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Brazil’s Soft Power - Modernity, Identity and Diplomacy

 

By Everton Barreiro

June 19, 2018

 

Despite the negative headlines on Brazil currently published by newspapers and broadcast on TV channels, usually covering Brazil’s contemporary political corruption, scandals and shambles, crime and struggling economic performance, the fifth largest country in the world has also recently impressed the international press and critics, by showing off one of its best assets - the enormous power of its highly diverse culture.

Three recent visual art exhibitions have particularly showcased new narratives of Brazil as a cultural powerhouse: Beatriz Milhazes Rio Azul (April 17 - July 1, 2018) at London’s White Cube Gallery, Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil (February 11 - June 3, 2018) at MoMA, New York, and, the exhibition which is the anchor of this article, The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted for War (April 6 - June 22, 2018), currently on show in the Sala Brasil Arts Centre at the Embassy of Brazil in London. Almost simultaneously overlapping, the three exhibitions on Brazilian art and artists, have taken place between London and New York. This essay argues that this recent interest in Brazil's art is far from being coincidental. 

Everton Barreiro in conversation with Dr. Vinicius de Carvalho, Senior Lecturer at King's College, London.
1. Beatriz Milhazes,  Rio Azu l, White Cube Gallery, 2018, London

1. Beatriz Milhazes, Rio Azul, White Cube Gallery, 2018, London

This is historically significant, as it demonstrates the increasing interest in Brazilian as well as Latin American art more generally. Interestingly, as the Royal Academy of Art’s Senior Curator, Adrian Locke, points out in his essay to the Embassy exhibition catalogue,

'The Tate had once failed to acquire a work of art by the modernist painter, Candido Portinari (1903 - 1962), the first Brazilian artist to have a monographic exhibition, Portinari of Brazil, at New York’s MoMA in 1940. Nor did they acquire either of the two paintings that were given by Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973), now considered a seminal figure in the history of modernism in Latin America’. (1)

It would be hard to believe that the Tate would take the same approach in terms of collecting Latin American art in the 21st century.

Where does this interest in Latin America come from? Latin America as a whole, has experienced economic growth and visibility in the last thirty years, particularly after the military dictatorships in that continent started to be dismantled between the mid-1980s and early 1990s. This economic growth is projected to continue in the region in the next few decades. It will be interesting to watch though, whether this economic expansion in that vast continent will also produce better wealth distribution and prosperity for most people. The potential for increasing trade relations with the rest of the world is likely to take place. Demonstrated by summits between the European Union and Mercosul, for instance. Increasing trade with China, who has been buying Latin American commodities to feed its own gigantic economy. But this fascination for Latin America, and Brazil, should not be only about the economy. 

These three exhibitions seem to also indicate a curiosity about Brazil’s society, culture and the arts. Brazil’s highly culturally, religiously and racially hybrid society. Particularly at times of growing far-right, populist, inward and intolerant discourse among the so-called developed nations in North America, in particular the U.S., and of course Europe. As doors begin to close in the ‘developed’ Western countries, as the 'colours seem to go darker’, in metaphorical terms, Brazil seems to propose a different alternative. The once highly criticised racial hybridity of Brazil, for instance, by inaccurate nineteenth-century thinkers such as, the Swiss-American biologist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807 - 1973), who called Brazil’s racially mixed populations, ’degenerates’, is however in the 21st century, recognised as being a sign of racial and cultural strength.

2. Emiliano Di Cavalcanti,  Woman from Bahia,  n. d.   Brighton and Hove Museums and Galleries . The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

2. Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, Woman from Bahia, n. d. Brighton and Hove Museums and Galleries. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

Despite the South American nation’s struggles to create more socioeconomic prosperity and equality for its inhabitants of Afro-descent. 

This article aims to tackle perceptions, and misconceptions of Brazil and its highly diverse culture and arts, whilst attempting to demonstrate Brazil’s ambitions to project a strong image and identity of a modern country. A country that would have used modernism in art and design to assert its position of a ‘soft-power’, I argue, as the history of the twentieth-century unfolds. Unravelling the significances of the exhibition The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted for War, and a historic exhibition, later analysed, which has informed this contemporary exhibition at the Embassy of Brazil.

Two Exhibitions

Envisaged and organised by the Cultural Section of the Embassy of Brazil in London, and led by the ambitious Brazilian diplomat and former Embassy Attaché, Hayle Gadelha, The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted for War was co-curated by the Royal Academy of Art’s Senior Curator Adrian Locke. The checklist is comprised of twenty-four paintings by some of the most prominent artists of the Brazilian modern art movement, such as Candido Portinari (1903 - 1962), Emiliano Di Cavalcanti (1897 - 1976), Lasar Segall (1889 - 1957) , José Pancetti (1902 - 1958), Roberto Burle Marx (1909 - 1994), Cardoso Júnior (1861 - 1947) which are currently owned by some of Britain’s prominent public art institutions and private collections, including the Tate.

When Hayle Gadelha was transferred from his diplomatic post in Beijing to head the Cultural Section of the Embassy of Brazil in London, four years ago, an extraordinarily ambitious research began to take place led by his passion, persistence and hard-work. An incredible historic episode, largely forgotten by both sides of the Atlantic, had come to his knowledge: the Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings held at the Royal Academy of Arts for a month, between November and December of 1944, following the military Brazilian Expeditionary Force which joined the Allied Forces in Italy, in the same year to fight Nazi-Germany. 

At the very kind invitation by Gadelha, I paid a visit to him prior to the opening of the contemporary exhibition in the building of the Embassy of Brazil, strategically located in Central London, just off Trafalgar Square.

3. Gastão Worms,  Still Life  n. d. The Hepworth Wakefield.  The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

3. Gastão Worms, Still Life n. d. The Hepworth Wakefield. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

Passionately talking me through the story of this adventure, he revealed that he had 'access to a very limited research material found on the 1944 Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings. The Royal Academy of Arts which had hosted the event and exhibition on the persistent request of the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office and British Council, seems to have forgotten this exhibition held at the institution in 1944. As the institution never revisited this major historic event, before Hayle Gadelha approached the Royal Academy. The former Attaché must have taken the Royal Academy’s contemporary senior curatorial team by surprise, when he first approached the institution to discuss the 1944 Exhibition.

Digging into, and through documents at the National Archives, Gadelha and the Royal Academy began to realise, what I would describe as, the ‘neglect' of such an important episode for the history of Anglo-Brazilian diplomatic relations. This historic ‘amnesia’, does not come as a surprise.

The fascinating documentation found at the National Archives, in London, provided evidence of the extraordinary diplomatic efforts made by Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Embassy in Rio de Janeiro, the British Council and others to realise a very challenging task: convince a London-based cultural institution to host one hundred-sixty eight works of modern art by seventy Brazilian modernist artists in the middle of WWII, within a very restricted time frame, safely transport these paintings across the Atlantic whilst Nazi submarines were sinking Brazilian merchant ships, and, exhibit and sell these works of art as a symbolic and kind gesture by the Brazilian modern artists to raise funds for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. 

 
4. Exhibition Catalogue,  Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings , Royal Academy of Arts (London, 1944).

4. Exhibition Catalogue, Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings, Royal Academy of Arts (London, 1944).

 

Tim Marlow, the current artistic director at the Royal Academy, comments on the reluctance of the institution to host the 1944 Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings,

'It turns out that the generosity of spirit back in 1944 was rather one-sided and that the Academy’s role was reluctant, to say the least, but we are nothing if not self-critical these days’ (2).

Marlow’s recognition of the ‘one-sided’ approach of the then conservative institution is echoed by many other of his contemporaries - academics, art critics and artists in today’s cultural landscape.

The conservative and elitist position adopted by the Royal Academy, in 1944, in resisting to host these Brazilian works of modern art was not exclusive to this institution. The National Gallery, the Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Wallace Collection politely declined the request by the British Foreign Office and British Council to curate such an exhibition. There was also the practical and logistical issue of curating a show whilst London was being hit by Nazi bombs. Britain’s cultural life was tragically in the dark. British cultural institutions neither had the interest in exhibiting these Brazilian modernist paintings, nor the will to attend a request by the British Government. 

