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

O Homem a e máquina

Emiliano di Cavalcanti (Brazilian 1897-1976)
O Homem a e máquina
signed and dated 'E di Cavalcanti, 1966' (lower right) signed and dated again and inscribed 'A MÁQUINA DE ESCREVER PODE SER TAMBIÉN UM INSTANTE ONÍRICO, E di Cavalcanti, Rio 1966' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
45¾ x 34 5/8 in. (116.2 x 88 cm.)
Painted in Rio in 1966.
Exhibition catalogue, Retrospectiva di Cavalcanti, São Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, 1971, no. 2 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Os artistas a e Olivetti, São Paulo, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand, 1976, no. 33 (illustrated in color).
São Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, Retrospectiva di Cavalcanti, 1971.
São Paulo, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, O artistas e a Olivetti, Assis Chateaubriand, April- May 1976.

Lot Essay

A key figure in the history of early Brazilian modernism and one of the key architects of the landmark Semana de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (1922), O Homem a e máquina reflects Di Cavalcanti's mature style rooted in the formal precepts of cubism, fauvism, surrealism, and German expressionism applied to a subject matter rooted in his country's rich cultural and racial history as a strategy for elaborating a quintessentially national art distinct from the previous generations.
Painted at the behest of Olivetti, the Brazilian branch of the fabled Italian typewriter company of the same name, this work depicts Di Cavalcanti's familiar iconography of young stylized feminine bodies rendered in varying skin tones amid bold, exuberant scenes that mesh a decidedly vanguard aesthetic with an exaltation of local cultural traditions and heritage. Here, Di Cavalcanti creates a fantastical scene that incorporates geometric and architectural elements reminiscent of metaphysical surrealism complimented by a series of iconographic motifs that acknowledge the past while suggesting a spirit of optimism vis à vis the dynamic process of modernization in Brazil that prevailed during the mid-twentieth century. Indeed Di Cavalcanti appears to assert a synergistic relationship between nature, culture and technology that is expressed formally through a jagged red lightning rod that serves as a potent symbol of energy harnessed for the age of the machine. Stretching across much of the composition and embellished with yellow stars, its trajectory is akin to a constellation that seemingly weaves together the two elegant ladies anchoring the bottom of the painting and extending upwards right through to the remaining two figures--a cubist inspired mulata and a more classically rendered African woman, followed by the curious presence of two owls (a universal symbol of wisdom and good judgement). The latter along with the typewriter on which one of the owls is perched are no doubt a nod to Di Cavalcanti's patron, the global company Olivetti who frequently used birds as a recurring graphic motif in its rather innovative designs and highly celebrated posters and advertisements. The company, which was founded in the early 1900s, became ubiquitous for its office and portable typewriters, including one of its most successful models-the compact and sleekly designed Lettera 82 manufactured in Brazil.[1]

1) In 1952, the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented the exhibition Olivetti: Design in Industry which celebrated the company's visionary approach to the visual aspects of industry and its commitment to the highest standards of design.


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