Henrique Medina de Barros was born in Porto, in the Parish of Cedofeita, on 18th August 1901, of the Spanish painter Pascoal Medina and Maria Joana de Barros Medina. He had one sister and one brother: Maria das Mercês and Fernando.
When he was just 10 years old, he painted a very expressive portrait of his grandmother (Minha Avó, 1911), thus revealing his calling to art at a very early age. By that time he entered the Porto Higher Institute of Fine Arts, under the supervision of Professor José Brito, who, surprised by his ability, allowed him to attend the plaster cast drawing class, and later the live model class. As he was studying fine arts, he attended secondary school at a private school.
He thus started his artistic training in 1911 at the ESBAP. Among his teachers were Marques de Oliveira and Acácio Lino.
He accomplished the Preparatory Course in Drawing (1912-1914), the Course in Drawing, Anatomy and Perspective (1915), the Course in Drawing and Perspective (1916), and the 1st year of the Course in Painting and Perspective (1917).
In 1918 he exhibited the portrait of Teodora Andressen de Abreu at the National Society of Fine Arts, in Lisbon, which granted him the second medal awarded by that society. He also exhibited in art fairs in Porto.
In the meantime, he met the Spratley family, who offered him a stay in Paris with Ricardo Spratley to proceed with his studies at the École de Beaux-Arts, with the masters Ferdinand Cormon and E. Bénard. In the 1920s other Portuguese artists lived in the French capital, such as Abel Manta, Dordio Gomes and Cristino da Silva.
In Paris, he exhibited at the Salon de la Société National Beaux-Arts and received the Honourable Mention at the Salon des Artistes Français, with the portrait of Cláudio Carneiro. He also participated in an exhibition at “Chez Fast”, in Rue Royal, and exhibited at the Salon de Nancy. In 1929 his painting Irmão do Artista was purchased by the French government to the Museum of Luxembourg (which is nowadays the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume).
In 1930 he came to Portugal. He painted the portrait of Oliveira Salazar, the Patriarch Cardinal Manuel Cerejeira and the former President of the Republic the Admiral Canto e Castro, among other famous people from Lisbon and Porto.
After his period in Paris, he was invited to paint in England. During the period he spent in England, from 1926 to 1936 (which included trips to other countries), he painted in his workshop traditional British personalities, such as the Piper of Trafalgar Square, the Gipsy of Epson, the Scotsman of Piccolo, as well as socialite personalities such as the countess Linden and her daughter, and Mrs. Staples. He was invited to exhibit at the Royal Academy in London (where he had already shown his art in 1927).
His reputation as a portraitist obtained an admirable renown.
During his period in London, he was also invited to work in Italy. While he was established in the capital city, he painted political and aristocratic personalities, such as Mussolini (portrait for the Viminal palace, in 1931), and the princess Doménico Orsini and Giovanni Torlonia.
He then spent 7 years in the American continent, thus reinforcing his international renown as a portraitist. He first lived in Brazil, where he was invited to paint the Portuguese ambassador, Nobre de Mello. His success in Brazil was so great that he stayed there for three years, in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. He then travelled to Argentina, where he held an exhibition whose inauguration was attended by the President of the Republic of that time, General Justo. He then went to the USA, where he lived for seven years; he worked in New York, Washington and Hollywood. Several stars went to his workshop in the cinema cathedral to be his models (Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Lily Pons, Norma Shearer, Linda Darnel, etc.); he also painted canvases for two films: the portrait of Dorian Grey for the film with the same name (based on the literary novel by Oscar Wilde), and the portrait of Greer Garson for the film Mrs. Parkington. In 1940 he exhibited 17 paintings in New York, obtaining an extraordinary success once again.
In 1946 he returned to Portugal. He held an exhibition at the Soares dos Reis National Museum, and was awarded the Medal of Honour of the City by the Porto town hall. He then exhibited at the Salão Nobre of the D. Maria II Theatre, in Lisbon. The portrait of Maurício Maeterlinck was purchased by then for the collection of the Contemporary Art Museum (presently, the Chiado Museum).
In the 1950s, again upon invitation, he painted in Wales, Sweden, Denmark and Spain. His first collection of works was also published by that time (1954). The following decade he returned to Portugal for longer periods of time, and in the 1970s he definitely settled in Góios, Esposende, in the house he inherited from his grandmother. His paintings, mainly the oil paintings, were noticeable for the landscapes and rural characters of the region, such as the wrack collectors in Apúlia, the fishermen, the shepherds of Belinho, the merchants of Barcelos and the women from Minho.
In the beginning of the 1980s he painted a portrait of the Pope John Paul II, when he visited Portugal (in 1982), and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation organised a retrospective exhibition of his works, gathering about 250 paintings (portraits, landscapes, drawings and regional costumes, mainly of Esposende), in 1983.
He died in Góios, Esposende, on 30th November 1988, of a sudden death.
He was a famous, yet disputed, character, who divided art critics and art lovers. However, he succeeded in making the realistic art linger throughout the 20th century (1918-1988). Medina was a great, enormous portraitist of international renown: he painted high rank military officers, famous doctors, renowned academics, actresses, lyric singers, members of the European aristocracy, international politicians, Portuguese heads of state, cardinals and a pope, and was also an extraordinary painter of nudes. Throughout his life as a painter, he always distanced himself from artistic movements and from the avant-garde movements, and remained faithful to drawing as a quality criterion in art, as was mentioned by Laura Castro (Henrique Medina, 30 desenhos inéditos, Porto, 1991).
(Universidade Digital / Gestão de Informação, 2008)