The correspondence and other documents found at the National Archives, and brought back to light by Gadelha, provide extraordinary evidence of the struggle by the Foreign Office in persuading the Royal Academy to host the 1944 Exhibition. In a letter dated back to October 1944 to the president of the institution at the time, Sir A. J. Munnings - a fine painter of horses and a critic of modernist art, the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, later to become the prime-minister of the United Kingdom, intervenes by appealing for a second time to the Royal Academy to exhibit the Brazilian works of art,

‘We approached the Royal Academy officially last March with regard to the exhibition of a collection of Brazilian paintings presented to His Majesty’s Government by the artists as a demonstration of goodwill and admiration for Great Britain and the part she has played in the war, but Sir Walter Lamb informed us that, owing to existing engagements, the Council regretted that they could not arrange for the pictures to be shown at Burlington House during the present autumn or winter. Meanwhile the pictures have arrived in this country, and it has become a matter of urgency to arrange for their early exhibition, if all the value of the artists’ gesture is not to be lost as a consequence of an apparent lack of interest or appreciation on our part. In these circumstances, I am venturing to appeal to the Royal Academy again in the hope that the Council may now see their way to allow the use of the Royal Academy for exhibiting these paintings for three weeks from, say, the middle of November’. (3)

Eden continues on his extraordinary diplomatic appeal,

‘If you, or any member of the Council, would prefer to see the pictures first, this could easily be arranged. We are prepared to pay the usual charge for expenses, and the British Council has agreed to be responsible for the exhibition of the pictures’. (4)

With the direct intervention by the Foreign Secretary, and, an implicit suggestion that the Royal Academy would receive funds to support the institution, Sir A. J. Munnings finally accepted the request by the British Government.

The 1944 Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings finally materialised. Featuring the one hundred and sixty-eight paintings by cutting-edge modernist artists from Brazil - the first exhibition of Brazilian art ever held in the UK, during the course of WWII - the darkest historic event of the twentieth-century. What a fantastic Anglo-Brazilian diplomatic achievement. Brazilian diplomats and modernist artists combined forces to showcase the finest Brazilian art for the first time held on British soil. Provoking and instigating reactions. Shocking and disappointing some of the ‘unprepared audience’. Surprising the British audience, who for the first time, confronted themselves with a different Brazil, compared to the country they had ‘constructed’ in their imaginary. 

The greatest names of the first wave of the Brazilian modernist movement, Candido Portinari (1903 - 1962), Roberto Burle Marx (1909 - 1994), Lasar Segall (1889 - 1957) and Tarsila do Amaral (1886 - 1973), who was the iconic representative of the Brazilian utopian avant-garde Anthropophagic Movement or Movimento Antropofágico in visual arts, also had one of her paintings, Landscape from 1924, exhibited at Burlington House. The 1944 Exhibition was supported by other one hundred and sixty-two architectural images coming from an exhibition curated at MoMA, Brazil Builds, which had taken place a year before at the New York-based museum. The architectural images, therefore, gave the Brazilian modern paintings more ‘credibility'. MoMA’s Brazil Builds, from 1943, suggests a growing interest by American cultural institutions, and government in the period, in the history of Brazilian architecture, with a particular focus on Brazilian modernist architecture and how it was used by Brazil to project an image of a modern country featuring its new bold designs and buildings. Reshaping national identity through modernist architecture. Brazil had then embraced the 'modern project'. 

Burlington House was strategically decorated with Union Jack and Brazilian flags, side by side. Members of the British elite and intelligentsia - journalists, art critics, artists visited the opening. And, for the delight of both British and Brazilian diplomats, Queen Elizabeth, later to become the Queen Mother, paid a visit accompanied by Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Kent. At the time, the high profile visit by members of the British Royal Family would have been the greatest expression of gratitude that the government of prime minister Winston Churchill could offer to the generous Brazilian artists and their state.

5. H.R.H. The Duchess of Kent visits the Exhibition of Paintings by Brazilian artists at Burlington House, 1944, Royal Academy of Arts.

5. H.R.H. The Duchess of Kent visits the Exhibition of Paintings by Brazilian artists at Burlington House, 1944, Royal Academy of Arts.

The reaction by some of Britain’s traditional elite and press, to the Brazilian modernist paintings was however, with no surprise, politely skeptical and ignorant. The British newspaper, The Observer, published the following critique,

‘The general effect is not what one would have expected, so arbitrary are the ideas one forms of national temperaments. The majority of the pictures are low in tone an their range of colour restricted. Moreover, the predominant influence appears to be Central European rather than French’. (5)

6. Exhibition of Brazilian Artists at Burlington House, 1944, Royal Academy of Arts

6. Exhibition of Brazilian Artists at Burlington House, 1944, Royal Academy of Arts

There was a general sense of gratitude to the ‘generous’ Brazilian modernist artists, for trying to help the British War Effort, rightly expressed by the British press whilst covering the exhibition. However, gratitude, was the best that the British could give the Brazilian painters. The contemporary art historian and one of the most important art collectors of Latin American art in the UK, Catherine Petitgas - who I had once the pleasure to interview in the past, interestingly comments that the British public at the time, were 'expecting bananas and oranges’ coming from the tropics, but what they really encountered were ‘apples and pears’. The latter expression refers to the Brazilian Expressionist art style highly informed by a Central European school of painting, which hugely influenced early modernist artists in Brazil.

One could say that, the majority of British visitors to the 1944 Exhibition, and, the country’s elite, would not have understood, as a country, that ally in the far-distant tropical South America. The only information the 1944 Exhibition audience would probably have known about Brazil, was that the country was a great rubber and coffee exporter.

This colonial arrogance, lack of knowledge and understanding about Brazil, and Brazilian modern art were reinforced too, by a member of the British upper-class, Sacheverell Sitwell (1897 - 1988). Sitwell was, inadequately, invited to write the preface of the catalogue of the Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings. He certainly did not have the expertise on history of modern art to take up this task. Sitwell comments in the catalogue,

‘The progress of painting has been fast on this prolific soil, so fast that we may hope it will become slower and more serious. Up to this present, the influences have come from foreign exiles, and from Brazilians returned from Paris. In the first respect it might be said that the foreign blood has not been, so far, of first rate quality. What Brazil needs is not more exiles from Central Europe but the presence of a true chef d’école from Paris, or even London’. (6)

Sitwell continues,

‘Do they incline, some few of them, a little too much upon exiled help from Central Europe. It is possible. Painters from those ravaged lands have settled in Brazil; but Brazilians, as we know from their modern buildings, are quick to learn from foreign influence’. (7)

7. Lucy Citti Ferreira,  Still Life with a Lamp , n.d., Manchester Art Gallery.  The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

7. Lucy Citti Ferreira, Still Life with a Lamp, n.d., Manchester Art Gallery. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

As shockingly condescending and inaccurate as Sitwell sounds, in his preface for the 1944 Exhibition, it would not have been unusual at that time, for a member of Britain’s elite to position himself in that angle. Two important conclusions should be made whilst unpacking Sitwell’s text: firstly, a certain resistance from the British to understand and embrace modernism as a style, and, as a discourse at the time. Secondly, Sitwell’s highly anti-Semitic remarks while describing the art produced by 'Central European exiles’ and their descents, was an ugly attack at Germanic and Slavic Expressionists, but in particular, those of a Jewish background.

By 1944, the British Empire was presenting ‘cracks’ of decline, nevertheless, it was still pretty vast. The history of empires, may suggest that the latter would not be at ease with any discourse that would threaten the maintenance of continuity and the preservation of traditions and historicism. In principle, these same imperial values were exactly what both European and Brazilian modernists would have strongly rejected. Modernist art and design opposed and subverted European imperialism and its products, such as war. Modernism sought to look forward to the future, rebuild a new world based upon egalitarian values. 'Cleaning the surfaces’ from ornament symbolising the past.

Understandably, therefore, there would have been very little scope for modernism to develop in Britain in the 1940s. It is certainly understandable why it took the Surrealist movement so long to cross the Channel. The International Surrealist Exhibition only arrived in London in 1936. Surrealist performances and art were already prominent in Paris in the 1920s.

