10 talented Portuguese artists from before your time

Art is one of the best ways for the humans to express their feelings and emotions. It can be represented through many different means, such as painting, sculpture, cinema, theatre, dance, music, architecture and so on, which is why art is the reflection of culture and history!

From pre-history to today, humans have always felt the need to represent how they perceive their reality. Art is in constant evolution, it keeps on evolving over time. Depending on society’s historical context, art styles may vary, a few tendencies are observed. But it always serves a unique purpose, which is the freedom of expression!

Through art, artists try to awaken the public’s interest and to stimulate their consciousness, from an aesthetic point of view. They want to have an effect on the audience. This is why each artistical expression has a unique meaning. Humans have the potential to safeguard beauty and their perspectives and to materialize all that inspires them!

In today’s article, I want to introduce you to some of the most talented Portuguese artists from before your time! These have strongly influenced Portuguese history and culture. You may not know about a few of them, but you definitely should! They are so important for Portugal’s culture, because they have opened minds and showed new boundaries for the Portuguese. From music, literature, to visual arts, these talented Portuguese artists have changed the world forever and have had a strong influence in a number of different fields! Read on and find out the 10 talented Portuguese artists from before your time!

The Portuguese symbol of freedom: Zeca Afonso

First of this article is Zeca Afonso, which you absolutely need to know about, since he is one of the most important figures of Portugal history. This man has become a national symbol! He is the symbol of the Portuguese freedom. It is so important to keep alive the memory of one of the most important artists and singers of Portuguese popular music.

Zeca Afonso simply wanted to be a singer but he turned out to be much more than this! He wanted to express an opinion about his country and ended up carrying out an unexpected role. Writing scores of songs, he inspired all the Portuguese and made them believe in themselves.


He recorded his most famous song Grândola, Vila Morena in 1971, which became the “anthem” for the Carnation Revolution becoming a strong symbol of Portugal history! He died on February of 1987 but he lives on thanks to the cultural heritage he left us.

He was so passionate that he always had a cassette recorder with him. Sometimes, he would record a song in random situations, such as Cantar Galego that was recorded at the door of an hotel with a friend. Teaching and singing were the two things he loved to do, but both these passions countered by the Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as motor neurone disease.

The eternal: António Variações

António Variações was an unmatched performer, a singer with soul and love of giant. He’s the author of some of the most emblematic Portuguese pop songs. Thanks to him, performing arts earned wings and the music industry became much more colorful.

António Joaquim Rodrigues Ribeiro was born in Minho in 1945. António Variações enjoyed to “give and receive”, referring to his Dar e Receber song. How can I properly introduce you to this iconic Portuguese figure? He is one of my favorite singers. António Variações used to walk the Rua do Carmo in Lisbon in the 1980’s and made all heads turn because of his unique style and confidence! To some, he was only a long-bearded man with extravagant clothes, but he really didn’t care. He actually enjoyed to provoke. For him, it was a mean to affirm his independence, his identity.


Variações was authentic, he was just the way he was. He presented his most genuine form to the world and was one of the best singers of Portugal. Thanks to his peculiar voice and unique perspectives, he was able to stir the collective memory and a certain cultural tradition of Portuguese music, while producing a modern sound. Even though, he is not alive anymore, his songs are still played in bars and nightclubs, his music is as pertinent as it was before his death.

To me, António Variações is like the Portuguese Freddy Mercury. He opened Portuguese minds and allowed the people to let go and embrace who they really were. Variações is such an inspiration!

The diva: Amália Rodrigues

Amália Rodrigues is the greatest icon of the Portuguese culture. All the admiration she earned was absolute and global.

At a very young age, she already worked and helped support her family. Amália’s father was a shoemaker and her mother sold freshly-caught fish in the market. She was a soloist for the church’s choir while he played the bugle. Amália sold fruits, was embroiderer, an employee at some cake factories and the Pampulha candies factory.

The story of this iconic fado singer started during these days of poverty. She got on with life while singing. It is when selling fruits in Cais da Rocha, at fifteen years old that her voice was noticed and chosen to be the solo singer for the Alcântara March. It was the first time Amália sang in public.


Amália’s social climbing had a meteoric rise! Only a few years after selling fruits on the streets, she was eating at tables on which the cutlery was of silver. Amália Rodrigues became a symbol of the Estado Novo. The theatre and the cinema helped consolidate her career. Wherever she went, hordes of fans followed her. She recorded her first album in Brazil.

From a life of poverty, Amália became a diva of Fado. She was able to put words on what the Portuguese was feeling. Her songs are all about love, loneliness, Lisbon, nostalgia, among other ones. All these feelings that make us humans. This is why she is one of the most famous and appreciated Fado singers. She is a symbol of Lisbon soul!

The voice: José Mário Branco

José Mário Branco was born in 1942 in the city of Porto. He was one of the first musicians and iconic songwriters that were associated to the protest songs of April, 25th of 1974, the Carnation Revolution. From all his famous works, the album Mudam-se os Tempos, Mudam-se as Vontades of 1971 is probably the most celebrated one. It was landmark for both his career and the history of modern Portuguese music.

He was a reference to the dictatorship resistance period, the revolution, the post-revolution of April and to a whole generation that found, through his voice, their expression of the desire of political, economical and social changes in the Portuguese society. José Mário Branco was an unhappy revolutionary, who always wanted much more and better for the people!


He recorded his Mudam-se os tempos, Mudam-se as vontades in 1971, including texts from several authors, such as Natália Correia, Alexandre O’Neill, Luís de Camões and Sérgio Godinho. Two years later, he recorded an album with Zeca Afonso in Paris, called Venham mais Cinco, which was one of the greatest symbols of the opposition to the Portuguese dictatorship. He returned to Portugal in 1974 and founded the Grupo de Ação Cultural – Vozes na Luta!, with which he recorded two albums.

