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

Três meninos brincando

Candido Portinari (1903-1962)
Três meninos brincando
signed and dated 'Portinari 55' (lower right)
oil on canvas
24 x 19 ½ in. (61 x 50 cm.)
Painted in 1955.
Private collection, Paris.
By descent from the above to the present owner.
Further details
1 Mário Pedrosa, “Portinari: From Brodowski to the Library of Congress,” Bulletin of the Pan-American Union 76, no. 4 (April 1942): 199.
2 Dag Hammarskjöld, quoted in “Portinari Murals are Dedicated at UN,” Brazilian Bulletin XIII, no. 310 (September 15, 1957), 7.
3 Antônio Bento (1980), quoted in Universo gráfico de Cândido Portinari (1903-1962) (Fortaleza: Multiarte, 2019), 117.
4 Pedrosa, “Portinari,” 208, 210.

Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Projeto Portinari dated 25 September 2020.

“A child of the people, his true education was received out of doors, in direct contact with the hard work that was the lot of immigrants, among the coffee trees growing in the red earth,” the Brazilian critic Mário Pedrosa noted of Portinari’s modest beginnings. “His childhood was one of poverty,” Pedrosa allowed, but “from those years he has retained, besides the images of his childhood, his attachment to his home circle and love for his relatives, his sympathy for the common people and for the day laborer, a certain roughness of manner and a touch of the shrewdness native to the country folk of São Paulo.”1 Among Brazil’s foremost modern artists, Portinari enacted his practice as a form of protest and critique for more than forty years, bringing new visibility to the 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 attend 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 rising nationalist sentiment, and his paintings and murals began to encode the complexity of the social and racial fabric of his country as it modernized under the Getúlio Vargas regime. His now iconic renderings of Afro-Brazilian labor, such as Mestiço (1934) and Café (1935), drew early Pan-American acclaim, and Portinari was lauded with a solo exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1940 and, soon after, a commission to execute four murals for the Hispanic Reading Room at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. His monumental murals War and Peace, a gift from Brazil to the United Nations, were inaugurated in the entrance hall to the organization’s New York Headquarters in 1957. In accepting the murals, which he declared “the greatest monumental work given to the United Nations,” Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld reflected that the Member nations had “made their choice between war and peace; these murals illustrate for us the meaning of that choice.”2
Portinari began sketches for War and Peace in 1952, and he showed large-scale studies in a special room at the III São Paulo Bienal in 1955. A paean to amity around the world, Peace is populated by children—many from Brodowski, his hometown—at play, performing somersaults and handstands, balancing on a seesaw, singing and dancing. “He turned his inspiration towards rural and pastoral life, in a kind of innocent vision of Paradise, paralleling the artist’s own childhood,” wrote the critic Antônio Bento of Peace. “It’s a peace that comes from the fields, from simple folk, from poor kids, from the children of São Paulo’s peasants, who after all are united in the fraternity of Christ. In this sense, it was the humble folk, those that actually live in harmony, in a rural environment, the people that conveyed to the painter the vision of a peaceful and happy society.”3
In Tres muchachos jugando, Portinari describes three children running and tumbling, their youthful joy and innocence radiating through outstretched limbs seemingly in continuous motion. While the three figures anticipate the boys and girls later portrayed in Peace, Portinari had thematized children in his painting since the early 1930s; he reprised the subject in panels for the New York World’s Fair (1939-40) and, notably, in the series Meninos de Brodowski from the mid-1940s. “It is interesting to notice the return to certain childhood themes and objects, such as scarecrows and the balloons and masts of St. John’s Day celebrations, all enriched, it is true, with a new wealth of paraphernalia drawn from the life of Brazilian working people, constituting almost symbolic constants,” wrote Pedrosa. “In search of bygone days, or better, in an escape outside of time, the artist draws on almost subconscious images for the themes of his new achievements. . . . Today, Portinari’s artist soul is composed of a mixture of peasant realism and a romantic nostalgia for beautiful colors.”4 Tres muchachos jugando captures the abounding exuberance of children, their felicity of movement dramatized by the expressive colors—red, orange, yellow, blue, magenta—of their clothes, bright against the sun-bleached ground. Two boys fly past each other, darting through a kind of hopscotch; the game’s parabolic outline is counterbalanced by the upside-down position of their friend, his legs sprung wide into the air. Portinari describes the children with sentimental affection, their innocence and idealism a beckoning omen of peace in an anguished, postwar world.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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