· Art · · T. Cristina Freire · P. Nuno Almendra

Mário Roque – São Roque Gallery and Antique Shop

«Being an antique dealer is a huge world»

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His passion for objects and for the history each one reveals first developed when Mário Roque, still a child, would accompany his mother, Maria Helena Roque, to fairs and antique shops in her search for rarities. A doctor by trade and collector out of mimicry, he has learnt to live with both arts, however, the search for Portuguese and international relics led him to realise that art works as an antidote to the restlessness of days. As such, as well as a shop selling rare antiques, he opened a gallery where various expressions of well-known and forgotten artists are exhibited. 
You have two great passions (medical imaging and art). Do they both complement each other or is it a search for balance?
They are in fact two great passions. I work in medical imaging and I have nurtured a fascination for art and antiques for many years, initially as a hobby and collector, later as an antique dealer. In this context, studying an image is also very important, but feeling the piece is something more intimate. As a child I already collected everything: stamps, coins, postcards, matchboxes, pocket watches, old spectacles, and everything that was possible to collect. These collections never lasted long, because when I already had a significant number of pieces, I would move on to the next. The ones that have lasted and have stayed with me are old medical instruments and paintings.

Your background as a collector has been carried over into the shop, where there are pieces from worlds far away and modern-day. 
At São Roque, antique and avant-garde furniture, religious, naturalist, modern and contemporary painting, ethnic and Indo-Portuguese pieces all coexist, eclectically, in a wide-ranging visual and cultural show. At the same time, we promote objects, artists, works, periods and styles, the intrinsic value of which reflects a current awareness that favours communication and understanding with the viewer. There are two sites, on Rua de São Bento, the antique shop and the gallery, so that objects, paintings and antiques can be more readable and, as such, visitors can feel the history and soul of everything around them.  

Art is also very present in your choices. Was it the fancy of a collector or is there another reason? 
As a teenager I used to accompany my mother to fairs and antique shops and, to some extent, it was her fascination for objects that awoke in me the desire to search for and recover the pieces I would find. I get a feeling that I can just can’t explain when I discover a piece, touch it and give it a new life. Even in Belgium, where I studied medicine, I used to find myself looking for antique objects. 

«I work in medical imaging and I have nurtured a fascination for art and antiques»
And how do you say goodbye to a piece or object? 
In business, there is buying and selling. I like buying more, because it has the charm of courtship, which leads me to search, to choose, and elevates my spirit as a collector. I believe it is for these reasons that I buy only what I like. Then there is the sale, I have to sell because this is what enables me to buy again. But it’s like a divorce, where each one goes their own separate way and, for this reason, I’ve never liked selling.

What does being an antique dealer mean to you?
It has a much broader meaning than being an antique or art dealer. While, on the one hand, in the purchase, there is study of the pieces, which involves experts and art historians, in order to guarantee authenticity, on the other, it cannot be denied that antique dealers play a fundamental role in the discovery, protection and conservation of heritage. And, in the antiques sector, there is also interaction and close collaboration with museums and other institutions, not only because we are often asked to collaborate with pieces in their exhibitions, but also because antique dealers give museums objects that enhance the collections on display. And, at São Roque, we promote debates on important pieces, exhibitions of artists, music events, publication of books on subjects related to antiques and our history; conferences, mainly abroad, on significant pieces or on Portuguese art; teaching to master’s degree students; and providing advice to clients, so that they feel more secure in their acquisitions or in their investments. That said, being an antique dealer is a huge world where art and antiques embrace for a common good.

Was going into new markets part of your plans?
I thought about internationalisation early on. António Afonso Lima, my partner, and I decided to take São Roque abroad, about five years ago, initially by taking part in the Paris Biennial. Being aware of the ignorance that existed about Portuguese history and art demanded it. We set to work. We published a book in French and English on the history of the Portuguese Discoveries and fusion art, and we presented a thematic and educational stand on the Portuguese voyages, from Africa to Japan, systematically covering all our possessions. All the pieces explained the fusion of art and culture. The success was extreme and, since then, we have repeated this strategy, both in Paris and recently in Brussels, the latter online, due to the pandemic. From year to year, interest has grown and, as a result, we have received multiple visits from people who tell us they have read our book and got so excited that they came to Lisbon to find out more about Portugal and our art. From then on, I was invited to give conferences on Portuguese art in France and Belgium, and an exhibition in Paris on 17th-century Portuguese faience, the golden age of our faience. 

«At São Roque, antique and avant-garde furniture coexist, eclectically»
And it was at the Paris Biennale, in 2018, that you also had a surprise.
Yes, that’s right. The best piece at the Paris Biennale, one of the most renowned antiques fairs in the world, was one of our pieces, a 16th-century Portuguese enamelled and gilded copper salver featuring the Portuguese royal coat of arms. The interest in this piece lies in the fact that, around the coat of arms of Don Sebastião, there are African motifs, making it the first in Europe that was produced uniting the two continents and where exoticism was revealed as art. It was also the first time that a Portuguese piece was awarded at a competition and we are all proud of it.

How did you come across this piece?
The piece had been with a collector for many years, who may have bought it in another antique shop and, by all accounts, this 16th-century salver was in the kitchen of the house. I should add that the success of this piece was so great that the directors of the Guimet Museum, on realising the importance of our faience in introducing the oriental in European art, which gave rise to the first chinoiseries, the following year asked me to lend several pieces for an exhibition on Ming porcelain of the Wanli period, with the purpose of showing the importance that Portuguese faience had in the development of this taste.

«Antique dealers give museums objects that enhance the collections on display»

When the shop was founded, back in the day, it managed to bring prestige to the name. 
Ever since my mother opened the antique shop, in 1990, I’ve always been by her side, even though I work as a doctor. I couldn’t resist and joined two passions. As a result, I absorbed her knowledge and her great discipline. In 2007, I decided to open two spaces with António, thinking of a larger, more dynamic and multifaceted place. Times were indeed different, but my time in Brussels, for seven years, gave me a more international view of art and the art market. I knew that I had to promote a change in this market in Portugal, so that it would become less static, more competitive and professional, using the European model. 

The gallery is also an exhibition space, and now features one on women in painting. 

I don’t claim to be a gallerist in the true sense of the word. But I always had modern art that, even in my mother’s time, was present, so, and because I feel that some artists deserve more affection, I started to hold exhibitions open to the general public. And, in this respect, and after others that have already been held here, we have, until the end of July A Tribute to Women. Artists in the São Roque Collection, in which we will exhibit 91 pieces by 40 women painters, some better known than others, but all important, from Josefa d’Óbidos, to Vieira da Silva, Paula Rego, Graça Morais, and Maria Keil, among others. This is a simple tribute to these women, to whom the barriers imposed by social, political or cultural issues, prevented them not only from following the artistic path, but also from obtaining their true recognition in this field. 
Cristina Freire
T. Cristina Freire
P. Nuno Almendra
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