Maria Aurélia Martins de Sousa was born on June 13, 1866 in the city of Valparaíso, Chile, daughter of a Portuguese emigrant. At only three years of age she came to Portugal with her family, which settled in the Quinta da China, a property on the banks of the river Douro in Porto.

Her artistic training began with private drawing and painting lessons from Caetano Moreira da Costa Lima. She was already 27 years old when she enrolled in the Academia Portuense de Belas-Artes, which she attended between 1893 and 1898. In 1899 she left for Paris, whit the financial support of her family. She stayed there for about three years, attending courses held by Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant at the Acádèmie Julien. In a similar way to the state scholars, before returning to Portugal she travelled through various European countries in the company of her sister Sofia, also a painter, who had joined Aurélia in Paris.

Once back in Porto, in spite of her regular participation in collective exhibitions, she developed a reserved career, somewhat withdrawn from the artistic circles of the city. Her artistic output is based on a narrow range of themes that she favoured and worked throughout her career; the portrait, landscape and intimate scenes of the domestic life. Apart from her own face, she sought the motifs for her paintings in the family universe, an inexhaustible source of inspiration: people, corners of the house, aspects of the garden, landscape with the river as the backdrop.

One of the reference marks of the Portuguese art at the turn of the century - the “Self-portrait” in the collection of the Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis - was painted by Aurélia de Sousa around 1900.