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Emiliano di Cavalcanti (Brazilian 1897-1976)
FROM THE COLLECTION OF DR. LUIZ BETHOVEN DO AMARAL
Emiliano di Cavalcanti (Brazilian 1897-1976)

Mulata com flores

Details
Emiliano di Cavalcanti (Brazilian 1897-1976)
Mulata com flores
signed and dated 'E. di Cavalcanti, 69' (lower right)
oil on canvas
32 x 23 5/8 in. (81.3 x 60 cm.)
Painted in 1969.
Provenance
Galeria Bonino, Rio de Janeiro.
Acquired from the above.

Brought to you by

Virgilio Garza
Virgilio Garza

Lot Essay

One of the most celebrated names of Brazilian modern art, Emiliano di Cavalcanti was born in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Though he entered university in São Paulo to study law, he turned instead to journalism, particularly illustration and caricature. His first paintings from 1921 poke fun at the Brazilian elite, a gesture that was not uncommon among artists at the time. He is perhaps best known for his important role in conceiving Semana de Arte Moderna (or Modern Art Week), an inaugural week-long cultural event held in São Paulo's Municipal Theater in 1922 (a centennial celebration of Brazil's independence in 1822), for which he not only designed the poster and exhibition catalogue cover, but also contributed twelve works. Many of the ideas foregrounded by Semana de Arte Moderna, such as a quest for defining a nationally specific art by looking to specifically Brazilian themes and traditions, continued to mark di Cavalcanti's oeuvre throughout the 20th century.

His travels to France in 1923 put him in contact with European avant-garde currents and artists such as Picasso, Matisse, and Fernand Léger, however more than ever he sought to use the visual language he encountered to depict Brazilian people and traditions, concentrating on music and carnival. Among well-known works is Mulattas (1927) featuring a tantalizing mulata woman exposing her breast to the viewer. This, among other paintings such as Mulher e Paisagem (1931) and Bordel (1940), to name only a few, went on to cement the artist's reputation as the "painter of mulatas" a classification he encouraged, declaring in an interview, "I like to paint mulatas because they are the most Brazilian thing we have."[1] Upon his return to São Paulo in 1926, he joined the communist party, and like other Brazilian artists at the time sought to conciliate artistic production with a more pronounced social commitment. His satire of society, in his album of twelve drawings, A realidade brasileira (The Brazilian Reality), landed him in prison for a few months in 1933, under Vargas's dictatorship. Di Cavalcanti's interest in Rio's poorest neighborhoods, the favelas, or shantytowns, and Afro-Brazilian culture were a focal point of his work well into the 1960s. In a shocking gesture at the time, the artist even brought the French architect Le Corbusier to visit a favela in Rio, who later applauded its functional architecture.
Mulata com flores from 1969 is emblematic of di Cavalcanti's paintings, demonstrating his employment of modernist forms to depict a reality particular to Brazil. He positions the beguiling woman front and center with a bow around her hips, holding a bouquet of flowers, as if in offering to the viewer. Indeed the image of the mulata has propagated in Brazil during the 20th century and today she is among the most popular and desired figures of the annual carnival parade, showcasing her beauty and inspiring the envy of all. Though figurative painting in Brazil lost ground during the 1950s, replaced by a predominance of geometric abstraction, di Cavalcanti continued to defend a nationally specific art, which he always understood as a form of social commitment.

Elena Shtromberg, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of Utah


1 Di Cavalcanti, quoted in Luis Martins and Paulo Mendes de Almeida, Emiliano di Cavalcanti (São Paulo: Gráficos Brunner Ltda, 1976), 36.
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