Tarsila do Amaral, "Postal Card", 1929.

Em Postcard (1929), by Tarsila do Amaral, the title already indicates how much the artist was immersed in the visual culture of her time. At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, postcards were a craze, carrying the most varied photographic images on one side and interpersonal messages on the other. Such was the strength of the postcard at that time that it became a compliment: when someone came across a beautiful image, the way to pay homage to it was to compare it to a painting or a postcard.

Interesting how the landscape painting and the postcard are associated, even though they are so different, since the first is unique, while the second is a multiple. What unites them is that part of the landscape photos printed on postcards replicate previous pictorial schemes, following the “classical” structures of composition: dark foreground – with plant, animal and/or human elements, which present the scene main; intermediate plane – normally a liquid surface (empty or with one or another representation); in the background, a mountain range and, beyond, the sky.

Since the traveling painters of the XNUMXth century, the coast of Rio de Janeiro has been represented by engravings, watercolors or oil paintings. From photography – and its possibilities of reproduction –, the enchantment for that place gained greater visibility, traveling the world through the postage service.

So, despite the differences in support and production, what do these paintings and photographs have in common? All depict “picturesque” stretches of Rio – “picturesque” being a visual arts tradition, theorized from the XNUMXth century onwards, meaning a unique landscape, worthy of being painted. However, such “singularity” – noticed in the exoticism of the textures and represented shapes – hardly escapes from the “classical” landscape structures, mentioned above. In Postcard, the artist updates that structure, seen both in masters from the XNUMXth century onwards, and in the photographs of postcards from Rio: the foreground occupied by exotic vegetation, in which, on the left, a plant and, on the right, a plant stand out. tree, in which an animal and its young rest. Both look at the viewer, drawing their attention to the center of the image: a blue area underlining the Sugar Loaf Mountain – one of Rio's landmarks; then a line of green and blue hills and, finally, the sky.


With Postcard, Tarsila updated, but kept the commented pictorial structure, and the update took place through the synthesis of the figures, adding to that tradition an effort to, while obeying the “truth” of the landscape, invents forms that have little of true (the vegetation and animals). On the other hand, these forms were produced in such a way as not to leave explicit marks of the artist's action on the canvas. On the contrary: there was an effort there to banish any index of manuality and, therefore, of authorship, as if the painting in front of us were, in fact. a post card.

Read here text by Tadeu Chiarelli on Tarsila do Amaral's drawings

This procedure adopted by Tarsila as soon as she arrived in Paris, in 1923[1], is due to his contact with the painting of Fernand Léger, who conceived an impersonal character for his production, in order to emulate the products of mass society. According to the American scholar Kirk Varnedoe, after 1920, Léger:

[…] he developed a geometrically simplified realism, with well-marked edges and this change, with the socialist interests that also motivated him, made the artist attentive to the effective forms of the mass media. An advertisement that spoke clearly to the people seemed to have come from the people and had a frankness that made it a kind of folk art. [2]

Although in 1929 Tarsila also followed other parameters, it is undeniable how she still obeyed Léger's teachings, both in the contours of the forms and in the sought-after impersonality, a reference to the poster art of the 1920s. Among the leading painters of the French scene, Léger was the most faithful to the figuration of modern reality, far from the “integral” and hermetic Cubism of Gleizes (whom Tarsila also contacted) and from the then oscillating poetics of Picasso (sometimes Cubist, sometimes “Classical”). Léger was the artist committed to transposing the modernity of the metropolis to painting, appropriating not only the aesthetics of the poster, but also the aesthetics of the windows of Parisian magazines.[3]. Another lesson that Tarsila kept from Léger was the understanding of easel painting as a balanced mechanism between the real and the “imagined”:

The plastic work is the “equivocal state” of these two states, the part and the imagined. Finding the balance between these two poles, this is the difficulty, but cutting the difficulty in half and considering only one of the poles, doing pure abstraction or imitation, is actually very easy, it is avoiding the problem in its entirety.[4]

Tarsila, despite the other references, preserved this balance sought by Léger, constituting a modern iconography and, at the same time, “Brazilian”, as her modernist friends wanted. But it was not just this aspect that she inherited from the French painter. As mentioned, many of the artist's strategies were used by Tarsila, who promoted an effort to adapt those procedures to the reality of the painting he wanted to do in Brazil.[5].



Léger's adherence to the art of the mass media is a visible phenomenon after the beginning of the 1920s. Before, although already interested in the environment of the metropolises, he remained faithful to integrate elements perceived in this new landscape into painting, maintaining his spectator subjectivity as the protagonist. That subjectivity of someone who, even if scared, watches the turmoil of the metropolis, the trampling of the signs that govern it. In the paintings of this period, the demarcated edges of the forms are clear, but there is still an interest in relating them to each other and between them and the city, of which they are a representation. This type of agency is no longer possible to perceive in the siphon (1924), in which there are rare areas in which a relationship of continuity of one form is perceived when intercepted by another. In Composition with four hats (1927), the same thing occurs: the shapes overlap, without establishing a spatial relationship, as if they were part of a collage, and not a painting: one shape covers the other, with no interaction between them, with the exception of the one that seems to be an allusion to a box – of which only one of its sides and the top can be seen.

Em Postcard, by Tarsila, the demarcated forms are also superimposed as in a collage, making it difficult to talk about planes – foreground, intermediate plane, last plane, etc. In it, the shapes are cut and juxtaposed, if not “glued” one on top of the other. This strategy, needless to remember, reiterates the two-dimensional character not only of this painting, but of most of those made by the artist in the 1920s.