Identity and Antropofagia 

The Brazilian utopian and avant-garde modernist Anthropophagic Movement, or, Movimento Antropofágico, whose 1928 manifesto set out by the poet Oswald de Andrade (1890 - 1954), would probably have been considered too radical by the British intelligentsia, let alone, the establishment. The Anthropophagic Movement, sought to ‘break-away’ from and with European norms in art, metaphorically, by appropriating some of Amerindian cannibal practices. 'Devouring', 'eating', 'swallowing' and ‘regurgitating' the cultures of European colonisers, with the aim to produce a new, more evolved, racially and culturally hybrid civilisation in tropical Brazil.

This highly progressive and utopian discourse would certainly not have been comprehended, neither welcome, by the British 1944 Exhibition audience. Britain, an imperial power then, stood for the maintenance of the Empire. I think it is fair to say that Sitwell would have felt very uncomfortable with Antropofagia as an avant-garde concept.

This anti-colonial feeling, the need to search for an ‘authentic' national and cultural identity less reliant on Europe, and, an ambition to construct the tropical version of modernity through the eyes of modernism, were paramount after Brazil became a republic in 1889. The Brazilian Emperor was gone. The nation could no longer rely on the crown to define its national identity. The abolition of slavery took place the year before, in 1888, (Brazil was shockingly the last country in the world to abolish slavery) the awkward declaration of the Republic by Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca. Brazil had to look forward to the future after the rupture with Portugal. And, simply ‘emulating’ Europe was not going to be sufficiently good to build a progressive force in the tropics. The tropical version of European modernism was perhaps the way forward.

8. Thea Haberfeld,  Landscape , c. 1943, Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery.  The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

8. Thea Haberfeld, Landscape, c. 1943, Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

9. Artist Tarsila do Amaral at Galerie Percier, Paris July 1926, Arquivo do Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros da Universidade de São Paulo.  Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil , 2018, MoMA, New York

9. Artist Tarsila do Amaral at Galerie Percier, Paris July 1926, Arquivo do Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros da Universidade de São Paulo. Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, 2018, MoMA, New York

The leaders of the Anthropophagic Movement, Oswald de Andrade and his partner, the painter Tarsila do Amaral, began to envisage this great national project across the arts back in 1922. The growing city of São Paulo, which was then receiving all the economic benefits from the revenues of the export-led coffee plantations and economy in the state of São Paulo, was the host-city for the 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna, Week of Modern Art of São Paulo.

Organised and supported by the writer and diplomat, Graça Aranha (1868 - 1931), Oswald de Andrade, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, the painter Anita Malfatti (1889 - 1964), the ambitious Semana de Arte Moderna presented a week of activities held at the city’s municipal theatre. Poetry readings, visual arts exhibitions, music and lectures took place. Reaffirming the commitment and passion by artists and intellectuals to start a ‘new national project’.

However, the Week of Modern Art was more successful in presenting unprecedented new literary styles rather than groundbreaking new schools of painting. One of the event’s key players, and supporters of the later Anthropophagic Movement, the writer and poet Mário de Andrade (1893 - 1945), published in 1922, just after the Week of Modern Art took place, his book of poems called Paulicéia Desvairada or Hallucinated City. This publication of poems sought to propose new ways of writing in Brazilian Portuguese whilst setting the city of São Paulo as the forefront of Brazil’s modernity and ‘modernisation’.

São Paulo represented the new rising urban force of Brazil. Beginning to see manufacturing arriving in its metropolitan area, sponsored by the revenues from coffee plantations. The Brazilian historian José Murilo de Carvalho analyses the role of São Paulo in representing a sense of Brazilian modernity while providing a background of the period in which the Week of Modern Art took place,

‘Between 1880 and 1920 almost two million immigrants, mostly Italians, went to São Paulo, deeply altering the demography, economy and society of the state. Even the distribution of rural property was democratised through immigrant social ascent, while the state displaced Rio de Janeiro from its leadership in the process of industrialisation. Scholars agree in accentuating the gap which had started to separate São Paulo from the rest of the country. The paulistas rejoiced in portraying themselves as the locomotive that pulled the empty cars of the states’. (8)

Rio de Janeiro, on the other hand, was Brazil’s political capital and perhaps, too influenced by its imperial past and European heritage to host the 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna which aimed to create distance from European traditions. Wealth produced from coffee plantations and manufacture enabled affluent and traditional paulista families to influence policy in Brazil’s political capital whilst cementing São Paulo as the country’s major cultural centre. São Paulo came to represent the ‘internationalist' facet of Brazil’s modernism with its cosmopolitan and industrial ambitions, with art featuring darker, more Expressionist and monochrome tones. Rio de Janeiro, however, symbolised a Brazilian modernism based upon colourful folkloric themes, featuring its decadent European and Afro-Brazilian heritage, its impressive natural beauty. 

There is nonetheless a darker side to this paulista socioeconomic and cultural progress, as the American author Nancy Leys Stepan comments,

'The large white immigration to the southern, least black parts of the country in the last decade of the nineteenth and first two decades of the twentieth centuries played a role in indicating that Brazil would whiten over time, as did the extraordinarily high mortality rates among the black poor. The intelligentsia’s faith in the power of whiteness to dominate blackness was reinforced by the continued informal mechanisms of social control over black mobility, as well as more institutionalised forms of repression such as the use of the police to maintain social and racial order’. (9)

Brazil’s conservative and traditional upper-classes, particularly the paulista elite, wanted a white workforce of a European origin. Afro-Brazilians were marginalised in cities and rural Brazil. This conservative and traditional bourgeoisie were Europhiles.

Ironically, many of the artists taking part in the 1922 Week of Modern Art of São Paulo, though held progressive and liberal views for the period, were essentially the bohemian sons and daughters of the affluent traditional southern-eastern landowners from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, contrary to what Sitwell inaccurately assumed about the Brazilian modernist artists. He thought that the Brazilian painters were a bunch of struggling artists. The painter Tarsila do Amaral, the daughter of an important landowner, was brought up in a large farm or fazenda in the state of São Paulo, surrounded by Afro-Brazilian slaves. This was a true and painful part of her upbringing, which she would later aesthetically revisit through painting, and reference as part of the Anthropophagic discourse. 

10.  A Negra , c. 1923, Tarsila do Amaral, Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo.  Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil , MoMA, 2018, New York.

10. A Negra, c. 1923, Tarsila do Amaral, Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo. Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, MoMA, 2018, New York.

Many of these artists, some of whom were later to send their works of art to be exhibited in the 1944 Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings, in London, had studied, visited and lived in England, Paris, Berlin and other cosmopolitan European centres. It is fair to admit that, though many of them were from a very privileged background, (Tarsila was nicknamed by her avant-garde bohemian circles in Paris and São Paulo as the “caipirinha* dressed by Poiret”, making a reference to the Parisian couturier Paul Poiret, whose Couture collections, Tarsila would have worn. The painter was known for making the typical Brazilian drink caipirinha for her bohemian circles when she lived in Paris.), they sought to understand their own country, by temporarily leaving the paulista-carioca bubble (as well as the typical Brazilian drink, caipirinha, is a term to describe the mixed-race Brazilians coming from the interior parts of Brazil).

11. Tarsila do Amaral in her home c. 1930, Arquivo do Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros da Universidade de São Paulo.  Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil , 2018, MoMA, New York

11. Tarsila do Amaral in her home c. 1930, Arquivo do Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros da Universidade de São Paulo. Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, 2018, MoMA, New York

I would also suggest that, perhaps the modernist artists also wanted to come to terms with Brazil’s dark past from its long period of black slavery, as well as the extreme social inequalities present in other parts of the country. Artists such as Tarsila do Amaral, Oswald de Andrade, Mário de Andrade, Roberto Burle Marx as well as, in a later period, the modernist architect and artist Flávio de Carvalho (1899 - 1973), all embarked in expeditions across the country. Aiming to explore the interiors of Brazil, these artists confronted with some of the brutal realities of the underdeveloped regions of the country. 

