António de Medeiros e Almeida (1895-1986)



António de Medeiros e Almeida, born in Lisbon on 17 September 1895, was the firstborn son of Maria Amélia Tavares Machado de Medeiros (1872-1952) and João Silvestre d’Almeida (1864-1936), both from the Azores. João Silvestre completed his medical degree and moved to Lisbon to set up his practice and devote himself to business, in which he proved to have a very enterprising spirit.


The couple’s close friends included artists such as Veloso Salgado (1864-1945), who painted several portraits of the family, and Miguel Ventura Ter­ra (1866-1919), who designed the family home. The wealthy family environment, with regular social gatherings, provided the children with a cultural and artistic upbringing.

António de Medeiros e Almeida, 1922
António de Medeiros e Almeida e Margarida Pinto Basto, 1922.

When he finished school in 1915, young António began studying medicine, following in the footsteps of his father. However, he dropped out and travelled to Berlin in 1922, where he came into contact with the international business world.


In the meantime, he became engaged to Margarida Pinto Basto (1898-1971), daughter of Constança de Castelbranco Pombeiro (1872-1968) and João Teodoro Ferreira Pinto Basto (1870-1953), chairman of the Vista Alegre Porcelain Factory.


Back in Lisbon, António and Margarida married on 23 June 1924 and, given António’s passion for cars, they set off on their honeymoon in a Farman Sport Torpedo, dressed accordingly.


Indeed, his first professional project was importing Morris, Wolseley, Riley and MG cars to Portugal, an underdeveloped activity at the time. He opened a car dealership in Rua da Escola Politécnica in Lisbon, “A. M. ALMEIDA”, one of the first international distributors for Morris Motors Ltd and the exclusive importer for Portugal.


Medeiros e Almeida also took an interest in other pioneering business areas, such as commercial aviation, in which he played an important role.


In 1947, he invested in and became managing director of the Sociedade Açoriana de Estudos Aéreos, Lda., which later became SATA – Sociedade Açoreana de Transportes Aéreos, Lda. In 1948, he acquired one of the first Portuguese airlines, Aero Portuguesa, operating regular flights to Morocco. In 1953, he merged Aero Portuguesa with TAP – Transportes Aéreos Portugueses, becoming its largest private shareholder and chair of its general assembly.


Medeiros e Almeida’s business links with the Azores began with the management of his father’s businesses, including the União das Fábricas Açorianas de Álcool, a distillery that produced sugar and alcohol from sugar beet molasses. He was quite influential in the development and modernization of this sector. In 1967, he founded SINAGA, an agricultural industries company in the Azores, and served as Chair of the Board of Directors until his death.


Given his connections to the Azores, during World War II the British Ambassador to Portugal, Lord Ronald Hugh Campbell (1883-1953), asked him for help in the difficult negotiations with Ol­iveira Salazar (1889-1970), regarding the archipelago as a strategic point in the Atlantic. Medeiros e Almeida then undertook, privately, to provide the necessary assistance to the allied forces through the companies he ran. In 1947, his role was recognized and King George VI of England made him an Honorary Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – OBE.


With the Torres Novas National Weaving Company, António de Medeiros e Almeida also made a name for himself in textiles, a sector where his national and international involvement garnered him the French Ordre du Mérite Commercial – OMC, in 1951.


He was also involved in the hotel business, becom­ing a member of SODIM (1953), which built the Hotel Ritz in Lisbon, and SALVOR – Sociedade de In­vestimento Hoteleiro (1963) which, with the CUF Group, built the Hotel Alvor in the Algarve.

Stand Morris
União das Fábricas Açorianas de Álcool

Medeiros e Almeida had a well-developed social sense which led him to make commit­ments to several charitable causes. Throughout his life, he also held a number of administrative positions in companies in a variety of sectors, from construction to banking. His prolific and respected commercial, industrial and charitable activities were widely recognized through the awarding of a number of Portuguese decorations: Commander of the Order of Christ (1941), Officer and Commander of the Order of Benefaction (1941-1959), Grand Officer and Grand Cross of the Order of Agricultural and Industrial Merit (1962-1969).


But of all his work, his most lasting impact undoubtedly comes from the donation of his art collection, which made him one of the greatest Portuguese art patrons of the 20th century.

Casal Medeiros e Almeida

Although he had not initially intended to start a collection, the contents of the present Museum developed with his sophisticated upbringing and a very successful professional life.


It was in the mid-1920s, with the start of his career, his marriage, and subsequent decoration of his house, that he began regularly acquiring works of art. In one of his rare testimonies, he wrote:


When I was 20, in 1915, I became interested in antiques, and I started collecting them when I was 30 and when my funds allowed. This interest grew and developed and, little by little, I started collecting rare pieces of artistic and historical value, such as furniture, rugs, lighting, pottery, ornaments, fans, clocks and watches, silver, paintings, jewellery, art books, glass, tiles, tapestries, works of religious art, statues, etc.

As he moved to Rua Mouzinho da Silveira in 1946, a more refined taste and knowledge, sound financial means, and an art market rich in opportu­nities after World War II, Medeiros e Almeida began buying from the best antique shops and auction houses in Europe. From then on, his purchases continued at a fast pace, until his death in 1986.


In the late 1960s, when he decided to turn the collection into a museum and donate it to the country, he started buying specifically for the institution. He took an interest in panelling, wooden ceilings, tile panels, tapestries, and large statues.

For around half of a century, Medeiros e Almeida amassed a vast set of very eclectic works of art, which fall into the “decorative arts” category. The collection is characterised by its cosmopolitan nature, but a conservative attitude can also be identified, one which led him to take a particular interest in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and which resulted in practically no contemporary art being included.


This very eclectic collection is made of different sub-collections; the collector did not limit himself, as others did, to artistic move­ments or craftsmen, and he spread himself over geographic areas as diverse as China and Europe (particularly Portugal, France, and England), and different pieces, such as silverware, clocks and watches, porcelain, furni­ture, fans, paintings, and glass, spanning a timeframe from 3 BC to the 20th century.


Over the years, Medeiros e Almeida put his heart and soul into the collection and his hard work eventually paid off.


In July 1978, he wrote:


…fulfilling my dream, which is to leave to my country the product of a long life of hard work, which will become a museum that, when complete, modesty aside, I believe will be one of the best private museums in Europe.”