José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, commonly known as Almeida Júnior, was a Brazilian artist and designer; one of the first there to paint in the Realistic tradition of Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet. The "Dia do Artista Plástico" (Day of Fine Artists in Brazil) is celebrated on his birthday.
His art career began while he was working as a bell-ringer at the Church of Our Lady of Candelária in Itu. Some small works Júnior created on religious themes impressed the head priest enough to hold a fundraiser for him so he could go to Rio de Janeiro for formal art lessons.
In 1869, he enrolled at the Academia Imperial de Belas Artes (Imperial Academy of Fine Arts), where he studied with Victor Meirelles and Pedro Américo. His simple country speech and manners made him stick out among the rest of the students, who were all from more urban areas. After graduating, he chose not to compete for a travel award to Europe, instead returning to Itu and setting up a studio there.
During a tour of the São Paulo region in 1876, Emperor Pedro II saw Júnior's work and liked it. He personally offered Júnior his financial support. Later that year, Pedro II's royal decree awarded Júnior 300 francs per month (USD $60/month) for the purpose of studying in Paris. He soon settled in Montmartre and enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, becoming one of the many students of Alexandre Cabanel. While there, he participated in four of the Salons.
He remained in Paris until 1882. Then, after a brief trip to Italy, he returned to Brazil and exhibited the works he had created during his absence. In 1883, he opened a studio in São Paulo and taught art privately. He also held exclusive art exhibitions and fulfilled commissions for portraits of notable people ranging from coffee barons to Republican politicians. In 1884, he held a showing at the Exposição Geral de Belas Artes and was made a knight of the Order of the Rose.
In front of the Hotel Central in Piracicaba, Júnior was stabbed to death in 1898 by his cousin José de Almeida Sampaio. Júnior had been having a long-standing affair with Sampaio's wife, Maria Laura do Amaral Gurgel, who had briefly been engaged to Júnior, and Sampaio had just found out about it.