 
12. Candido Portinari,  Dead Child  c. 1944. Museu de Artes de São Paulo - MASP

12. Candido Portinari, Dead Child c. 1944. Museu de Artes de São Paulo - MASP

 

Some of these brutal realities were masterfully depicted by the painter Candido Portinari. Often featuring his sitters and landscape with his disturbing, and yet, incredibly powerful social realism. His body of work featured scenes of interior barefoot-peasants wearing ragged clothing whilst suffering from hunger or malnutrition, in tough arid landscapes, such as in the painting Criança Morta, or Dead Child from 1944, interestingly, the year the Exhibition took place in London. Portinari explored similar dark themes in The Scarecrow from 1940, which ended up traveling to London to be shown at Burlington House in 1944. The extreme poverty and tough landscape of the interiors from the economically-declined northeastern region of Brazil, would probably have been uncomfortable to ‘swallow’, by both the well-brought up artists from the southern states of the country, and the unprepared 1944 Exhibition audience in London. 

13. Candido Portinari,  Scarecrow  c. 1940, The Mercer Art Gallery.  The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

13. Candido Portinari, Scarecrow c. 1940, The Mercer Art Gallery. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

The scholar and design historian, Dr Livia Rezende, from the Royal College of Art in London, expands on the social disparities of the period,

'…social transformation and general national development did not follow the partial economic growth achieved. The root cause for disparity, according to Warren Dean, rested in Brazil’s "landowning class”, “whose horizons did not extend far beyond short-run speculation”, and the “dominant class”, “whose developmental goals fell considerably short of the available opportunities”. Brazil’s role in the world trade increased. Some Brazilians became richer, but the majority of the population remained illiterate and with poor quality of life’. (10)

Deep social inequalities still haunt Brazil even in the 21st century in spite of significant improvements made in the last thirty years driven by the stabilisation of the currency and inflation, rapid economic growth and a better redistribution of wealth. However, by reading Rezende’s historical accounts whilst looking at some of Portinari’s dark paintings full of social critique, one can understand the complex roots of this apparent and chronic Brazilian problem.

But it was not all grim. The early Brazilian modernists went out in the country to discover their own identity as well as Brazil’s spectacular, exuberant and wild tropical nature, regional folklore, vibrant colours and dramatic landscapes which became themes that caused profound emotional and aesthetic impact on Tarsila do Amaral. ‘The caipirinha dressed by Poiret’, had fallen in love with the bright and vivid colours of the exuberant landscape in the tropics - the palm and banana trees, the cacti, the picturesque bridges of the interior areas. She seductively stylised her own country and its festivities, like no other Brazilian painter. She brushed strokes of saturated colour to depict carnival, for instance, in Carnival in Madureira from 1924 - portraying the Afro-Brazilian population of Rio de Janeiro dressed in vibrant and stylish yellows, emeralds, fuchsia, dusty-pink, deep-blues.

14. Tarsila do Amaral,  Carnival in Madureira , c. 1924, Acervo da Fundação José e Paulina Nemirovsky | Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo.  Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil , 2018, MoMA, New York

14. Tarsila do Amaral, Carnival in Madureira, c. 1924, Acervo da Fundação José e Paulina Nemirovsky | Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo. Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, 2018, MoMA, New York

Indeed, her style of painting may have referenced European modern artists, such as Paul Cézanne and his Bathers. Yes, she may have looked at Constantin Brancusi’s Primitivism and sculptures whilst living in Paris to compose one of her most iconic paintings, A Negra from 1923. She may have 'flirted with Picasso’ to draw references while creating the pronounced female body, and indeed, she would have looked at Paul Gauguin’s take on saturated shades, nonetheless with her own unique sensibility. Nothing extraordinarily new in terms of style, though her partner Oswald de Andrade would probably have argued the contrary, but it did not matter. 

15. Tarsila do Amaral,  Hill of the Favela , c. 1924, Hecilda and Sérgio Fadel Collection, Rio de Janeiro.  Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil , 2018, MoMA, New York

15. Tarsila do Amaral, Hill of the Favela, c. 1924, Hecilda and Sérgio Fadel Collection, Rio de Janeiro. Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, 2018, MoMA, New York

I would argue that, although the artists from the 1922 Week of Modern Art of São Paulo did not propose anything particularly different in stylistic terms to what European modern painters in Paris, Berlin, Vienna were producing in the same period, the event did at least, set out the will to develop a new dialogue and a discussion around national identity through visual arts. The 1928 Anthropophagic Manifesto later envisaged by Tarsila’s partner, the poet Oswald de Andrade, and herself, took the discourse of ‘national and cultural authenticity' on to a nationalistic, and perhaps, naïve level.

16. Tarsila do Amaral,  The Papaya Tree , c. 1925, Coleção de Artes Visuais do Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros da Universidade de São Paulo.  Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil , 2018, MoMA, New York

16. Tarsila do Amaral, The Papaya Tree, c. 1925, Coleção de Artes Visuais do Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros da Universidade de São Paulo. Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, 2018, MoMA, New York

Dr Rafael Cardoso, art historian graduated at the Courtauld Institute, in London, challenges the myth that the 1922 Week of Modern Art and the 1928 Anthropophagic Manifesto were the first events to deal with the issues around national identity in visual arts. In his essay, The Brazilianness of Brazilian Art, Cardoso mentions the painting, O Derrubador Brasileiro, (The Brazilian Lumberjack), from 1879, by the Realist artist José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior (1850 - 1899), as a work of art already dealing with the figure of the mixed-race figure of the interior, the caipira.

17. José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior,  O Derrubador Brasileiro , c. 1879. Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro

17. José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, O Derrubador Brasileiro, c. 1879. Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro

Cardoso goes further to scrutinise Oswald de Andrade’s obsessive preoccupation to demonstrate to the Europeans the ‘authenticity’ of Brazilian modernist art. Cardoso cites an interesting as well as awkward lecture that the poet had given at the Sorbonne in Paris, 

'The new artists linked to the Semana de Arte Moderna were "setting the bases for a truly Brazilian and current painting". How? Oswald de Andrade explains: by "adopting the modern processes deriving from the Cubist movement in Europe”. (33) Presumably carried away in the heat of public speaking, the author apparently failed to notice the logical contradiction inherent to the argument that importing Cubism would somehow give rise to a Brazilian style of painting’. (11)

Interestingly, though Oswald de Andrade suggested at the Sorbonne, that Brazilian modernist artists should be ‘adopting the modern processes deriving from the Cubist movement in Europe’, his partner Tarsila, on the other hand, resisted the ‘dictatorship’ of Cubism in Europe. Years prior to Oswald de Andrade’s lecture, whilst living in Paris, Tarsila had written to her friend the painter Anita Malfatti, “Almost all of it runs to Cubism or Futurism. Lots of impressionist and Dadaist landscapes”. (12)

The core pillar of Brazilian modernism, the Anthropophagic Movement, launched its ambitious manifesto in 1928 set out by Oswald de Andrade. In the same year, his friend, the writer and poet Mário de Andrade releases his new novel, the ‘bible of the Brazilian modernist project’ in literature, called Macunaíma, supporting the Anthropophagic discourse and his friend. 

Macunaíma, was the story about a man from the jungle without a character. He was a racially and culturally hybrid hero who travelled and experienced the urban modern city and eventually returned to the place where he had come from. A ‘mutant’ man from the tropics, who would speak Portuguese as well as the language of the indigenous Amerindians, the Tupi. Mário de Andrade sought to change traditional styles of writing in Portuguese language, by deliberately introducing indigenous words, Tupi, to the novel.

But the Anthropophagic man and woman from the tropics, were yet to appear in visual arts. Tarsila’s most iconic painting, Anthropophagy from 1929, was completed the year after the hero Macunaíma by the Mário de Andrade was released. It symbolised the miscegenation between the Europeans, Afro-Brazilians and Amerindians. Recently exhibited at the retrospective dedicated to Tarsila do Amaral at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Anthropophagy from 1929, had then resolved the question of national and cultural identity for Brazilian modernists and anthropophagists.

