José de Figueiredo, art historian and critic, was born in Porto on 20 December 1871. He was the first director of the National Museum of Ancient Art, which today has a square named after him (Largo José de Figueiredo). The museum also created the José de Figueiredo Institute in his honour.
In Porto, the Círculo José de Figueiredo, Association of Friends of the Soares dos Reis National Museum, was created in 1940. Its name pays homage to this leading figure in the history and museology of art in Portugal.
José de Figueiredo dedicated his life to art and to looking for objects of Portuguese art scattered around Europe, mainly in France and Holland. He acquired a large part of the collection that is now on display at the Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon. His brother owned Casa de Farelães in Minho, one of the oldest manor houses in the Iberian Peninsula and still owned by the Figueiredo family today.
It was with the institutionalisation of the first museums – in 1840 the Museu Portuense, now the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis, and in 1884 the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, later the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga – that concern began to emerge about the state of disrepair of the works of art collected in them (transferred from the defunct religious orders).
In 1911, José de Figueiredo took over as Director of the National Museum of Ancient Art and set up a workshop there to improve and restore the Museum’s works of art (later giving rise to the current José de Figueiredo Institute).
He was awarded the following degrees of the Portuguese Orders of Honour: Grand Officer of the Military Order of Sant’Iago da Espada (14 February 1920), Grand Cross of the Military Order of Christ (28 July 1933), Grand Officer of the Order of Public Instruction (7 September 1935) and Grand Cross of the Military Order of Sant’Iago da Espada (14 November 1936).
José de Figueiredo was the uncle of Manuel de Figueiredo, a writer and thinker who, for several years (1961 – 1968), was the director of the Soares dos Reis Museum, responsible for setting up the museum’s educational service and encouraging the teaching and reading of works of art.
A law graduate, Manuel de Figueiredo was also recognised as Director of the Porto Commercial Association, Councillor of Porto City Council and member of the Municipal Commissions for Art, Archaeology and Urbanism.