But he also played a growing role in the Fado music over time, since he’s the one who produced all the Camané Fado albums! José Mário Branco is one of the best talented Portuguese artists from before your time for many reasons, this is why you need to know about him!

The 80’s heroes: Heróis do Mar

The Heróis do Mar band was created in 1981. The name of the band was taken from the first verse of the Portuguese national anthem, because the members wanted to represent Portugal, its history and its culture. Heróis do Mar which means “sea heroes”.

The band broke up in 1990, but during the 1980’s they put the fire on the dancefloors, touched the soul of the Portuguese and made them feel alive. Even today, their songs are still being played in nightclubs and bars.

The timeless: Táxi

The pop rock band Táxi was born in the city of Porto in 1979. Influenced by post-punk, new wave music genre, Táxi used to sing in English at the beginning, but in February of 1981, they were discovered by two members of the Polygram record label. The band was invited to record an album only to the condition that they sang in Portuguese.

Táxi is known for many popular songs such as Cairo, Chiclete, Tv-Wc, and Taxi. During their career, they played the first part for many international artists concerts, such as The Clash and Rod Stewart, when performing in Portugal.

Along with Heróis do Mar, the Táxi band has marked the 1980’s music industry as well. Their songs are classics and known by all the Portuguese!

The restless: Fernando Pessoa


Fernando Pessoa is one of the most important Portuguese poets and a key figure in Portuguese Modernism. This lyrical and nationalistic poet wrote many poems which themes were related to Portuguese tradition while expressing thoughts on his inner self, his worries, solitude and boredom.

He was many poets at the same time, he created different personalities for himself that had distinctive features. All in all, Pessoa created about 72 heteronomous. His most famous ones are Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro. Each of these personalities had unique characteristics and had unlike perspectives.

Fernando Pessoa is most known for Mensagem, Autopsicografia, Ficções do interlúdio: para além do outro oceano, Aniversário, O Eu profundo e os outros Eus, Todas as cartas de amor…, Vendaval, among many other books and poems. He also wrote Do Livro do Desassossego under the name of Bernardo Soares.

Fernando Pessoa is one of the most interesting Portuguese figures you will get to discover. If you put your hands on translated versions of his works, I strongly recommend you to read them. His writing is so pleasant and make us travel through the human mind.

The modernist: Almada Negreiros


Born in 1893, Almada Negreiros was a multidisciplinary artist. He was a painter, writer, poet, playwright, and novelist associated with the European modernist movement. He represented the forefront of Portuguese painting in the twentieth century. He is the one who introduced Modernism to Portugal.

At the beginning of his career, he made illustrations for many journals, books and posters. In 1942, he participated in the Artistas Portugueses (Portuguese Artists) exhibition in Rio de Janeiro. This is when he started dedicating his life to drawing and painting. Almada Negreiros painted the stained glasses of the Nossa Senhora de Fátima Church, and produced the tapestries for the Justice Palace in Aveiro, among many other buildings and institutions across the country.


At 75 years old, he painted the Painel Começar at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the frescos of the Science Faculty of the Universidade de Coimbra.

He died in 1970 due to a heart failure on the same bedroom as Fernando Pessoa at the Hospital de São Luís dos Franceses.

The Parisian: Maria Helena Vieira da Silva


Born in Lisbon in 1908, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva started painting at a young age. At eleven years old, she got into the Fine Arts Academy in Lisbon, where she studied painting and drawing. At the Faculty of Medicine in the Universidade de Lisboa, she studied anatomy since she had a strong interest in sculpture.

In 1928, she went to Paris where she met her husband, the painter Árpád Szenes. Her talent was quickly recognized and the French State started buying her works.

In 1956, both her and her husband obtained the French nationality. Throughout her career, the French State decorated her multiple times.


In Lisbon, you can see a few of her paintings at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and you can visit the Fundação Árpád Szenes-Vieira da Silva in Lisbon as well.

The creative: Bordallo Pinheiro


Raphael Augusto Bordallo Prestes Pinheiro was born in March of 1846 in Lisbon. He was passionately fond of Lisbon bohemian lifestyle and applied for the Fine Arts Academy of Lisbon where he studied design of civil architecture, ancient drawing and live model, but ended up quitting.


He started making caricature just for fun, but thanks to the success of pel’O Dente da Baronesa in 1870, which is a three acts comedy by Teixeira de Vasconcelos, Bordallo made a name in the graphic humor industry.

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In 1875, he went to Brazil where he got to work for several journals, such as O Mosquito, Psit!!! and O Besouro while he was still working for magazines and journals in Portugal, like the Álbum de Phrases e Anexins da Língua Portuguesa and the Almanaque da Senhora Angot

Feeling homesick, Bordallo returned to Portugal in 1879 and started working for O António Mária, O Álbum das Glórias, Lazareto de Lisboa, Pontos nos iis and A Paródia.

In 1884, in parallel with his career as caricaturist and illustrator, he tried out clay at the Gomes de Avelar factories and then, worked for twenty one years at the Fábrica de Faianças in Caldas da Rainha.


© Til Magazine

Bordallo Pinheiro is a genius and one of the most creative Portuguese figures. While in Portugal, don’t forget to get your Bordallo Pinheiro ceramic tableware. They are so lovely and will look so good back at home!

My article about the 10 talented Portuguese artists from before your time is now over! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that it has inspired you. While visiting Lisbon, you will discover many more Portuguese artists that will awaken your interest. Walk the city’s different neighborhoods and embrace the atmosphere that will inspire you to get on adventures! If you need further information about anything, don’t hesitate to contact us. I hope to see you soon in Lisbon!