The work portrays two sensuous naked bodies (male and female), with exaggerated features. The figures are faceless, comfortably seated on the ground with the wild exuberant tropical nature as their backdrop - a large banana tree leaf, plenty of cacti. Like Macunaíma, Antropofagia or Anthropophagy symbolised the hybrid men and women from the tropics, the result of ‘cannibalism’. The product of ‘swallowing’ and ‘regurgitating’, perhaps the right term is, appropriating, all cultures and races to create a more evolved civilisation. This painting celebrates the racial and cultural mixings of all peoples in Brazil. 

18. Tarsila do Amaral,  Anthropophagy , c. 1929, Acervo da Fundação José e Paulina Nemirovsky | Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo.  Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil , 2018, MoMA, New York

18. Tarsila do Amaral, Anthropophagy, c. 1929, Acervo da Fundação José e Paulina Nemirovsky | Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo. Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, 2018, MoMA, New York

Nonetheless the avant-garde Anthropophagic project would have presented major problems to Western powers and cultures. 'Published between 1928 and 1929, the Revista Antropofagia was a magazine featuring articles and drawings reflecting on the intellectual artistic work of a range of modernist artists and writers of that generation.’ (13) Contributors to the publication, such as Oswald de Andrade, Manuel Bandeira (1886 - 1968), Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902 - 1987) and Mário de Andrade often clashed as the discourse became increasingly hostile. This conflict culminated with the exit of Mário de Andrade from the magazine as a contributor, who had fallen out with the Oswald de Andrade. The second edition reveals the movement’s growing toughening debate,

Anthropophagia does not want to situate itself only in the literary field. It aims for more: “the anthropophagic course is neither a literary, social, political, nor religious revolution. It is all at the same time”. Condemning “the false morals of the West”, the “anthropophagists" are against spiritualists, metaphysics, and the nationalists of fascist inclination, but also avoid the extremisms of the canons of the left: "we are against the fascists of all kinds and against the Bolsheviks of all species”. (14)

This fascinating extract, reveals the rather contradictory and hostile tone that had dominated the discourse. Even though the Brazilian modernist artists and intellectuals generally condemned nationalism, hence they supported Britain’s role in fighting nazi-fascism, and, the military Brazilian Expeditionary Force in Italy in 1944, Anthropophagists, paradoxically adopted a more nationalistic tone. Although they were not necessarily Bolsheviks, both Tarsila do Amaral and Oswald de Andrade increasingly flirted with socialism, coincidently after the 1929 Crash which had then wiped out Tarsila’s family’s great fortunes made from coffee plantations.

Both Tarsila and De Andrade, distanced themselves from themes related to the Anthropophagic project, to embrace socially-driven topics linked to industrialisation, urbanisation and working conditions in the early 1930s, reflecting the shift and mood in Brazilian politics and the economy. 

The authoritarian President Getúlio Vargas (1882 - 1954) rose to power in Brazil in 1930 through a coup d’état, (in total Vargas ruled the country between 1930 and 1945, as a dictator from 1937 and 1945. Later democratically elected in 1951 until his suicide in 1954), deeply transforming the country politically and economically. Brazil witnessed growing economic performance, increasing modernisation and industrialisation during the long Vargas’s era through the 1930s and early 1940s. However, the country’s socially liberal citizens, along with socialists and communists paid a sad price under his authoritarian government.

A passionate anti-communist, Vargas flirted with Mussolini’s style of Fascism and was torn between supporting Hitler’s Nazi-Germany and the liberal democracies led by Britain and the United States. Fortunately, and eventually, Vargas came to some reason as he supported the latter. It was under Vargas’s early government that Tarsila do Amaral was temporarily arrested and imprisoned as a result of a visit that she had made to the former Soviet Union for an exhibition. She was accused of being a communist, therefore a traitor. By then, Tarsila and Oswald de Andrade were no longer together. This explains the rather more sombre mood and tones that Tarsila applied on her painting; Workers from 1933, epitomises this sentiment. This painting concludes her contemporary retrospective which finished only recently at MoMA, possibly due to the fact that Tarsila was no longer as colourful for the New York-based institution. Tarsila’s colours became soberer and more militant. Distancing herself from her colourful allegories from the previous period of her career. It would have been interesting to assess the reactions by the contemporary New York audience to Tarsila’s works of art. 

It is not a coincidence that she had produced, Workers, from 1933, just after the so-called 1932 paulista Constitutionalist Revolution, which protested against Vargas’s coup d’etat and his disrespect for the country’s constitution. The paulista revolutionaries also demanded more worker’s rights and protection. Eventually in 1934, the paulistas, got what they wanted from Vargas: a new constitution guaranteeing new workers’ rights. Workers by Tarsila, beautifully portrays the faces of the racially mixed workforce from the factories, embodying Brazil’s incredible racial and cultural diversity and hybridity. Depicting geometric modern architecture in the background and factories’ chimneys, sober shades of grey, ochre, blue and brown prevail in the composition.

19. Tarsila do Amaral,  Workers , c. 1933, Acervo Artístico-Cultural dos Palácios do Governo do Estado de São Paulo.  Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil , 2018, MoMA, New York

19. Tarsila do Amaral, Workers, c. 1933, Acervo Artístico-Cultural dos Palácios do Governo do Estado de São Paulo. Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, 2018, MoMA, New York

The Anthropophagic Movement and its discourse, seeking to redefine Brazilian cultural and national identity, as well as celebrating cultural and racial hybridity, was never really understood by the majority of Brazil’s population between the 1920s, when it was first envisaged, until the late 1960s. Neither by the 1944 Exhibition visitors and its organisers in London nor welcomed by Brazil's Europhile conservative elite of the first half of the twentieth-century. The avant-garde Anthropophagic project was only revisited, reinterpreted, understood and properly absorbed by a wider audience in Brazil, the U.S. and in Europe during Brazil’s dark military dictatorship which ruled the country between 1964 and 1985.

Anthropophagia gained new shapes with works of art and performance by Neo-Concrete artists such as Lygia Clark (1920 - 1988) and Hélio Oiticica (1937 - 1980), the latter happened to live in London for a period of time and collaborated extensively with London’s Whitechapel Gallery in 1969. Like Oiticica, other artists and musicians such as Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, the latter two musicians were exiled in London during the military dictatorship, integrated the Tropicalismo movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. This new generation of progressive and talented Brazilian artists, referenced and ‘ate' the first wave of anthropophagists. Legitimising, therefore, the first attempt that the early modernists had, to boldly create a new evolved civilisation through modernist art.

Modernity and Architecture 

One cannot discuss the ‘great Brazilian modern project’, without commenting on the incredible and ambitious production of Brazilian modernist architecture. Modernist architecture from Brazil, was ironically, more accepted by the Europeans, even by the British during the 1944 Exhibition. Certainly Brazil’s wealthier and more powerful northern neighbour, the United States, appreciated the daring curvilinear forms of Brazilian modern architecture, and how Brazil, had used this style to project a strong image of modernity in tropical south, as previously mentioned.

The 1943 MoMA exhibition, Brazil Builds, later crossing ‘the pond’ for the 1944 Exhibition was an evidence of that American fascination for its southernly neighbour. This 'connection' is not a surprise considering that both nations, the U.S. and Brazil, own large territories sharing the same continent. At that point in the 1940s, both federal republics, were having to deal with a European War.

Many of the Brazilian modernists were painters but also worked across different practices and media, such as the multi-disciplinary and visionary artists Roberto Burle Marx and Flávio de Carvalho, the latter and whose works, I had the privilege to write about in the past, during my masters studies. De Carvalho had one of his drawings sent to the 1944 Exhibition at Burlington House. Unfortunately, the contemporary exhibition The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted for War at the Embassy of Brazil in London, did not manage to incorporate any of his works, although his name is mentioned in the exhibition catalogue.

Flávio de Carvalho had lived and studied in Paris and England. He studied engineering, in northern England, to please his affluent father (like Tarsila, de Carvalho was the son of a coffee-landowner) and fine art, to please himself, at King Edward the Seventh School of Fine Arts. Whilst in England, he developed a great interest in drama, theatre playwright, painting. He was exposed to the latest theories proposed by Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939), in psychoanalysis, which would profoundly inform some his utopian architectural and performative work, paintings, drawings (often depicting dark disturbing themes) as well as clothing designs (the 1956 New Look). 

