Pescadores, 1948 signed 'di Cavalcanti' (lower left) oil on canvas 21 1/2 x 29 7/8in. (54.5 x 76cm)
PROVENANCE: Collection Antonio Arthur de Castro Rodrigues (acquired directly from the artist). Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006.
As one of Brazil's pioneers in Modernist painting, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti is most closely associated with Brazilian popular culture and imagery, where his portrayal of 'Brazilianess' is his most profound subject matter. The essential aspect of this 'Brazilianess' is the mulata, a woman whose ethnicity reflects Brazil's complicated imperialistic relationship with Portuguese colonizers and African slaves, as well as Brazil's own indigenous population. Known for his scenes of mulatas surrounded by the vibrancy and lushness of Brazil - where the heat from the sun and humidity from the sea practically emit from the canvas Cavalcanti's central imagery of the Brazilian woman can be seen in Pescadores, a piece that represents the modernist drive for nationalistic expression.
Born in Rio de Janeiro just prior to the turn of the century, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti developed his artistic talents during his early career as a caricaturist and illustrator for political publications, with the first exhibition of his caricatures in 1916 at the Salao dos Humoristas of the Liceu de Artes e Oficios in Rio. Growing frustrated with the rigidity and stale nature of the European Academic tradition of painting mainly referencing both Neoclassicism and Romanticism in both style and narrative Di Cavalcanti along with a small group of fellow Brazilian artists began to organize and develop ideologies that would reflect a nationalistic artistic rhetoric, which is now seen as the beginnings of the Brazilian Modernist movement. Originating in São Paulo in the 1920s, the Modernist movement spanned all aspects of Brazilian culture engaging with composers, writers, architects, poets, painters and sculptors with its most obvious and boisterous expressions coming from the musical, literary and artistic centers of the country. In 1922, Di Cavalcanti and his fellow artists Vicente do Rêgo Monteiro, Victor Brecheret, Mário Raul de Morais Andrade and Tarsila do Amaral held a series of art exhibitions and poetry readings in the São Paulo Municipal Theater now known as the heralded arts festival Semana de Arte (week of modern art). Today, many equate the cultural impact on Brazilian life at the time to the 1913 Armory Show in New York. (Edward J. Sullivan, Brazil: Body & Soul, exh. cat., New York, Guggenheim Museum, 2001).
"Di Cavalcanti's portrayal of his country's racial diversity (in the presence of the mulata) was a divergent split from the then academically-taught and European-based standards of beauty where the visualization and prevalence of the indigenous population symbolized modernity and a voice of unfettered by colonization" (Luis Martins, Di Cavalcanti: Grandes Artistas Brasileiros, São Paulo 1983). This visualization of what it is to be indigent was not unique to Brazil's Modernist movement, and can also be seen in the works of Di Cavalcanti's Mexican contemporaries Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Just after Semana de Arte in 1923, Di Cavalcanti left Brazil for Paris to work for the newspaper Correio da Manhã, where he soon met follow artists Louis Aragón, André Breton, Fernand Legér, Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst among others. Picasso and Di Cavalcanti began a long-standing friendship, and whose influence can be seen in Di Cavalcanti's rendering of volume and bodily portions. Although immersed in the midst of abstraction while in Europe, Di Cavalcanti's style was not tinged by it where the artist felt that abstraction pulled too far from his cultural center and would create a picture that drew away from any meaning and would more so lean towards the cultural elite.
After his return to São Paulo in the 1930s, Di Cavalcanti came to be known as one of Brazil's most renowned artists, creating works such as Pescadores, combining a common scene of Brazilian life as women collect the day's hull from the fishermen in the background with a tropical tonality that could only be Brazilian. From the burnt sand to the bronze sheen on the women's skin, Di Cavalcanti's control of color carefully frames the mulatas in the scene as well as within Brazil's art historical narrative.
Critical acclaim followed him throughout his career, and in 1953 (along with Alfredo Volpi) Di Cavalcanti won the São Paulo Biennial, and then a year later he was honored with his own retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro.