th century Portuguese history.

The collection’s permanent exhibition is therefore organised according to the following chronological periods: from 1900 to 1926, that is, from the turn of the century to the military coup that led to the establishment of the Estado Novo; from 1926 to 1974, corresponding to the 48 years of political dictatorship under the Estado Novo; from 1975 to 1999, from the 25th of April revolution to the end of the 20th century; and from 2000 until today, corresponding to the contemporary period.


The collection

The Modern Collection (MC) was officially constituted in 1983 but includes works of art acquired by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (CGF) since 1958. The first annual report, published in 1957, refers to the creation of a specific fund for the acquisition of up to twelve works of art per year. The first acquisitions of works by 20th-century artists were made in January 1958, following the First Exhibition of Fine Artsheld at the National Society of Fine Arts (SNBA – Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes) in Lisbon.

The inauguration of the Modern Art Centre (Centro de Arte Moderna – CAM) in July 1983 acted to consolidate the collection and make it more representative of the history of modern Portuguese art, while still featuring international highlights. Such international works were acquired as a result of the CGF’s actions in countries such as the United Kingdom and Iraq, or in France, where specific circumstances had brought Portuguese artists into close contact with the French artistic context.

Filtered by a historical conception of 20th-century modernist art, the MC was constituted with a view to integrating the largest possible number of artists whose work reflects the ideas, ideals and interests prevailing since the late 19th century to this day. In this sense, it did not seek to include artworks of a markedly academic or naturalistic character, or works or studies for works of public art carried out during the political regimes of the First Republic (1910-1926) and the Estado Novo(1933- 1974).

The most substantial international component of the MC is its set of British artworks, which provide a comprehensive cross-section of artistic creation in the United Kingdom between the late 1950s and the mid-1960s. Another such set includes works from the 1920s by French artists who developed ties with Portuguese artists, such as Robert and Sonia Delaunay, or the various artists who were close to the Portuguese painter Maria Helena Vieira da Silva and her husband, the painter Arpad Szénes, such as Bissière, Soulages, Torres Garcia, Zao-Wou-Ki and others. Other international artists represented include those from the KWY group (“ká wamos yndo”, who between 1958 and 1964 also published a magazine with the same title), such as Christo and Jan Voss, with works dating from 1960.

Other international works include those of Armenian-American painter Arshile Gorky, who is represented with a painting and two drawings, as well as a set of 31 Iraqi works acquired in the 1960s in the context of CGF’s intense philanthropic activities in Iraq. With the exception of the British art collection, whose most recent acquisition dates from 2016, the other international collections have not been added to since their initial acquisitions.


Analysis of the Collection by chronological group | A Closer look

Often described as the most important collection of Portuguese modern art from the 20th century (from the first half of the 20th century), the MC boasts 1005 works from 92 artists (85 men and 7 women) from the period spanning 1900 and 1950. Though broadly comparable in terms of the numbers and names of artists represented, the second half of the century is more heavily represented in the collection, with a total of 4202 Portuguese works of art from this period.

Particular emphasis is given to the 1960s, when the CGF’s support of the visual arts allowed many Portuguese artists to travel and work outside of the country, support which intensified with efforts to stabilise the activity of the CGF both in Portugal and abroad. Between 1960 and 1969, 1163 works were acquired from 171 Portuguese artists (136 men and 35 women), which shows a significant increase in the representation of female artists in comparison to the first half of the 20th century.

The MC largely originated from the role played by the CGF in supporting the visual arts and, in a general way, Portuguese culture. It thus reflects the circumstances in which it has been brought together over time. In its initial phase, it was made up of artworks donated by the numerous recipients of grants supporting artistic training and the realisation of projects within Portugal and abroad. It was also formed through professional contact and friendships with artists and their families, for example with Paulo Ferreira, Lucie de Souza-Cardoso, Sonia Delaunay and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva in Paris, or Karlen Mooradian, a diaspora Armenian and nephew of Armenian-American painter, Arshile Gorky.

In addition to such works, the CGF awarded two grants for the purchase of British artworks – in 1959 and 1963 – acquired on the advice of the British Council Procurement Commission in London, which also purchased works for the British Council collection itself. While the 468 works of British art collected from 1963 to today by several different English purchasers and, more recently, through direct acquisitions have given rise to a certain heterogeneity, this set of artworks has been described as one of the most significant collections of post-World War II British art held outside the UK. 