20. Flávio de Carvalho,  Casa da Fazenda Capuava , 1938. CEDAE Archive Universidade de Campinas - UNICAMP - SP

20. Flávio de Carvalho, Casa da Fazenda Capuava, 1938. CEDAE Archive Universidade de Campinas - UNICAMP - SP

Returning to São Paulo from Europe, just after the 1922 Week of Modern Art, de Carvalho took up a job at an engineering firm, again, to please his traditional family, however, he did not last long. My masters thesis offers a brief summary explaining some of de Carvalho’s works, 

‘… he designed a modernist residential villa to be built between 1936 and 1938 in São Paulo’s affluent area of Jardins, entitled casas de aluguel (houses for letting). He also successfully designed and built in 1939 his own modernist country ranch called Fazenda Capuava, located near the paulista country town of Valinhos, where the artist lived and worked according to his own beliefs, while hosting friends from bohemian, artistic and intellectual profiles from Brazil and abroad. In 1930 de Carvalho took part of the Fourth Pan-American Conference of Architecture in Rio de Janeiro, where he talked about “A cidade do homem nu” (Nude Man’s City), an utopian project significantly influenced by the Anthropophagic Movement, whose ideas had a substantial impact on the construction of de Carvalho’s man in the tropics and the New Look…’ (15)

21. Flávio de Carvalho,  Alameda Lorena Housing Complex , c. 1936 - 38. CEDAE Archive Universidade de Campinas - UNICAMP - SP

21. Flávio de Carvalho, Alameda Lorena Housing Complex, c. 1936 - 38. CEDAE Archive Universidade de Campinas - UNICAMP - SP

It becomes clear from reading this abstract, that, in the Brazilian Vargas authoritarian society, de Carvalho’s highly intellectual and progressive ideas were not going to materialise. In painting, he played heavily between Expressionist and Surrealist styles, using intense colours such as red and yellow, often depicting dark themes inspired by his passion for psychoanalysis.

Another multifaceted artist, Roberto Burle Marx, was luckier than his contemporary de Carvalho, in the architectural world. The son of a bourgeois Brazilian Roman Catholic mother of French descent and a cultivated German ashkenazi-Jewish émigré, for Sitwell’s displease, Burle Marx had also lived in Europe, in Berlin, with his family in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He had absorbed many of the German Expressionist influences, which deeply influenced his style in portraiture.

Burle Marx had seen the German Bauhaus. He went to the opera, and, it was in Berlin where he discovered his home country through nature, by visiting the Botanical Gardens and studying about botany, flora, and biology. He later became a passionate and active environmentalist in Brazil. As an innovative and talented landscape designer, he collaborated many times with the ‘pope’ of Brazilian modernist architecture, the communist Oscar Niemeyer (1907 - 2012), who famously designed many iconic Brazilian edifices, and Brazil’s future political federal capital, the city of Brasília which was inaugurated in 1960. 

Among many high profile architectural projects, Burle Marx designed the gardens of the Ministry of Education and Health in Rio de Janeiro. For this project, he ha collaborated with architects and artists, including Lúcio Costa(1902 - 1998), Oscar Niemeyer, and Candido Portinari amongst others. The project had the supervision of one of the greatest names of international modernism, the Swiss-French architect and designer Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965).

22. Roberto Burle Marx, Interior gardens, Itamaraty Palace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1965, Brasília.  Roberto Burle Marx - Brazilian Modernist , 2015, The Jewish Museum, New York

22. Roberto Burle Marx, Interior gardens, Itamaraty Palace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1965, Brasília. Roberto Burle Marx - Brazilian Modernist, 2015, The Jewish Museum, New York

The scope of Burle Marx’s contribution to Brazilian modernist architecture and landscape design was immense. He designed some of the gardens of Brazil’s future capital, such as the ones at Itamaraty Palace, the home of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The gardens of the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro. He was also responsible for designing the iconic pavement tiles of the city’s beaches along the coastal Copacabana area. In São Paulo, Burle Marx designed the rooftop gardens of the edifice of the headquarters of the Brazilian investment bank Safra, owned by the affluent Brazilian-Lebanese sephardic-Jewish family Safra. Later, the same family would commission Burle Marx to work on the gardens of one of São Paulo’s largest synagogues. 

23. Roberto Burle Marx, Detail to pavement tiles, 1970, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro.  Roberto Burle Marx - Brazilian Modernist , 2015, The Jewish Museum, New York

23. Roberto Burle Marx, Detail to pavement tiles, 1970, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Roberto Burle Marx - Brazilian Modernist, 2015, The Jewish Museum, New York

24. Roberto Burle Marx, Mineral roof garden, Banco Safra Headquarters, 1983, São Paulo.  Roberto Burle Marx - Brazilian Modernist , 2015, The Jewish Museum, New York

24. Roberto Burle Marx, Mineral roof garden, Banco Safra Headquarters, 1983, São Paulo. Roberto Burle Marx - Brazilian Modernist, 2015, The Jewish Museum, New York

Brazilian-Central European Expressionism 

Burle Marx, absorbed his country's tropical nature with fantastic sensibility - controlled it, contained it, whilst respecting it. He successfully transferred the vivid shades of green, taken from his tropical nature and gardens, onto canvas. Landscape, from 1943, is one of my favourite paintings at the current show at the Brazilian Embassy, which was also exhibited at Burlington House in 1944, for the delight of the British audience. Burle Marx masterfully and confidently uses incredible soft and pale greens, grey, white, ochre to depict the Portrait of a Young man, thankfully also shown currently at the Brazilian Embassy, and present too, at the 1944 Exhibition. His sitter’s strikingly stern facial features, certainly reveal traces of Burle Marx’s German-Jewish background in his love for Central European Expressionism, and in this case, adapting it to the colours of his tropical home.

25. Roberto Burle Marx,  Landscape , c. 1943, Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries.  The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

25. Roberto Burle Marx, Landscape, c. 1943, Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

26. Roberto Burle Marx,  Portrait of a young man , n. d., Kirklees Museums and Galleries.  The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

26. Roberto Burle Marx, Portrait of a young man, n. d., Kirklees Museums and Galleries. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

The contemporary exhibition The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted for War, held at the Brazilian Embassy, not only references some the works shown in the 1944 Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings at the Royal Academy, it also celebrates this rather dark facet of the early Brazilian modernists. For instance, the works by the Lithuanian-born and Brazilian-Jewish artist Lasar Segall settled in São Paulo, after studying in Berlin. The artist proudly and skillfully referenced his Jewishness, by evoking the stern and sober Expressionist style. This is absolutely clear while appreciating one of his Expressionist portraits, Lucy with Flower, c. 1939 - 42. The sitter’s incredibly powerful eyes contrast with the elegant shades of dusty pink and ochre in the background.

27. Lasar Segall,  Lucy with Flower , c. 1939 - 42, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.  The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

27. Lasar Segall, Lucy with Flower, c. 1939 - 42, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

28. Milton DaCosta,  Head of a Girl , c. 1942, Plymouth Museums and Galleries.  The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

28. Milton DaCosta, Head of a Girl, c. 1942, Plymouth Museums and Galleries. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

Milton DaCosta (1915 - 1988), was also influenced by the German Expressionist school of painting. Evidently whilst looking at Head of a Girl, from 1942. Again, another Expressionist painter who understands the harmonic use of colour. In this particular painting, DaCosta portrays his stern female sitter looking beautifully pallid, in her stylish buttoned-up shirt in different shades of green. Juxtaposing it, with rust and charcoal in the background. Not a coincidence that, Milton DaCosta was trained by the German private tutor August Hantv in 1929.

Regrettably, neither the 1944 Exhibition, nor the contemporary Embassy show, were able to feature one of the finest early modernist talents of Expressionist painting in Brazil, the artist Anita Malfatti.

Sitwell’s anti-Semitic critique targeting ‘Central European blood’ and the Expressionist style, demonstrates two interesting points: firstly, the British intelligentsia and elite would have looked up to France and the great French schools of painting. Such impressions were evidently, implicit in Sitwell’s preface. Tarsila’s bourgeois seductive bright colours drawing reference from French modern painters would probably have been more pleasing to digest, rather than the sober, dark and dry Brazilian-Central European Expressionism of Jewish blood. Just as Sitwell offensively describes as ‘foreign blood’, that ‘has not been, so far, first rate quality’.

