Obituary: Artur Barbosa
Friday 13 October 1995
Barbosa, as he liked to be called (he loathed modern trends towards familiarity), lived a life full of paradox. He was born in Liverpool, the son of a Portuguese vice-consul and a half-French mother. Though proud of his distinguished Portuguese ancestry, he was to those who knew him the quintessence of the English gentleman, and his first name was always anglicised to Arthur. During his schooldays at St Edward's, Oxford, and later, studying at Liverpool School of Art, Heatherley's and the Central School of Art, he impressed his teachers as the pupil most likely to excel. In fact it was his school contemporaries Laurence Olivier, Rex Harrison and Douglas Bader, at the time showing few signs of greatness, who were to become household names.
While still a student, Barbosa first successfully exhibited his work in London as a founder member of the Pandemonium Group. Other members were Nicolas Bentley, Eliot Hodgkin and Victor Reinganum. At the same time he was illustrating for Everybody's Weekly and the Radio Times and producing his earliest book covers for several London publishers.
From 1930, his natural understanding of costume and an encyclopaedic knowledge of its history steered him towards designing for theatre. That year he designed for three concurrent West End productions and during the next few years worked with some of the great names of intimate revue - Andre Charlot, Kenneth Duffield and Cecil Landau. It is probable that this was the work he most enjoyed, but his drawings were so ideally suited to the elegance of the 1930s that during the same period he illustrated for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, the Sketch, the Bystander, Night and Day and the Queen (some of the best examples of a golden age of magazine design) as well as the leading advertising agencies and publishers.
After the Second World War, which he spent at the Ministry of Information (in the Portuguese section), he returned to illustrating, producing fashion drawings for Moss Bros and starting his long association and friendship with Georgette Heyer. The very "Englishness" of Barbosa's work then became in demand in the United States and for 10 years he worked almost exclusively for American publishers.
The 1960s brought a major change to Barbosa's career; through his friendship with Rex Harrison he became involved in interior decoration. He had always taken great pride in the work he had done in 1928 in the interior of St Andrew's Church, West Kirby, where he had designed the organ case, pew fronts and six-foot candlesticks. Nearly 40 years later, in 1966, he designed interiors for Harrison's house in Portofino, Italy, and a year later embarked on his most difficult and substantial task when he undertook the total refurbishment of Elizabeth Taylor's yacht, the Kalizma. He turned down the role he was offered in the Taylor/Burton film of the moment.
Barbosa worked at his drawing board until a few months before his death, when he began to be troubled by poor eyesight. Portraits of the Duke of Wellington and Edward Elgar for British Sherry labels won him a Golden Clio design award in America and designs for wine and whisky labels followed. He saw a certain irony in the fact that he was replacing a lifetime of drinking alcohol with an effort to help market it.
Outside his work, Barbosa was a character who might have stepped straight from the pages of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time. He would have been a perfect guest at Lady Molly's and utterly at home with a bottle and adoring female company in the early hours of the morning with Dicky Umfraville.
In the mid-1930s, as a result of his obsessive interest in the royal families of Europe up to 1914, he formed a court with his friends, and once a year, resplendently dressed in uniforms designed by himself, a grand ball was held. Barbosa was the Grand Duke, Rex Harrison was his aide-de-camp and Cecil Beaton the court photographer. There are some remarkable Beaton photographs of such occasions. A more lasting legacy of Barbosa's obsession is a collection of original photographs of members of European and Russian royal families from 1850 to 1914, which he put together over a period of 40 years, probably the finest collection of its kind in existence.
Barbosa was adored by women throughout his life. He married three times, but had no children. Despite a long-held belief that the ideal marriage was a contract for nine years, he leaves a widow, Isobel, to whom he was inseparably married for 34 years.
Artur Ernesto Teixeira de Vasconcelos Barbosa, painter, illustrator and designer: born Liverpool 6 March 1908; twice married; died 5 October 1995.
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