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Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973)

Abaporu

signed 'Tarsila' lower right and dated '11-1-1928' lower left--oil on canvas
33½ x 28¾in. (85 x 73cm.)

Painted in 1928
Provenance
Gift of the artist to Oswald de Andrade, São Paulo
Pietro Maria Bardi, São Paulo
Erico Stickel, São Paulo
Maria Anna and Raul de Souza Dantas Forbes Collection, São Paulo
Literature
B. Motta, S. Millet, Tarsila do Amaral, Lanzara S.A. Gráfica Editora, São Paulo, 1966, pl. VIII (illustrated in color)
G. Garcia Marquez, Honderd Jaar Eenzaamheid, Druk van Boekhoven-Bosc, Utrecht, 1972, (illustrated in color on the cover)
J. Klintowitz, A Cor na Arte Brasileira - 27 Artistas Representativos, Volkswagen do Brasil,S.A., p. 24 (illustrated in color)
A.A. Amaral, Tarsila-Sua Obra e Seu Tempo, Estudos, Vol. I, Editora Perspectiva S.A., São Paulo, 1975, p. 220, pl. 15 (illustrated in color)
A.A. Amaral, Tarsila-Sua Obra e Seu Tempo, Estudos, Vol. II, Editora Perspectiva, São Paulo 1975, p. 27, no. 25 (illustrated) N.B.Gottlib, Tarsila do Amaral, text by Sérgio Millet, Editora Brasilense, S.A., São Paulo, 1983, p. 65 (illustrated)
J. Klintowitz, 'Icaro', Tarsila do Amaral, p. 12 (illustrated in color)
M. Carta, 'Senhor', Arte-O Valor de Tarsila, June, 1984, p. 61 (illustrated)
'Veja', Cultura-Cofre Fechado, July 4, 1984, p. 81 (illustrated)
J.Onofre, 'Senhor', Um investimento de bom gosto, Brazil, August 8, 1984, p. 76 (illustrated)
C. Giobbi, 'O Estado de São Paulo, Nosso Mercado de Arte:Uma Festa!, Sept. 9, 1984, p. 5 (illustrated)
G. Mayrink, 'Afinal', Cultura-Reportagem Especial - A arte de pintar dinheiro, Oct. 23, 1984, p. 31 (illustrated)
R. Soarez, 'Jornal do Brasil', Tradição e Rutura - Toda a Arte Brasileira, Rio de Janeiro, Oct. 9, 1984, p.1, Caderno B (illustrated)
J.Klintowitz, 'Jornal da Tarde', Cinco Séculos de Nossa Arte, Sa Paulo, Nov. 17, 1984, (illustrated)
N. Couri, 'Ilustrada' Três séculos de Brasil numa mostra rara e Cara, Brazil, Nov.17, 1984, p. 48 (illustrated in color)
R. Abramo, 'Folha de São Paulo', Um passeio pela cultura brasileira, Nov.23, 1984, p. 47 (illustrated)
'Isto É', 'Viagem na Historia', Nov. 28, 1984, p. 53 (illustrated)
S. Andrei, 'Exame', Mercado de Arte - Euforia, mesmo com lances altos, Jan. 12, 1985, p. 104 (illustrated)
'Isto É', Arte - Casa nova para o "Aba-puru", June 20, 1986, p. 47 (illustrated in color)
E.Lucie-Smith, Latin American Art of the 20th Century, Thames and Hudson, London, 1993, p. 43, no. 28 (illustrated in color)
S. Buarque de Hollanda, Raizes do Brasil, Companhia das Letras, Editora Schwarcz, Ltds. São Paulo, 1995 (illustrated in color on the cover)

Exhibited
São Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna, Do Modernismo à Bienal, June, 1982, p. 49 (illustrated, also illustrated on the cover)
São Paulo, Museu de Arte Contemporanea de São Paulo, 50 Años Depois, 1984, p. 220 (illustrated)
São Paulo, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, Tradição e Ruptura, Síntese de Arte e Cultura Brasileiras, text by T. Spanudis, Nov., 1984-Jan., 1985, p. 193, no. 385 (illustrated in color) São Paulo, Galeria de Arte São Paulo/Marketing Cultural e Corporativo, Obras Para Museu - Coleção de Maria Anna e Raul Souza Dantas Forbes, 1987, p. 59 (illustrated in color, also illustrated on the cover of the catalogue)
Indiana, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Art of the Fantastic: Latin America, 1920-1987, June-Sept., 1987, p. 73 (illustrated in color); this exhibition later traveled to New York, The Queens Museum, Oct.-Dec., 1987; Miami, Center for the Fine Arts, Jan.-March, 1988 and Mexico City, Centro Cultural/Arte Contemporáneo, March-May, 1988.
Seville, Comisaría de la Ciudad de Sevilla para 1992, Estación Plaza de Armas, Artistas Latinoamericanos del Siglo 20, Aug.-Oct., 1992; this exhibition later traveled to Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée d'Art Moderne and Hotel des Arts (Contemporary Works), Nov., 1992-Jan., 1993, p. 105 (illustrated in color); Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, Feb.-April, 1993, p. 74 (illustrated in color); New York, Museum of Modern Art, June-Sept., 1993, p. 172, no. 3 (illustrated in color)