Secondly, as shockingly and disturbing as these disgusting remarks may sound for us in the twenty-first century, at the time, anti-Semitism was not politically incorrect. We must remember, that the 1944 Exhibition, had taken place whilst Jews were being put in gas chambers in Nazi-Germany and Poland. Though the Europeans, the British, American and Brazilian governments knew that the Holocaust was taking place, Europe and the world had not yet come to terms with such horrors.

Politics and Diplomacy

The Bermuda Conference attended by American and British officials taking place in April 1943 on the paradisiac shores of Bermuda, was set up to try to cease Nazi brutality against Jews. Nonetheless, the conference tragically failed to reach a decisive position in taking Jews out of Nazi-controlled Europe as refugees. This Anglo-American failure, cost European Jews thousands of lives.

And yet, the United States and Argentina accepted more Jewish refugees in, than the Vargas government. Getúlio Vargas had clearly made dangerous anti-Semitic speeches, for instance, when in 1940, he sympathised with Fascist-Nazi ideology just before Brazil finally joined the liberal Allied Forces in the War Effort. It was under his government, prior to when Brazil joined the conflict, that Brazil’s Federal Supreme Tribune extradited Elise Ewert and Olga Benário back to Nazi-Germany. These Jewish communists were later both executed by the Nazis in Europe.

Thankfully, in 1938, a liberal force within the Brazilian Federal Government, the Ambassador Oswaldo Aranha (1894 - 1960) became Vargas’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, serving until 1944. He represented the liberal democratic faction within the Vargas cabinet, and, was horrified as well as seriously concerned by Vargas’s embarrassing foreign policy errors. Between 1938 and 1941, in particular because of Aranha’s efforts, Brazil accepted nine thousand Jewish refugees. Aranha was also one of the greatest supporters of the 1944 Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings, taking advantage of Brazil’s greatest talents of the early modernist movement and, their generosity too. The 1944 Exhibition certainly helped to rebuild diplomatic bridges with Britain, Brazil’s oldest ally, after Vargas’s flirtations with Hitler and Mussolini. From this point of view, the 1944 Exhibition was an intelligent diplomatic exercise of soft-power executed by Oswaldo Aranha and the Brazilian diplomacy using the good will of the Brazilian modernists.

It was nonetheless not easy to persuade Vargas to change his discourse and join the Allied Forces in WWII by sending Brazilian troops to Europe to fight a war that had started in Europe and in the Far-East. The War was not Brazilian. It was only after the United States intervened with Vargas, by suggesting that it could finance the construction of some of the Usina Steel infra-structure of Brazil, that the winds changed to a better direction. Washington at the end had to pay, in order to include Brazil in the War Effort, of course, on the right side. This move represented pure dangerous pragmatism by Vargas.

Until Brazil entered WWII, relations between Britain and Brazil were full of distrust. Churchill had initially opposed the South American country’s entry into the conflict with fears that Vargas would eventually flip to the Nazi-Fascist side. At some point, during this rocky period for Anglo-Brazilian relations, the United States had intermediated relations between the Brazilian and British governments. The Brazilian Embassy in London had its telephone lines tapped on the order of the British Government at some point. It took the United States some skilful diplomacy to convince the British prime minister that Brazil was going to be ‘a trustworthy friend’.

The military Brazilian Expeditionary Force joined the War Effort with the Allied Forces in Italy. Shortly after, the 1944 Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings was taking shape by Brazilian diplomats led by Aranha and the Brazilian modernists. When the exhibition finally opened by the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House, Anglo-Brazilian relations had significantly improved. Hence the British diplomatic efforts on the other side of the Atlantic helped to make this historic event happen.

Humour, Carnival and Performance 

By now we know what was the response from the British public to the Brazilian modernist paintings, of a rather drier Expressionist style. But, how would the British have seen or interpreted, for instance, Cardoso Júnior’s painting, They Amuse Themselves, from 1935 - 40, which is currently owned by the Tate in London.

29. Cardoso Júnior,  They Amuse Themselves , c. 1935 - 40, Tate.  The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

29. Cardoso Júnior, They Amuse Themselves, c. 1935 - 40, Tate. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

I would like to briefly suggest a parallel between this particular work of art by Cardoso, capturing seductively playful, sensual and happy semi-naked female figures depicted on a paradisiac beach, and, the the works of art by the contemporary carioca artist Beatriz Milhazes in the Rio Azul exhibition, currently on show at London’s White Cube Gallery. Milhazes’s highly decorative, rich and colourful sculptures, paintings and tapestry, like Cardoso’s painting, contain similar irreverence, playfulness and, most importantly, humour. 

30. Beatriz Milhazes,  Rio Azul show,  2018, White Cube Gallery, London

30. Beatriz Milhazes, Rio Azul show, 2018, White Cube Gallery, London

31. Beatriz Milhazes,  Sonho Tropical  -  Rio Azul show , 2018, White Cube Gallery, London

31. Beatriz Milhazes, Sonho Tropical - Rio Azul show, 2018, White Cube Gallery, London

Humour is a very important aspect, both in Brazilian and British cultures. Of course, British humour is probably more subdued, wittier, subtle, drier, perhaps more self-deprecating, compared the general expression of Brazilian humour. Nevertheless, this is a particularly important aspect of the cultures of both countries that bonds the two nations together. 

Milhazes, like the early Brazilian modernists, also finds inspiration in European artists. Sonia Delaunay and Matisse which is certainly obvious whilst looking at her use of shapes and intense colour. However, just like the anthropophagists of her home country, Milhazes appropriates foreign influence, ‘eats it’, 'regurgitates it’ whilst being influenced by the extraordinary colours of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival and the city’s exuberant tropical nature, to produce something of her own.

Flávio de Carvalho’s 1956 New Look Experiment and performative parade, in the centre of the soberer city of São Paulo, drew fierce criticism from the city’s conservative bourgeoisie and middle-classes. It also prompted some humorous caricatures in the local paulista newspapers of the period. The utopian 1956 New Look Experiment by de Carvalho, I have argued, was a serious attempt to reform men’s dress in tropical Brazil, inline with past European reform dress movements. The multifaceted architect, designer, artist and intellectual had absorbed what he had learned in Europe in the early twentieth-century, by 'eating it', to later produce a modern reformist men’s outfit that sought to ‘liberate’ the man of the tropics from the ‘prison built' by the former coloniser.

32. Flávio de Carvalho, in his 1956 New Look. CEDAE Archives, Universidade de Campinas - UNICAMP - SP

32. Flávio de Carvalho, in his 1956 New Look. CEDAE Archives, Universidade de Campinas - UNICAMP - SP

33. Flávio de Carvalho, in his 1956 New Look performing in the streets of São Paulo CEDAE Archives, Universidade de Campinas - UNICAMP - SP

33. Flávio de Carvalho, in his 1956 New Look performing in the streets of São Paulo CEDAE Archives, Universidade de Campinas - UNICAMP - SP

The designer proposed to men in Brazil that the European three-piece suit and bowler hat should not be worn in a tropical environment, it should rather stay in the wardrobe. De Carvalho designed a skirt and a blouse, featuring highly intricate ventilation mechanisms. He wore it, and paraded it in the streets of São Paulo, nevertheless, with great humour and references to Carnival street parties. This highly ambitious modern project had a serious agenda, though making use of the Brazilian typical irreverent humour. Of course, Brazilian men would not have in practice adopted de Carvalho’s proposition in the 1950s, neither in the twenty-first century. The Brazilian curator, Inti Guerrero, beautifully concludes this analysis on de Carvalho’s utopian vision of the man in the tropical world,

'A cidade do homem nu (The Nude Man’s City) idealised a metropolis for the man of the future, which, according to De Carvalho, would have no God, no property, and no marriage. In other words, he was presenting an urban plan for a humanity that stripped itself (nude) of the cultural construction of the body, or as de Carvalho describes, a man “free of scholastic taboos”, “free to reason and to think”, in order to begin a continuous and implacable process of curiosity, change and personal transformation. In his proposal, de Carvalho emphasised to his architect colleagues the nature of constructing in the American continent, for “the nude man’s city looks to resurrect the primitive, free of Western taboos… the savaged with all of his desires, all of his curiosity intact and unpressed, in search of a naked civilisation.’ (16)

34. Magazine  O Cruzeiro , 'The Truth Walked Naked’, 1949.  A cidadedo homem nu , Inti Guerrero. Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo

34. Magazine O Cruzeiro, 'The Truth Walked Naked’, 1949. A cidadedo homem nu, Inti Guerrero. Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo

Conclusion 

After the 1944 Royal Academy Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings ended at Burlington House, the Brazilian modern works of art toured the United Kingdom, travelling to the cities of Norwich, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bath, Bristol, Reading and shown again in London, at this time, at the Whitechapel Gallery, in the East End of the city. Eighty of these paintings were sold to private collectors, raising approximately 800 pounds sterling. The remaining were acquired or donated to some of Britain’s public art institutions. 

