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Ernesto Canto da Maia | Symbolist sculptor

Sia benedetto il frutto del tuo grembo (c. 1920-1922, Carlos Machado Museum)

Ernesto Canto da Maia (1890-1981) was born in 1890 at Ponta Delgada (São Miguel island, Azores) in the midst of a wealthy family. In 1907, after graduating at high school, he leaves to Lisbon and enrols at the Drawing Class of the Fine Arts School, having Ernesto Condeixa, José Luís Monteiro and José Alexandre Soares as teachers. In 1912, he participates at the I Portuguese Caricature Exhibit with a set of small statuetes which criticize the frivolity of life at the cities.

He leaves Portugal that year heading for Paris, where he will study under Antoni Mercier (Paris Fine Arts' School) and Antoine Bourdelle (at the Grand Chaumiére academy).
Longing to study with sculptor James Vibert, begins to attend classes at Genéve's Fine-Arts School on 1914; here he will develop a crafting style gradually approaching Art-Nouveau, very popular in Europe in those days.
With the cracking of the 1st World War (1914-1918) he returns to São Miguel, where he enrols (1915) at the XII Exhibit of the Fine Arts' National Society (Sociedade Nacional de Belas-Artes - SNBA), at Ponta Delgada, with the piece Tristeza (“Sadness”). In the following year, he presents at the XIII SNBA Exhibit the large statue Desespero da dúvida (“Dispair of the Doubt”), work marked by the intensity and realism of the character, nonetheless treated plastically with an undeniable modernity.
Still in 1916, Canto da Maia leaves for Madrid, where he will work for one year at the studio of spanish sculptor Julio Antonio Rodríguez Hernandez. In the following years he returns to Ponta Delgada - where he performs a set of bas-reliefs to the Coliseu Micaelense (1917) and to the Jácome Correia Palace (1918) - and to Lisbon, where he will present his first individual exhibit at the Bobone Salon (1919).
In 1920 he leaves for Paris, where he will work until 1937, when the international political tensions will force him back to Lisbon. In these years he participates in numerous exhibits in Paris and enrols in the Tokio and Osaka's French and Contemporary Art Exhibit (1926), making works of decorative style showing simultaneously the Art Déco's urban taste and an interest for an intimate way of life. From these years we point out Adão e Eva (c. 1929).
The return to Portugal was marked by some official commissions, first for the Portuguese Pavillion of the Modern Life's Arts and Techniques International Exhibit (Paris, 1937), and then for the Portuguese World Exhibit (Lisbon, 1940).
For these shows, he executes portraits, somewhat mystic, of great portuguese characters, like D. Henrique (1937), Afonso de Albuquerque (1937) or the sculptoric group of D. Manuel I, Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral (1940). In 1943, the sculptor is publicly recognized with a background exhibit organized by the Secretariado de Propaganda Nacional (National Propaganda Office) and in the following year he receives the Manuel Pereira Sculptor's Award. In 1946, Canto da Maia returns to Paris, where he will live until 1953, returning that year definitely to Azores; that year, he will integrate the portuguese representation at the 2nd São Paulo's Modern Art Bienal. In the following years he designs some public monuments and is involved in several exhibits, like the exhibit “Arte Portuguesa do Naturalismo aos nossos dias” - Portuguese Art from Naturalism to the present day (Bruxelas, Paris and Madrid, 1967-68) and the background exhibit at the Carlos Machado Museum, in Ponta Delgada (1976), city where he will pass away at April, 5th, 1981.


1914 - Honorable Mention at the 11th Exhibition of the Society of Fine Arts.
1916 - Medal 2nd Class, sculpture, the National Society of Fine Arts.
1925 - Gold medal by the decoration of Pomone Studios department stores Bon Marché.
         - Diploma of Honor by Pomona and Flora Pavilion statues in the gardens of the City of Paris.
1937 - Grand Prix of the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques in Modern Life, in Paris.
1941 - Award to the degree of Officer of the Military Order of Santiago de Espada.
1944 - Prize Manuel Pereira of the National Propaganda Secretariat.
1966 - Elected Honorary Member of the National Academy of Fine Arts.