The Portuguese art held by the MC has come from various sources, including:

  • Acquisitions, such as those arising in relation to point 9 of the 1st CGF Activity Plan presented in April 1957, referring to the provision of “Assistance for contemporary artists” through the creation of a special fund for annual acquisitions of up to 12 works of visual art from public exhibitions. Over the years since, the CGF has often acquired works of art directly from artists or their representatives in the context of its exhibitions;
  • A substantial part of the Portuguese Painting and Drawing collections were purchased from the banker Jorge de Brito, who also donated a set of works;
  • Works have also been donated by artists receiving CGF grants and by other artists and their representatives, such as the parents of António Areal, the widow of Fernando Calhau, the widow of Hein Semke, and the widow and heirs of the widow of Bernardo Marques;
  • Works have been bequeathed by artists such as Maria Helena Vieira da Silva and Bernardo Marques.


Chronological sections

Consisting mainly of artworks from the modern period of the 20th century and contemporary works from 2000 until today, the MC holds only 18 works dating from before 1900.

Below is an analysis of those works held in the MC whose dates allow them to be organised into specific chronological sections.


≥1900 – ≤1926 = 260 works

Historical accounts of Portuguese art claim theExposição dos Livres, which took place in Lisbon in 1911, and exhibitions of humourists and caricaturists in Lisbon and Porto between 1912 and 1915 as the earliest manifestations of Portuguese modernism. Doing away with dogmatic naturalism, artists found in humour and caricature a medium in which to explore new aesthetic trends in their contributions to newspapers and magazines. Figures drawn in typically synthetic modernist lines have a substantial representation in the MC, in accordance with the taste of its main collector at the time, the banker Jorge de Brito. Illustrations and graphics were widely-practised art forms in Portugal, especially in the 1910s and 1920s, and are well represented in MC. 

This humour eventually gives way to various languages of the avant-garde, notably in the 200 works of Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso (1887-1918), the 128 works of Mario Eloy (1900-1951) acquired between the 1920s and 1945s, and in the 41 works of Almada Negreiros (1893-1970), created in a period coinciding with the emergence and affirmation of the vanguards.

It should be noted that the representation of various modernist and avant-garde programmes arose in the 1960s through contact with the widow of Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso and with Sonia Delaunay, and in the year immediately preceding the inauguration of the CAM in 1983 through the acquisition of works from the collection of banker Jorge de Brito, from whom 516 pieces were bought and a further 15 works were received as donations (for a total of 531 artworks). Of further note is the retrospective nature of the acquisition of these works, which followed increasing value and interest in modern art of the 20th century, in accordance with the taste of the collector and the actions developed by the CGF.


≥1927 – ≤1974 = 2862 works

971 purchased works, 1401 donations and 85 bequests represent the long period coinciding with the Portuguese dictatorship.

A small number of artists are represented with large numbers of their works. Hein Semke, for example, is represented with 638 works, Fernando Calhau with 148, António Areal with 162 and Bernardo Marques with 51. Such works donated from relatives of artists following their deaths constitute the largest donations ever made to MC.

A larger number of artists are represented with a more moderate amount of their works. In some cases, this reflects the interest dedicated to some artists over the course of their careers. Júlio Pomar, for example, is represented by 26 works from the years 1950 to 1974, while Carlos Botelho is represented by 35 works realised between 1933 and 1970. Other artists are represented with a much smaller number of works, such as the 10 works of Ângelo de Sousa dating from 1964 to 1973.

The opening of the CAM in July 1983 saw a large number of acquisitions from private collectors, especially the collection of Jorge de Brito, from whom 202 works dating from 1927 to 1974 were acquired. These acquisitions sought to focus on those artists considered most relevant and thus a substantial section of works was collectively acquired through an explicitly modernist historiographic filter, resulting in exhaustive representation of the three modernist generations identified by José-Augusto França. These artists’ works are coherent expressions of the main currents of international modern art – expressionism, surrealism, neorealism, informal and geometric abstractionism – and, from the 1960s onwards, of pop art, op art, new figuration, minimal art and conceptual art.

While the great majority of artists working in Portugal between 1927 and 1974 are represented, the MC does not reflect the ‘aesthetics of the regime’. This was the predominant aesthetic of state commissions and exhibitions during this period, particularly following the departure of António Ferro from the Secretariat of National Propaganda/National Information Office in 1949. Many of the artists who worked for the Estado Novoalso had a more modernist personal output, which is present in the MC.

