Futebol stamped with artist's signature 'PORTINARI*' (lower left) oil on wood 27.7 x 35.7cm (10 7/8 x 14 1/16in). Painted circa 1958
LITERATURE J. C. Portinari, Candido Portinari: Catálogo raisonné, Rio de Janeiro, 2004, vol.IV, 1955-1960, no.4306, FCO 1382 (illustrated p.334).
Portinari was born to Italian parents, but his outlook and influences were thoroughly Brazilian. The same is true of his legacy, and his work entitled Futebol (Football), painted in 1958.
Portinari's parents had emigrated from Italy to Brazil as children and worked as labourers on a coffee plantation in the São Paulo district, on the outskirts of a town called Brodosqui. They had twelve sons, all of whom were expected to work on the coffee plantation with their parents as soon as they were strong enough to do so (F. Horn, Portinari of Brazil, 'The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art', vol.7, no.6, 1940, p.3). Portinari would, no doubt, have been expected to continue with this work had he not been inspired to a life as a painter when he assisted some travelling artists in the redecoration of the local church. His parents managed to save enough money to buy him a ticket to Rio de Janeiro where he, in turn, worked hard to pay his way through the National School of Fine Arts.
Although Portinari went on to gain a scholarship in Europe and was party to the breakthroughs in Modern Art that were happening in the developed Western world, it is through paintings such as Futebol that he expressed his true inspirations. According to Rockwell Kent in 1940, 'he went back to his old birthplace and renewed contact with his old setting. His oils spoke grandly of the red earth of the coffee plantations, of the children's football in the local main square, where, when still a child, Portinari had broken his right leg an accident which gave him a permanent limp' (R. Kent, Portinari - His Life and Art, Chicago, 1940, p.3). Indeed, it is possible that Futebol recreates a scene from Portinari's own childhood, played by children of the coffee plantation (or the coffee workers themselves) in a moment of leisure.
As is typical of Portinari's work, the legs and feet of the players are exaggerated as is the sense of activity and vigour that the viewer finds in so many of his paintings. In fact, the characteristic exaggerated legs and feet in his paintings have been attributed by some critics to his own limp following the aforementioned footballing accident (F. Horn, Portinari of Brazil, 'The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art', vol.7, no.6, 1940, p.3).
Introducing a catalogue to the 1939 exhibition of Portinari's works in Rio de Janeiro, after which he was acclaimed as a great master, the writer Mario de Andrade noted that the 'two dominant characteristics of Portinari's personality as a painter are an enormous technical wealth and a variety of expression' (R. Kent, Portinari - His Life and Art, Chicago, 1940, p.4). Others have described him as being 'technically ... more daring than his Mexican contemporary [Rivera], employing Picasso-like sculptural effects, the impressionism of a Seurat, and the peculiar distortions of a Matisse' (M. H., Books Abroad, University of Oklahoma, vol.15, no.4, 1941, p.477). One constant, though, was Portinari's desire to capture the everyday life of indigenous Brazil, picking as his subject matter whatever seemed to him to be newsworthy whether happy or sad at that moment. Indeed, it is noteworthy that Futebol was painted in the same year as Brazil's interest in football reached unprecedented levels as the country won the first of its five World Cup titles in 1958. The sense of movement in the bustling group of football players at the centre of the composition is made more effective by the stillness and linearity of the landscape in the remaining areas of the picture and gives a hint of the excitement that 1958 brought the people of Brazil.
The artist's obituary in The Times on 8 February 1962 recorded him as being 'probably one of the most important artists that Latin America has yet produced'.