Soares dos Reis’ last artwork presented in public

27 de March, 2024

The bust of the actress Emília das Neves was the last artwork that Soares dos Reis presented in public before his death. Started in 1885 (two years after Emília das Neves’ death), the bust was modelled on various photographs of the actress and was completed in 1888, the year the sculpture was inaugurated in the lobby of the D. Maria II Theatre in Lisbon.


António Soares dos Reis was an admirer of Emília das Neves, whom he met on stage at the Baquet Theatre, a theatre built between Rua Sá da Bandeira and Rua de Santo António, now Rua 31 de Janeiro, in the city of Porto. The theatre opened in 1859 and was the scene of intense cultural activity until the night of 20 March 1888, when a violent fire broke out during a performance, causing the deaths of 120 people.

Not entirely satisfied with the final result of his work, Soares dos Reis wrote a letter to the Portuguese magazine Occidente, dated 25th December 1888, in which he gave an account of the difficulties he had encountered during the process: “(…) I thank you for your interest in my person and my artistic works, but I cannot consent without protest to the bust of E. das Neves be classified as magnificent, in view of the special conditions that arose during its execution and particularly when it came to modelling it using photographs that were all different from each other and of all sizes”.


Emília das Neves de Sousa, ‘Linda Emília’ as she became known, was born in Lisbon in 1820 and was a leading Portuguese dramatic actress during the 19th century, considered the first great female star to emerge in Portugal. She appeared in theatres when she was 18 and was applauded until 1883, the year of her death.


“Coming from a humble family, she managed, through the recognition of her exceptional talent, to capture the attention of figures such as Almeida Garrett, Mendes Leal, Rebelo da Silva, or Latino Coelho, who chose her as the protagonist of dramatic texts they authored or translated.” [1]


World Theatre Day has been celebrated annually on the 27th of March since 1961, on the initiative of the International Theatre Institute. On this day, the aim is to highlight the importance of theatre in human history and culture.


[1] Vasconcelos, Ana Isabel. «A “LINDA EMÍLIA”: páginas esquecidas do teatro português oitocentista», 2017