The MC includes many works produced by artists who received CGF grants from the late 1950s onwards, an initiative that deliberately sought to promote modern international art through contacts and exchange, including those taking place in Paris and involving tutelary figures such as Maria Helena Vieira da Silva and her husband, the Hungarian painter Arpad Szénes, who accompanied many of the Portuguese artists resident in France. Vieira da Silva was an advisor to several of the CGF’s acquisitions of works from national and international artists.

The MC also reflects the programming of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Exhibition of Visual Arts, organised by the CGF in 1956, 1961 and 1986, as well as support given by the CGF to various national bodies, such as Cooperativa Gravura, created in 1956, and the SNBA in Lisbon.

In the final decades of this long period, from the 1960s on but especially from the 1970s, new artistic languages emerge which remain under-represented in the MC, such as works on film and video (1960s, 1970s and 1980s) and, from the 1990s, so-called videoart and performance. While in many cases performance also involves the media of film and video insofar as these constitute a record of the work in question, such works remain under-represented in the MC despite being a field of work that arouses significant public interest.

The MC includes a ‘Moving Image’ section, which consists of works by Julião Sarmento, Ana Hatherly, Ângelo de Sousa, Helena Almeida, Fernando Calhau and António Palolo, with the latter two artists being particularly well represented through donations to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.


≥1975 – ≤1999 = 2088 works

Portuguese artistic output of the years immediately following the Revolution of 25 April 1974 (between 1975 and 1979) is represented by 600 works, of which 306 are prints. Despite the disorganisation of the market and the small number of entities working with contemporary art in those years, the stimulus of the new political situation was reflected in the production of a great number of artists, some of whom would become celebrated names in the following decades.

With the inauguration of the CAM, many works were incorporated into the MC as a result of exhibition programming of 1980s and 1990s.

Published in 1985, the first Roadmap of the Modern Art Centreidentified several gaps in the MC and made explicit reference to the “purchasing policy” having been focussed over the last four years (1981-1985) in strengthening what it terms the “historical period” prior to the 1960s. It also mentioned the acquisition of “works of the current generation that are considered of great importance”, in reference to artists such as Júlio Pomar, Lourdes Castro, Costa Pinheiro, Helena Almeida, Paula Rego, Manuel Baptista, Alberto Carneiro, Ângelo de Sousa, José de Guimarães, Jorge Martins, Noronha da Costa, Pedro Chorão, Graça Morais, Graça Pereira Coutinho, among others. The acquisition of artworks from the generation coming of age in the 1980s is considered fundamental and mostly stems from the choices of Jorge Molder, director of the CAM between 1994 and 2008. For the first time, photography was included in the MC alongside the works of a new generation of sculptors, painters and designers, with many names emerging from Ar.Co from the early 1990s.

In 1987, an important set of works produced between 1956 and 1987 was acquired from the Portuguese Printmaking Cooperative, GRAVURA – Sociedade Cooperativa de Gravadores Portugueses.

All major artists active during the 1980s are represented in the MC. At the end of the decade, institutional alliances between the CGF, the Luso-American Development Foundation and the State Secretariat of Culture facilitated the further internationalisation of some artists who had already begun moving in this direction independently. However, Portuguese participation at the Venice Biennale, for example, was suspended from 1986 to 1995.

The 1990s are marked by the progressive internationalisation of Portuguese artists and also by rupture with previous generations. The great majority of these artists are represented in the MC.


≥2000 – ≤2017 = 484 works

Portuguese artists emerging from 2000 were mostly born during the 1970s, especially after 1974.

The contemporary period can be divided into two phases: a first between 1998/1999 and 2008, and a second from that date onwards, when the working conditions of many artists were profoundly affected, precipitating their departure from Portugal. From around 2008, a new generation of artists can be identified.

From 2000 onwards, interest in video, which had emerged in the previous decade, grew further. Similarly, attention to photography took on a greater role in critical approaches to the image and representation, with particular emphasis on a significant number of artists born in the 1970s and then the 1980s.

The early 2000s took place in the context of problematising architectural, public and institutional space, questions of place, of the local versus the global, and of the site specific, with frequent use of installation, sometimes with a performative and/or collaborative component. A long list of artists produced works in the context of such artistic practices.

By the mid-2000s, issues of gender identity, representation and post-colonial studies had become increasingly important in artistic creation, especially in Porto, which was a pioneer in the creation of independent spaces and artist associations. Some works of the MC reflect these artistic tendencies. It is also worth noting from these years the strong presence in Portugal of works by artists from Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa. Such artists either residing and working in Lisbon or from the African diaspora produced works of photography, video, installation, painting and other media which are often developed with a focus on shared history.