The brothers Horácio (1910-1988) and Mário Novais (1899-1967) were born into a Portuguese photography family. The brothers spent their lives based in Lisbon.
The Novais brothers were two of the most prolific national photographers of the 20th century They both spent over 50 years as photographers leaving us with images of great historical significance, documentary value and of beauty.
The brothers both produced imagery for the Secretariat of National Propaganda during the three deaced rule of Salazar, Portugal’s ultra conservative prime minister. Their photographs document the rampant surge of modernism that in the 1930s and 1940s swept across the country under the regime.
The pair had separate studios, both shot for magazines and did advertising work but their main forte was in architecture. They worked with the country’s very best architects, documented the very best in progressive new architecture and they did it superbly well.
The brothers captured a time of change, a country culturally shifting its gears, driving forward. Elegant pre & post war modernism, Lisbon Noir and Art Deco – themes stylistically symbolic of the national mood.
All images are from A Biblioteca de Arte da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, the Art Library of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The Novais archive was acquired in by the Foundation in 1985. An inspection of a couple of the boxes revealed that the huge trove of images – over 100,000 slides – were cellulose nitrate negatives. Very highly flammable. The incendiary boxes sat in a closed room in the archive for two years until, aware of the potential catastrophe that this quantity of material closed in a room without air conditioning could cause, in 1990 the Foundation began the process of treating and digitising the slides.
UP Gallery (Art gallery, Bookstore, Typography, Decoration, Advertising, Tobacco shop). Rua Serpa Pinto nº 28-30, Lisbon. Project by the architect Jorge Segurado (1933), photography by Mario Novais.