Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro was an artist of many talents. Considered one of the first Portuguese cartoonists, he created characters that are still popular today. Additionally, he produced iconic Portuguese ceramics, many of which are now staples of Portugal’s porcelain and even souvenir shops.
Coming from a family of artists, Bordalo, as he came to be known, was born in Lisbon in 1846. His artistic career began with the theater, when he attended the Escola de Artes Dramáticas in 1860. This was followed by the Academia de Belas Artes de Lisboa, after which he quickly took up the pen as a political and satirical cartoonist.
In 1871, he published his first album, Calcanhar de Aquiles, which featured caricatures of notable figures. In the same year, Bordalo founded the periodicals A Berlinda and O Binóculo. In addition to these publications, he also worked internationally with papers such as the Illustrated London News.
In 1875, Bordalo was offered a position at O mosquito, which took him to Rio de Janeiro. It was here that he founded Lanterna Mágica and arguably his most famous character, Zé Povinho. This character is the “Portuguese everyman,” and one of the first representations of Portugal’s working class. He is portrayed as a kind, simple man, who mocks the powerful and criticizes the elite. This character would continue to be a staple of Bordalo’s work for the next 30 years.
Bordalo went on to start several publications in Brazil and eventually returned to Lisbon in 1879, where he helped found the Grupo do Leão. This group popularized Naturalism in Portugal and was named for their meeting place: the Cervejaria Leão de Ouro.
In 1885, Bordalo and his brother founded a ceramics factory in Caldas da Rainha, Fábrica de Faianças. Here, he developed what are now some of the most well know Portuguese ceramics, which any tourist to Lisbon will recognize, even if they don’t know Bordalo. He created technically impressive and artistically beautiful pieces, which were exhibited around the world. Pieces such as the Jarra Beethoven — now displayed in Rio de Janeiro — exemplify the kind of workmanship that went onto Bordalo’s ceramics.
In 1889, the Exposition Universelle came to Paris. This world fair is an iconic event, giving us the Eiffel Tower, and it was Bordalo who organized the Portuguese pavilion. Here he displayed his ceramics, earning him medals and international recognition.
Bordalo continued as an active cartoonist, satirist, humorist, and ceramist until his death in 1905. An impressive collection of his drawings and ceramics can now be seen in Lisbon at the Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro Museum.