|António Soares dos Reis
Sculptor and teacher
Considered one of the greatest Portuguese sculptors of the 19th century, António Manuel Soares dos Reis was born on 14 October 1847 in the parish of S. Cristóvão de Mafamude, Vila Nova de Gaia. He was the son of Manuel Soares Júnior, owner of a grocery store, and his wife, Rita do Nascimento de Jesus.
Brought up under strict family discipline, Soares dos Reis attended primary school at Matos School, in Cabeçudo, and at the same time helped his father in the store. His artistic talent was quite evident from a very young age. Behind his father’s back, he used to carve small figures in wood and modelled clay saints that he dried under the sun in the back yard. His neighbour Diogo de Macedo and the painter Resende saw these figures and convinced his father to send him to the School of Fine Arts. And so in 1861, at the young age of 14, he enrolled in the Porto Academy of Fine Arts. During the course, he received many prizes and commendations.
He completed the course in a few years, and received the 1st prize in drawing, architecture and sculpture.
At the age of 20, he received a scholarship and travelled to Paris in 1867, where he attended the workshop of M. Jouffroy and the École Imperiale et Speciale des Beaux Arts. Here, Soares dos Reis came first in the course, which led his fellow colleagues to name him the voleur des prix [prize thief].
But the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War forced him to return to Portugal. At the insistence of his teachers at the Porto Academy of Fine Arts, Soares dos Reis was sent to Rome to complete the scholarship. He arrived in the Eternal City in 1871. Here, he worked on one of his most romantic and original works, the Desterrado [The Exile].
He arrived in Portugal in 1872, was received by his countrymen with applause and admiration, and appointed Merit Scholar of the Porto Academy of Fine Arts. Until 1880, the sculptor produced, exhibited and was recognized for many works. He was one of the founders of the Artistic Centre in Porto, an institution that contributed to the dissemination of plastic arts in Portugal.
In 1881, he was appointed Professor at the Porto Academy of Fine Arts, always striving to renew and boost the teaching of Sculpture.
The name and fame of the sculptor gained a strong foothold in the country and he was invited to produce several major works, among which the statutes of Afonso Henriques and of Brotero, as well as the busts of various individualities. But then along came the slander. In 1881, he participated in the General Fine Arts Exhibition of Madrid with the work Desterrado, for which he was awarded the 1st prize and the distinction of Knight of the Order of Carlos III, received from King Alphonse XII of Spain. It was then that the sculptor was accused of not being the real author of the sculpture. The scandal and controversy sparked by the publication of an article in a Lisbon newspaper caused him much dismay. However, Soares dos Reis continued to work and his artistic credibility was restored. But from here on, the artist began to show signs of physical frailty. He often suffered from brain disorders and irritability that often led him into isolation.
In the meantime, in 1885, at the age of 38, he decided to marry Amélia Aguiar de Macedo. They had two children, Raquel and Fernando. However, his family life was unhappy due to his constant quarrels with his young wife, their different natures, education and, most of all, the age difference.
To that was added the works refused and the slander he suffered, which affected his health significantly.
Feeling misunderstood by those around him, Soares dos Reis decided to shoot himself on 16 February 1889 in his workshop. He left a farewell note written on the wall saying: "I am a Christian; however, life as I know it is unbearable. I apologize to those whom I have offended unjustly, but I can not forgive those who have hurt me". He was 42 years old.
Despite his short life, it is generally agreed that Soares dos Reis has his own important place within the history of Portuguese art, having contributed with his work to the development and enrichment of the national artistic heritage.
(Texto de Carla Sofia Trindade, 2008)