Born on 28th April 1855, José Malhoa is considered to be one of the greatest Portuguese painters. He was a pioneer in Portugal following the Naturalism movement and his work stood out for being closed to Impressionism. We’re not getting into more details on his biography, but we will only emphasize a moment, which certainly marked his own personal and artistic life. Everything goes around a painting called – O Fado – which brilliantly portrays the soul of this music style, a symbol of the Portuguese music.
There are two versions known of the painting O Fado by José Malhoa. One is from 1909, and another one from 1910. Most likely from the idea to its conception José Malhoa spent some moments before until finally reaching to the versions we know. The painting’s history began when José Malhoa felt the need to portray Fado music, which started to become a success among the bourgeois, intellectuals and aristocrats as it had been mostly associated to marginality and the poor neighbourhoods.
The painter first used professional models for the first sketches, but it wasn’t enough for him. They wanted to capture the true essence of fado and he could only do that by using real models. He wandered about for a long time through the neighbourhoods of Alfama, Bairro Alto until he found what he wanted in Mouraria, where today its residents defend proudly on being the cradle of Fado.
José Malhoa met the two models portrayed on the painting. He was Amâncio Augusto Esteves, bully, fado singer and guitar player and she was Adelaide da Facada (of the Knife), called that for having a scar on the left side of her face. During the day she sold lottery tickets and at night she was a prostitute. During a month the painter went several times to Adelaide’s home in Capelão street, to portray the closest environment he was watching. The people of the neighbourhood were first intrigued by his presence, but got used to it and started to call him the ‘’fancy painter’’. Many times, Malhoa had to explain to the police his presence in the neighbourhood and had to go to the prison regularly in order to release his two models to continue to do his work. The ‘’fancy painter’’ had to use a lot of his patience and diplomacy to get on well with Amâncio. His first plan was to pain Adelaide naked, or almost, causing jealousy and threats by the bully.
In spite of all these peculiar situations, Malhoa managed to complete his work and show it to the upper class but also to the Mouraria’s residents in search of their opinion. The painting got at first bad reviews, defending that he was portraying the minor side of Fado, related to marginality. However, it was critically acclaimed abroad and travelled to Buenos Aires, where it got a golden medal, Paris, Liverpool and San Francisco.
In 1917 the painting version of 1910 was bought by the city council of Lisbon, and it was placed at the noble saloon in Paços do Concelho building until it was moved permanently to the City Museum. Today the museum has lent the painting to the Fado Museum. The 1909 version is in a private collection.
If you’re in Lisbon and would like to hear this and other stories, join us on a walking tour in Lisbon! More information here. And is it your first time that you’ve heard about Fado and you’re curious to listen to it? We recommend you a new place in the neighbourhood of Madragoa. Its name is Conserva-te and as soon as you get inside you will recognize immediately Adelaide da Facada and Amâncio, welcoming you with the Fado spirit.