135 years of the sculpture ‘Ismael’ by Augusto Santo

9 de February, 2024

Naturalist and symbolist sculptor, who signed his works as Augusto Santo, had a brief and troubled career. A constantly dissatisfied man, Augusto Santo destroyed part of his sculptural production.


Born in Coimbrões, Vila Nova de Gaia, on April 1st 1869. He attended the Academia Portuense de Belas Artes between 1882 and 1889, where he was a classmate and rival of António Teixeira Lopes (both enrolled on October 20, 1882).


In 1891, Augusto Santo acquired the tool of the deceased master Soares dos Reis before going on to study in Paris, where he settled for three years, benefiting from a private subscription from the benefactor Joaquim Fernandes de Oliveira Mendes.

In Paris, he settled in Rue Denfert-Rochereau, where other Portuguese artists such as Teixeira Lopes son resided. He came into contact with the Parisian artist Alexandre Falguière (1831-1900) and several compatriots, including the writers Eça de Queiroz (1845-1900) and António Nobre (1867-1900), the painters Carlos Reis (1863-1940) and Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso (1887-1918), and the art historian and critic José de Figueiredo (1872-1937).


In 1893, with the end of financial support and a lack of results, Augusto Santo was forced to return to Portugal. He then began working in his studio in Coimbrões and frequenting the Porto cafés of Praça Nova, where he met intellectuals such as Pádua Correia and Manuel Laranjeira, who described him as having a sad face, like a misanthrope sleepwalking through the crowd.


Among the few works that survived the destruction, the sculpture Ismael stands out, final course proof at the Academia Portuense de Belas Artes, dated 1889. The original, in plaster, is preserved at the Soares dos Reis National Museum, where the bronze cast of the artwork is exhibited.


Romero Vila, a priest and researcher, wrote about this sculpture in 1963:

“Ismael, the final statue in Augusto Santo’s course, has its prosaically sad story as it could have euphorically happy, because it came from an inner effort and human consecration. They compare it to the famous “O Desterrado” (The Exiled) by Soares dos Reis, for the immense desolation and psychic torture that both sculptures depict of their authors. Diogo de Macedo dares to say that they are autobiographies of bitterness kneaded into clay with their own blood.”


Augusto Santo died at the Santo António Hospital, in Porto, on September 26th 1907, victim of tuberculosis.