“There is an urgent need to save Domingos Rebêlo from island isolation”: the Whaling Museum hosts the first American exhibition of works by an Azorean painter

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NEW BEDFORD – Standing next to an image of his father captured by his grandfather, famed Azorean painter Domingos Rebêlo, Jorge Rêbelo admitted he still pinches seeing his ancestor’s work on display at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

In a voice full of emotion, Jorge Rêbelo recalled that a century ago his grandfather worked tirelessly, and ultimately unsuccessfully, to exhibit his works to Portuguese emigrant audiences abroad in the United States. .

“He wanted to pay tribute to people who risked their lives to come to a new country and live a different life,” said Rebêlo, who has spent the past 30 years researching life, work and legacy. of his grandfather. “Unfortunately, it was not possible to fulfill the necessary conditions and he never realized this dream.”

As fate would have it, Rebêlo would meet Massachusetts State Senator Michael Rodrigues at the rededication ceremony of the Jewish Synagogue in Ponta Delgada, Azores in 2015. The lawmaker would eventually challenge him to fulfill the dream and to honor the work of his grandfather.

“It took seven years,” Rebêlo said at a special reception hosted by the New Bedford Whaling Museum on April 7 to mark the opening of the exhibit. “Sometimes things got very difficult and it almost didn’t happen. Then Covid hit and it disrupted many of our plans. This forced us to rethink this exhibition four times. But now I feel that my grandfather’s dream has come true. It’s a very gratifying feeling.

Bringing together more than 50 paintings and works on paper from collections in mainland Portugal and the Azores, “The Azorean Spirit: The Art of Domingos Rebêlo” is a landmark exhibition of the work of the Azorean artist, now considered as the first modernist painter of Portuguese art.

“We tried to bring 70 pieces, but we ended up bringing 54,” Rebêlo told O Jornal. “I think the pieces that are here represent the artist, the different techniques that he has developed. Although they are only the tip of the iceberg of a collection of around 5,000 pieces, they give a true image of the artist and his full potential. I think people will be delighted and even surprised at what they find here.

Born in Ponta Delgada in 1891, Domingos Rebêlo’s artistic career spans more than 60 years. He perfected his technical training in Paris and his collection includes paintings, illustrations and drawings mastering multiple techniques, which reflect his Portuguese identity and culture.

“I think it’s great that we have access to this work of art,” said New Bedford artist Berta Malhinha while admiring the painting “Maria da Glória Pereira Rebêlo” in detail at the special event. .

“It’s a great opportunity to not only see the artwork, but also get a glimpse into the lives of our grandparents, great-grandparents and get a bit of that culture,” said added Malhinha, born in 1970 in Bermuda. to Azorean immigrants from Lagoa, São Miguel, and has resided in the United States since 1974.

Having shown her own works in several galleries, Malhinha, who prefers to use watercolor as a medium, said she has always been a fan of Domingos Rebêlo.

“I love his use of color and light,” she said. “I like the way he depicts everyday life, things that happened that we might not be aware of. You can pick up on the little details because his work is really detailed.

Beatriz Oliveira, New Bedford’s marketing event planner and development consultant, said she was “super excited” that the exhibit was finally here.

“It’s kind of a reflection of home,” she said during the reception. “It reminds me of what was and is the old country I left behind. It makes me nostalgic for home.

She said she particularly likes the movement in Rebêlo’s paintings and her choice of subjects.

“It’s pretty common everyday life, but it captures it in a way that makes it special,” she said.

Naomi Slipp, the museum’s chief curator, said the exhibit reflects the enduring ties between Portugal and this region.

“New Bedford and the Azores are uniquely connected, and Azorean heritage and culture forge a unique cultural bridge between the islands and the south coast,” Slipp said. “More than half of New Bedford residents today trace their heritage to this story, and we are proud to honor their legacy by bringing this landmark exhibit to our city.

Os Emigrantes (The Emigrants) is perhaps Domingos Rebelo’s best-known work. Painted in 1926, it depicts people in the port of Ponta Delgada waiting to leave the Azores to pursue a new life abroad and has become an iconic depiction of the emigrant experience.

“The family in The Emigrants represents the thousands of people who left the Azores for America,” said Dr. Onésimo Almeida, a professor in the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at Brown University, during a panel discussion. organized by the museum for the exhibition.

Dr. Almeida, who sits on the museum’s board, pointed out that for so many people, “The Emigrants” is not just a painting.

“In it, they see themselves represented by the hand of a great artist,” he said, pointing out that Domingos Rebêlo has captured “the soul of the people” in his work.

Although the artist has been widely recognized for his traditional depictions of rural life, family and religious holidays, Dr. Memory Holloway, professor emeritus of art history at UMass Dartmouth, pointed out that he had also been commissioned to decorate state offices, universities, and churches. with murals on the mainland.

“As a talented artist, Rebêlo has long demonstrated his ability to render the figure and to paint portraits revealing the character of the model”, she noted, also highlighting the way in which the painter took hold of the light and appropriated it.

“From his studies in Paris he brought back the brilliant light and color he learned from the Impressionists, and he painted the islands in a way they had never been seen before,” he said. she stated.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 240-page bilingual exhibition catalog with six scholarly essays by Portuguese and American scholars, including Slipp, Almeida and Holloway.

Available for purchase on the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s website, museum officials say “the catalog promises to become the premier scholarly publication on the artist in both languages.”

Dr Holloway, who translated several essays for the catalog, quoting José Maria de França Machado, said there was an urgent need to rescue Domingos Rebêlo from island isolation.

“You have to understand that he is universal precisely in what he did while traveling the islands,” according to Machado. “He was born in them and from them he made a work that is great in any part of the world. This Domingos Rebêlo is yet to be discovered. He is still waiting for the place he deserves.

Rebêlo told O Jornal that he believes this exhibit will help do just that.

“I hope this exhibition will give his artistic work the projection it deserves, not only on this side of the Atlantic but also in the Azores and mainland Portugal,” he said. “It is my contribution to highlight an artist who has had an impact on the history of Portuguese art and has left an important mark and a very extensive body of work and… he is an artist who deserves be known to the public and the public deserves to have access to his work.

“The Azorean Spirit: The Art of Domingos Rebêlo” will remain on display at the museum’s Wattles Family Gallery until September 22, 2022.

For more information, visit https://www.whalingmuseum.org/exhibition/domingos-rebelo

Lurdes C. da Silva can be contacted at [email protected] To read more stories about the Portuguese-speaking community in English and Portuguese, please visit ojornal.com.

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