The collection of Painting of the Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis comprises about 2500 items that cover an extended chronological period, from the 16th to the 20th century. It is formed by two different collections, that of the Museum properly said and that of the former Municipal Museum, integrated in 1937, as a permanent deposit.
There are important national and foreign specimens in the painting from the 16th century, while in that from the 17th century, foreign painting, namely Flemish and Dutch, assumes preponderance. The 18th century works are mainly derived from monastic collections and serve to illustrate the nation’s aesthetic situation, marked by the virtual absence of distinguished artists.
The most consistent group in the collection begins with Romanticism and attains special significance in the cycle of Naturalism. Painters with the largest presence in the collection, namely Silva Porto, Marques de Oliveira and Henrique Pousão are included in this movement that covered the whole second half of the century. They were responsible for a true aesthetic renewal in Portugal by introducing the practice of painting in the open air, a habit observed and practiced during their apprenticeships in France and Italy and subsequently expressed in numerous landscapes.
Aurélia de Sousa and António Carneiro are pre-eminent among the second generation of Naturalist painters at the end of the century. By very personal and diverse paths they broke with the persistent naturalistic dialogue to produce works related to modern aesthetic movements.
The small and fragmented nucleus of painting from the 20th century in the Museum collection hardly accompanies the posits of Portuguese modernism. Most of the artists who formed part of the movement are represented here, although the examples are scarce and in some cases not very representative of their careers.
During the mid 1970’s, another chapter in the life of the Museum began, marked by its collaboration with the organism that was the genesis of the current Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, leading to the integration of about a hundred works produced by some of the most active and engaged artists at that particular moment in Portuguese artistic life.