Lot Essay

Striking in its hermetic starkness, the character of Abaporú (1928) was captured by its creator, Tarsila do Amaral, years after its completion, in her description of the painting's subject: "A monstrous solitary figure, enormous feet, sitting on a green plain, the hand supporting the featherweight miniscule head. In front a cactus exploding in an absurd flower." (1) The "Monstrous" figure, in fact, is legibly human, undressed, unadorned, sexless, and ageless. Its anatomic proportions have been distorted; starting from a foot and hand of immense gravity at the bottom of the picture, the crouching figure diminishes pyramidally to a tiny head at the top. Painted in fleshy earth-tones, this figure seems to be an intrinsic, rooted element of a stylized landscape. A mere four items comprise the suggestion of a natural setting: earth is depicted as a small green mound upon which the figure sits; vegetation rendered as a rather anthropomorphic cactus at the right of the figure; the sky or air as the ininflected pale blue background; and a fiery, golden sun/flower which literally crowns the composition.

Abaporú's style owes much to that of Fernand Léger, with whom Tarsila had studied briefly in Paris during 1924. Tarsila was, in fact, quite familiar with the French modernists, having also apprenticed with Albert Gleizes and the academic Cubist painter André Lhote. The closest parallel to Abaporú's subject, however, may be found in the Surrealism of Pablo Picasso or Joan Miró, who, in his Person Throwing a Stone at a Bird of 1926, painted a kindred figure with a single oversized foot.

Tarsila's defining position in the history of Brazilian modern art rests chiefly on a very few canvases, of which the pivotal Abaporú is one of the two or three most important, painted between 1923 and 1929. In the early works, such as A Negra (The Black Woman) of 1923, she had developed a unique idiom, depicting a single massive figure, emblematic of Brazilian national identity, in a stylized manner indebted to European Modernism but singularly her own. Abaporú, however, demarcates a shift in Tarsila's artistic trajectory. With it, she abandoned the depiction of a naturalistic subject matter for a more oneric and fictionalized vision of Brazil. While the aesthetic distortion of form and features in Abaporú may already to be seen in A Negra, in Abaporú they are emphasized to such a degree that the personage becomes a generic and archetypal figure. Tarsila later reprised and expanded upon this figural type in her Antropofagia of 1929, in which two such beings repose in a tropical and dreamlike landscape.

On January 11, 1928 Tarsila do Amaral gave the recently finished canvas to her husband and fellow "modernista", the poet Oswald de Andrade, as a birthday present. At that time, Tarsila could in no way predict the cathartic impact this paitning would have on Andrade's creative endeavours, or dream of the status it would attain as a landmark in the history of modern art in Brazil. Andrade received the then-untitled painting enthusiastically, and, after some research, baptized it "Abaporú", a word taken from Tupi-Guarani (a major indigenous South American language) that can be literally translated as 'man who eats", or, more figuratively, cannibal. The painting prompted the poet to write the "Anthropophagite Manifesto", a mercurial call for rebellion against the Brazilian socio-cultural status quo. The manifesto, arguably one of the most radical philosophical documents of Modernism in the Americas, promoted Andrade's vision that an autochthonous, original culture could emerge in his country from the assimilation of values implicit in primordial forms of human existence. To this end, Andrade called for the return of a ritual that predated civilization, cannibalism, or anthropophagy, which he utilized as a metaphor for the Brazilian ingestion of European culture.

The manifesto was published in the first issue of the Revista de Antropophagia (May 1928), with a schematic drawing of Abaporú reproduced prominently in the center of the page. Tarsila's primordial theme and the pictorial language of Abaporú resonates strongly throughout Andrade's manifesto, confirming the degree to which she and Andrade, and a handful of other artists and intellectuals, were engaged in the same quest, ultimately successful, for the development of a modern Brazilian art.
Fatima Bercht and Joseph R. Wolin
New York, October 1995

(1) Tarsila do Amaral recollection of Abaporú took place in 1939. See Aracy A. Amaral, Tarsila: Sua Obra e seu Tempo, São Paulo, Tenenge, 1986, p. 104.
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