Candido Portinari (Brazilian 1903-1962)
Candido Portinari (Brazilian 1903-1962)

Meninos soltando pipas

Details
Candido Portinari (Brazilian 1903-1962)
Meninos soltando pipas
signed and dated 'PORTINARI, 1941' (lower right)
oil on canvas
29 x 23 5/8 in. (73.7 x 60 cm.)
Painted in 1941.
Provenance
Mary-Anne Martin/Fine Art, New York.
Acquired from the above (1998).
Literature
Projeto Portinari, Candido Portinari: Catalogue Raisonné Volume II 1939 > 1944 [1], Rio de Janeiro, 2004, p. 261, no. 1557 (illustrated in color).

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Virgilio Garza
Virgilio Garza

Lot Essay

Among Brazil's foremost modern artists, Portinari plied his painting as a form of protest and critique, giving graphic expression to the oppressed working and immigrant classes who toiled on São Paulo's coffee fazendas and in the drought-ridden states of the Northeast. The son of poor Italian immigrants, Portinari left home at the age of fifteen to study at the National School of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, and in 1928 he was awarded a scholarship to study in Europe. His return to Brazil in 1931 coincided with sweeping nationalist sentiment that would span two decades, and his paintings and murals from these years encode the complexity of the social and racial fabric of his country as it began to modernize under the Getúlio Vargas regime. "I paint to teach my people what is wrong," Portinari once remarked, and his body of work speaks powerfully to the social upheaval and injustice that he witnessed at first hand.[1]

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Portinari made a small series of paintings that portray children at play--in games of leapfrog, for example, and chasing kites and balloons. As in Meninos pulando carniça (1939) and Brodósqui (1942), the present work registers both the innocence of children's diversions and the blighted idealism that they represent. Set against a strangely oneiric and barren landscape, four children watchfully guide their kites, releasing swaths of bright red, yellow and blue across a leaden sky. The kites poignantly evoke the aspirations of this youngest generation, its future and potential. Yet in their ephemerality and fragility, the kites may also suggest a subtle reference to the apocalyptic climate of the time, which witnessed devastating droughts in Brazil and the development of the Second World War.

Centered between two horizontal bands of color, the young protagonists of Meninos soltando pipas stand before the indefinite space of the horizon. Shadowy and surreal, the ground and sky compress the painting's space, which glows with saturnine intensity across a muted tonal range. Faceless and diminutive, the children stand apart from the heroic Afro-Brazilian laborers and the emaciated rural migrants that populate many of Portinari's paintings and public murals from this period. Here, on a small scale, they register an emanation of hope at a time of collective anxiety and may speak, on a more intimate level, to the artist's nostalgia for the dreams and spaces of his own childhood.


Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

1 Cândido Portinari, quoted in Sarah Lemmon, "Cândido Portinari: The Protest Period," Latin American Art 3, no. 1 (Winter 1991): 32.
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