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Emiliano di Cavalcanti (1897-1976)
Emiliano di Cavalcanti (1897-1976)

Mulher Deitada com Peixes e Frutas

Emiliano di Cavalcanti (1897-1976)
Mulher Deitada com Peixes e Frutas
signed 'E. di Cavalcanti' lower right
oil on canvas
43¼ x 76¾in. (110 x 195cm.)
Painted in 1956
Acquired from the artist By descent to the previous owner

Lot Essay

It has often been said that Brazilian modern art was literally born in São Paulo in February of 1922 with the opening of the Semana de Arte Moderna (Week of Modern Art). In truth, Modernism in Brazil coughed to life in the first two decades of the 20th century, and quite literally it was a series of chokes, hiccups, and sputters before the engine was running smoothly. It is not certain whether it was Emiliano Di Cavalcanti who conceptualized the Semana de Arte Moderna or that retrospectively he has simply come to embody the spirit of that week of art exhibitions, poetry readings, debates, and lectures, which meant to proclaim Brazil's cultural autonomy after 100 years of political independence. It is certain that he was a potent proginator of the ideals that would act as the auger for the fruition of an incredibly strong Modernist art production in Brazil.
The initial construction of a Modernist aesthetic and approach in Brazil was quite personal and individually accomplished. The few artists that had the ability to travel to Europe were responsible for importing the trends that were propelling European Modernism. Though Brazilian modern art can be seen as a reflection of, or based upon, European models, which it fundamentally was, it was also significantly ingested and transformed into something distinctly personal and national. Early Brazilian modernists incorporated influences from German Expressionism, Futurism, and Cubism into work that was fundamentally committed to presenting a Brazilian identity.
In 1917 the Rio de Janeiro born Di Cavalcanti had his first show in the back of a São Paulo book shop and throughout the next few years he produced illustrations and caricature work. Drawn, like most of the world's intellectuals and artists of the time to Paris, he spent two years there beginning in 1923 and again returned throughout the 1930's. The connection with Paris is extremely strong in his work. Undoubtedly, the Cubist works of Picasso impressed and inspired Di Cavalcanti. Like Picasso, the woman was a central theme in his work, for Di Cavalcanti the depiction of the mulata approached the obsessive. His work developed an emphasis on the flat surface of the painting working again and again within the cubist vocabulary of geometric shapes and color while maintaining a complete adherence to the figural. Highly charged colors balance and provide an audible rhythm to his compositions
Di Cavalcanti, much like his contemporary Portinari, had the intent of depicting Brazil, of capturing the brasilidade in a way that was neither superficial nor touristic. The social realities of Brazil would influence their work equally, as well that of Lazar Segall and Ismael Neri, but Di Cavalcanti's take on this reality is distinctly upbeat, capturing moments of joy or pride and impregnating these scenes with a languid and sensual air. The coffee-skinned mulata, almost omnipresent in his work, symbolizes the fundamental sensuality of the tropical culture as well as the true cultural and ethnic melange that is particular to Brazil.
Mulata deitada com peixes e fruta is one of Di Cavalcanti's most complete works. Its grand scale and exceptional execution captures and reveals the essential elements of his work. The mulata is literally the central figure of the canvas, her sensuous curves define the space, her warm tones draw in the viewer and offset the rich jewel like colors of the fruits and fish that surround her. The abundance that at once envelops and seems to pour out of her represents the richness of Brazil, symbolizes her fertility, and subsequently the fertility of the nation. The male figure is slightly pensive and marginalized; he is an attendant of this bountiful feast yet not the provider, it is the mulata that even asleep is responsible for this profusion. The mulata is an immediate stereotype yet it is one that Di Cavalcanti exalts to a level of Madonna like symbolism; she is both the progeny of, and the mother to Brazil.

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