Sarah Affonso grew up in Viana do Castelo, in northern Portugal. The festivities, beliefs and traditions of the Minho region, especially processions, popular festivals, dances and weddings, form the backdrop to an idyllic, almost mythical imaginary realm, where, she says, “everything is a scene waiting to be painted”. Affonso was also influenced by the popular art produced in those parts, especially the clay figures of Barcelos, which feature in her paintings.
Her vividly colourful works are allegorical and ostensibly naive, while being modern in their themes, references, synthesis of forms, contours and precisely defined composition. Affonso had an ethnographical instinct: her gaze was drawn to time-honoured rural life, the rituals of fishermen and the doings of women and children. This was expressed in drawings, embroidery and ceramics, although the rate at which she produced paintings slowed following her marriage to Almada Negreiros in 1934.
Intimate portraits – of herself, her children and grandchildren – would come to predominate in her work. Working within an essentially masculine artistic milieu, she would go on to produce a major series of portraits of her circle of friends and peers, in a formally synthetic style, yet with all the psychological intensity of a mind “accessing painting through emotion”.