During my very interesting conversation with Dr Vinicius de Carvalho, Senior Lecturer at King’s College Centre for Brazilian Studies and War in London, he highlighted that, in his view, 'the early Brazilian modernist artists did not necessarily want to have their art approved by the British'. 'They rather genuinely wanted to symbolically support Britain’s War Effort’ against the brutal Nazi-Fascist regimes which were "swallowing" and terrorising Continental Europe. The artists had made a conscious decision to support liberal democracy.

The contemporary exhibition The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted for War, currently held at the Embassy of Brazil until June 22, has successfully referenced the 1944 Exhibition. By revisiting the significant historic importance of that diplomatic gesture of support to Brazil’s oldest ally. This is an interesting time for both nations to celebrate the historic exhibition. Britain is no longer an imperial power, I would say, for the better. The United Kingdom is in the process of negotiating a very complex deal with the European Union as it prepares to leave the organisation, whose relationship has underpinned Britain’s foreign policy for decades. The current British prime minister has already explicitly said that Brazil will become a more important focus for the UK, as this country seeks new global partners, treating Brazil differently, as equals, with mutual understanding and respect. 

35. Thea Haberfeld,  Fish , c. 1944, Calderdale Museums.  The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War , 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

35. Thea Haberfeld, Fish, c. 1944, Calderdale Museums. The Art of Diplomacy - Brazilian Modernism Painted For War, 2018. Embassy of Brazil London

Brazil, on the other hand, has used the contemporary exhibition at the Embassy, to reassert, I would say, its soft-power and project through the power of its incredibly diverse culture and modern art, an image of subtle strength. Certainly Brazilian art has been more prominent and present in the cultural life of London. There is an increasing interest in exploring Brazilian culture, music, visual arts, cuisine in the British capital. London-based cultural institutions are more inclined to collect Brazilian art, following the country’s growing importance on the global stage. Of course, this interest by cultural institutions in Brazilian art and Brazil is greater in the U.S., as a recent article by Robin Pogrebin from April 24 2018 for the New York Times, entitled Museums Turn Their Focus to U.S. Artists on Latin Descent, and the MoMA retrospective on Tarsila do Amaral reflect that. Despite the regular negative headlines, this fascination about Brazil and the desire to discover what that South American country can offer the world is developing. The carioca Dubai-based journalist Valeria Maynard, has recently and rightly described Brazil whilst reflecting on it in conversation with me, as a ‘religious patchwork’. I would add to that, ‘religious, racial and cultural patchwork’.

As Europe seems to be again 'closing its doors’ to economic migrants, mostly coming from sub-Saharan Africa whilst risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean searching for a better life; when Syrian refugees encounter fences blocking their passage through, in Central Europe, whilst far-right discourse of racial and cultural ‘purity’ tragically gain strength, once again in history, perhaps the Brazilian Anthropophagic discourse and the anthropophagists, with their celebration of racial and cultural hybridity could present a more positive contribution, light and perspective to the Europeans and United States led by Donald Trump. 

 

Contributors

Essay Co-editing: Author and Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Design at Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York, Dr. Emily Orr (RCA/V&A History of Design PhD).

Film and Editing: Lara Elliott 

Special Thanks

Dr. Emily Orr, Lara Elliott, Dr. Vinicius de Carvalho - Senior Lecturer at King's College, Paula Rassi - Head of the Cultural Section and Attaché at the Embassy of Brazil London, Cultural Section team at the Embassy of Brazil London, Brazilian Diplomat and First Secretary Hayle Gadelha. 

 

Footnotes

  1. Adrian Locke, Michael Asbury, Marcio Junji Sono, Hayle Gadelha, eds. The Art of Diplomacy Brazilian Modernism Painted For War (London: Pureprint Group; Embassy of Brazil London, 2018) 70
  2. Tim Marlow, Michael Asbury, Marcio Junji Sono, Hayle Gadelha, eds. The Art of Diplomacy Brazilian Modernism Painted For War (London: Pureprint Group; Embassy of Brazil London, 2018) 17
  3. Letter from Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden addressed to Sir A. J. Munnings, October 6th 1944, National Archives, London. Ed. Michael Asbury, Marcio Junji, Hayle Gadelha, The Art of Diplomacy Brazilian Modernism Painted For War (London: Pureprint Group; Embassy of Brazil London, 2018) 66
  4. Letter from Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden addressed to Sir A. J. Munnings, October 6th 1944, National Archives, London. Ed. Michael Asbury, Marcio Junji, Hayle Gadelha, The Art of Diplomacy Brazilian Modernism Painted For War (London: Pureprint Group; Embassy of Brazil London, 2018) 66
  5. Newspaper article cutout from The Observer, November 3rd 1944, National Archives, London. Ed. Michael Asbury, Marcio Junji, Hayle Gadelha, The Art of Diplomacy Brazilian Modernism Painted For War (London: Pureprint Group, Embassy of Brazil London, 2018) 22
  6. Sacheverell Sitwell, Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings Catalogue Preface (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1944) 5
  7. Sacheverell Sitwell, Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings Catalogue Preface (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1944) 3
  8. José Murilo De Carvalho, The Force of Tradition: Brazil 1870 - 1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) 153
  9. Nancy Leys Stepan, Picturing Tropical Nature (London: Reaktion Books, 2001) 144
  10. Livia Rezende, The Raw and the Manufactured: Brazilian Modernity and National Identity as Projected in International Exhibitions (1862 - 1922) (London: Royal College of Art) 253, 254
  11. Rafael Cardoso, The Brazilianness of Brazilian Art (London: Routledge, 2012) 23
  12. Stephanie D’Alessandro, Ed. Stephanie D’Alessandro, Luis Pérez-Oramas, Tarsila do Amaral Inventing Modern Art in Brazil (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2018) 38
  13. Everton Barreiro, The Hybrid Gentleman in the Tropics: Flávio de Carvalho’s New Look and Histories of Brazilian Modernist Dress (London: Royal College of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2015) 59
  14. Oswald de Andrade, Augusto de Campos, Revista de Antropofagia (São Paulo: Diário de São Paulo, segunda edição) 4
  15. Everton Barreiro, The Hybrid Gentleman in the Tropics: Flávio de Carvalho’s New Look and Histories of Brazilian Modernist Dress (London: Royal College of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2015) 13
  16. Inti Guerrero, A cidade do homem nu (São Paulo: MAM-SP, 2010) 7

Bibliography

Asbury, Michael, Junji Sono, Marcio. Gadelha, Hayle. The Art of Diplomacy Brazilian Modernism Painted For War. London: Embassy of Brazil London, printed by Pureprint Group, 2018. 

Barreiro, Everton. “The Hybrid Gentleman in the Tropics: Flávio de Carvalho’s New Look and Histories of Brazilian Modernist Dress.” Master’s thesis, Royal College of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2015.

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Cardoso, Rafael. The Brazilianness of Brazilian Art London: Routledge, 2012.

D’Alessandro, Stephanie. Pérez-Oramas, Luis. Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Press, 2018.

Guerrero, Inti. A Cidade do Homem Nu. São Paulo: Museu de Arte de São Paulo, 2010. 

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