The Power of the Image, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Portugal

The close relationship between Veloso Salgado and the painters Adrien Demont and Virginie Demont-Breton represents an exceptional case of artistic collaboration and friendship. Veloso Salgado spent some time at the Demont residence in Wissant, near Calais in the North of France, a town where the couple had settled and which they had transformed into an artistic commune and school of light effects and outdoor painting. Salgado had met Virginie Demont-Breton, wife of Adrien Demont and daughter of landscape artist Jules Breton (1827-1906), in 1888 during his time in Paris on a state scholarship. According to Virginie’s memoirs, there he received commissions and won everyone over with his charm.

In 1891, he painted a portrait of Adrien Demont (1851-1928), a landscape artist with a special talent for twilight scenes. The portrait is notable for the power of the image, infused with the artists’ mutual friendship and admiration. A natural pose and attention to details such as the artist’s smock and the paintbrushes resting on the table intensify the seductive, meditative aura of the painter-poet, whose interest in the representation of light and colour are also present in some of Veloso Salgado’s paintings, such as Noir et Rose, from 1892, and symbolist paintings from the 1890s.

The portrait of Virginie Demont-Breton (1859-1935) from 1894 reveals a combative figure, with her palette and paintbrushes held high like the weapons of a hunter-goddess. The portrait captures Demont-Breton’s strong personality, an artist whose own paintings portrayed everyday scenes of fishermen and their families and the wild North Sea, a drive also evident in her establishment of the Union of Women Painters and Sculptors and of a school open to women artists. Her paintings inspired Veloso Salgado’s A flor do mar [Flower of the Sea], from 1892, both in its theme and colour palette.

These artist portraits stand out as much for their powerful sensibility and technical qualities as for their striking originality. Their expressiveness and tone reveal an acute psychological insight into the subjects and the friendship they shared, emphasising their artistic profiles as a visual display of their social and intellectual prestige. A significant correspondence of both a personal and professional nature was conducted between Lisbon and France from 1896, recently completed with the addition of Veloso Salgado’s letters to the Demonts. The discovery of these portraits and the artist’s involvement at Wissant are fundamental to this innovative reflection on the works of Veloso Salgado and his artistic career.

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National Museum of Contemporary Art, Portugal
The National Museum of Contemporary Art – Museu do Chiado, was one of the first museums of contemporary art being created throughout the world. Located in Lisbon’s historical centre, featuring the leading collection of Portuguese art from the second half of the nineteenth century until the present day the museum is of mandatory visit for the understanding and enjoyment of modern and contemporary Portuguese art. The temporary exhibitions program is of great importance within the overall scope of the museum activities. The presentation of the collection is periodically renewed on their temporal or thematic segments, according to a sustained work of historical and critical research, but the programme is not limited to the Portuguese art, focusing on artists and movements of the international modernism and also monitoring and disseminating contemporary artistic creation, both national and international, through co-productions with other museums and art centers.

The National Museum of Contemporary Art – Museu do Chiado was established by government decree on 26th May 1911. It was born out of the division of the old Museu Nacional de Belas-Artes into the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, which inherited from the former all the works produced prior to 1850 and remained in the Palácio das Janelas Verdes, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, which included all the works completed after that date and was housed in the Convento de S. Francisco, in an area neighbouring the Academia de Belas Artes. The creation of a network of museums, which spread the length of the country, was the fulfilment of a project based on the 18th century concept of human enlightenment, endowing the country with the necessary tools to safeguard and display the nation’s art. The creation of a museum of contemporary art was, in the international context, new and unprecedented.

The housing, though only on a temporary basis, of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in the Convento de S. Francisco located it symbolically and opportunely in the area frequented by the artists of the periods represented in the museum. It occupied the large old halls, convent annexes, where the exhibitions of the Romantics and the naturalists had been held.