O Boto, circa 1943 sandstone 30 1/4in. (77cm) high This work is unique.
PROVENANCE: Collection of the artist and thence by descent to the present owner.
EXHIBITED: São Paulo, Pinakotheke São Paulo, Escultores, Esculturas, 19 June-30 August, 2003, no. 5 (illustrated, pp. 11 and 29-30).
"On the moving threshold of humankind, when man became aware of his spiritual life for the first time, and discovered his mental life, Art was born that day" (Maria Martins).
Maria Martins was born in 1894 in Campanha, Brazil, into a prominent and influential family closely associated with the ruling elite. In 1926 she married the young Brazilian diplomat Carlos Martins. During that period she began sculpting, perfecting her techniques studying in Belgium with sculptor Oscar Jesper and later with Jacques Lipchitz in the USA.
In 1939 Carlos Martins became the Brazilian ambassador to the United States in Washington D. C. and the family moved to the United States. Here, Martins was introduced to Andre Breton and the group of European artists linked to Surrealism, including Michel Tapié, André Masson, Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp. Her expressive, organic sculptures of that time portrayed the natural forces and legends of Amazonia, and immediately attracted the attention and the recognition of the long established Surrealists who sought sanctuary in New York City from World War II.
She was hailed by André Breton as one of the brightest stars of the post war art movements. Amédée Ozenfant (1886-1966), founder of Elan and one of the fathers of the Purist movement announced her a genius when he first saw her work in 1940. Michel Tapié noted, "Maria Martins with her sculpting brought us to a most unsettling, generous experience, a passionate and liberating tropical witchcraft."
In October 1941 Martins experienced her first solo exhibition, "Maria" at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Nelson Rockefeller acquired a jacaranda wood sculpture for MOMA from that exhibition. In 1943, the Valentine Gallery in New York presented the exhibition, Maria: New Sculptures and Mondrian: New paintings. (Martins donated Broadway Boogie Woogie by Mondrian to that exhibition at MOMA). Martin exhibited her Amazon series in this exhibition.
According to Katia Canton, curator of the XXIV Bienal of São Paulo, "From 1942 onwards, the works of Maria Martins weave the image of a scenic Brazilianness, reflecting the nostalgic attitude of Brazilian sensuality and lushness that feeds European imagination. They bear the hallmark of concern prompted by the sum of the original Brazil, the actual experienced country and the primitive imaginary Brazil as a repository of the legends of Amazonia and the images of untamed nature, symbolic of desire".
Martins was also close friends with Marcel Duchamp. Their friendship evolved into a meaningful artistic partnership with profound repercussions to the careers of both artists. Duchamp dedicated several works to her including Paysage Fautif.
O Boto with its peculiar tale is a sexual vigor, protection and salvation is a product of this phase of rich artistic combustion.