The painting is from 1923 Rio de Janeiro[6]. The image resembles Postcard, produced five years later: the city is the same, the point of view chosen in the same way privileges Pão de Açúcar. The scheme is also the same: darker foreground, central plane with water and the hill and, in the background, mountains and blue sky. The difference is in the treatment. Rio de Janeiro, which could be called a “postcard”, replicates the photographic tradition by repeating the tradition of painting, and it only differs from the 1929 work in the way it was painted: if in Postcard the cut forms, juxtaposed and/or superimposed, emphasize the planar character of the support, in Rio de Janeiro, the tonalism that accentuates the simulation of depth and the use of apparent brushstrokes – which, in turn, register the artist’s “subjectivity” – demonstrate that the production of this canvas precedes Tarsila’s contact with the work of Léger, still in 1923.


According to Aracy Amaral, 1923 was a busy year for the artist[7]. Arriving in Paris at the end of 1922, between parties, concerts and banquets, Tarsila spent January and February between Portugal and Spain. Between July and the end of September, she and Oswald de Andrade travel through Italy and, in December, she returns to Brazil. Thus, from the twelve months, Tarsila managed to attend the studios of André Lhote, Léger and Albert Gleizes, for about six months.[8]. The author states that Tarsila would have attended Lhote's studio for three months[9], therefore, it is believed that this experience took place between March and May 1923, before the trip to Italy, and after going to Portugal and Spain. Also according to Amaral, Tarsila goes to Léger's studio three times[10] and with Gleizes he carries out “dozens of sketches and exercises on the structure of the board… in less than a month and a half…”[11].


If for Aracy Amaral, the theoretical dimension of Gleizes’ teachings would be “the one that would mark her most in the future”[12], it is assumed that Léger and his production were the most relevant for Tarsila that year, and here the paintings to black e Caipirinha, both from 1923. Regardless of whether or not Tarsila was his student[13], what matters is that Lèger, already in 1923, became a parameter for it.


Brigitte Hedel-Samson, when demonstrating the importance of Léger for Tarsila’s production, recalls that he “asked his students to explore themes based on their own paintings”, and draws attention to two works by Tarsila: – Study (Academy n.1) - based on paint the cup of tea, from 1921, by Léger, and The fisherman, 1925c., which, according to the author, would resemble the series the lunches, by the French painter.[14].

Besides Study (Academy n.1), it would also be possible to pay attention to another work by Tarsila, in which the presence of the cup of tea it is noticed, Study (Academy n.2). The similarity between the two academies and Léger’s painting is remarkable: on a geometric and two-dimensional background – where recognizable shapes are applied as collages – a synthetic female figure is also superimposed, which only stands out from the background by the delimitation of the contour and by the color. that fills the area it occupies. In the case of the Frenchman's work, the figure of the woman is cold, metallic; in the paintings by the Brazilian, brownish tones cover the female figures. Within the set of his works from the 1920s, the cup of tea it is perhaps one of the best examples of how Léger was interested in the aesthetics of the poster, emulating its two-dimensional character, and its attachment to surfaces that referred to industrialized, smooth, impersonal products.

Thus, the transformations that Tarsila produced in that new parameter that would follow from then on are of interest. In both paintings, obedience to the two-dimensionality and to the strategy of the collage procedure in the organization of space can be observed. However, if in Léger the use of warm colors is parsimonious – so as not to break the cold climate of the whole –, in Tarsila one notices the abuse of them, both in the geometricized space he creates next to the figures, as well as in themselves. In the latter, it should also be underlined how the use of different shades of brown serves as an allusion to a specific type of female figure, a non-European, black woman.

It is not by chance that one of the most emblematic paintings produced by Tarsila do Amaral in that year of 1923, to black, can be examined against the background of the three paintings mentioned above. to black should be understood as a direct departure from Tarsila's effort to apprehend Leger's aesthetic and, at the same time, imbue it with an original, "Brazilian" flavor: the black woman - characterized not only by the descriptive color of the body, but also by the caricature of the face – it is as if glued to a geometric background simulating a landscape. After all, in addition to the shape that resembles a banana leaf on the right, the woman appears to be sitting on a beach, with a strip of sea also on the right. To her left, the “background”, references to land and air.

This effort by Tarsila to Brazilianize Léger's poetics, bringing to her paintings the direct relationship between the pictorial plane and the logic of collage, will determine all her effort to constitute a modern art, but with supposed indices of “Brazilianness”.

One might object, arguing that this “influence” of Léger in the black by the fact that Tarsila, on her first visit to the artist's studio, had already taken the work with her to show it to the artist. Now, the fact that Tarsila had been in Léger's studio for a short time does not mean that she only came into contact with his production after that visit. On the contrary: with a pragmatic view of who was who in that seductive Paris, Tarsila certainly sought out Léger (like Lhote and Gleizes) because he was, at that moment, one of the “oh Jesus!” of the Parisian scene. And more: having already met Léger before the first visit to his studio did not mean having been formally introduced to him at some elegant banquet, but rather, and above all, having had access to his most recent production in salons and/or public exhibitions, to have studied it from these visits and – why not? – to have shaped the pictorial work of the most experienced artist to his expectations of producing a modern and “Brazilian” painting. Hence Tarsila painted the black in Paris and to have taken it with him on his first visit to Lèger. Hence, the best explanation for the fact that Léger liked this work so much and wanted his students to admire it. In the end, to black it had been produced in the same way as his most recent works![15]

Among the strategies used by Tarsila to insert her production in the Parisian context, keeping it “Brazilian”, it is also integrated the caipirinha. Kind of to black, only dressed, the figure finds itself in a landscape in which the elements of the setting where it is located are more evident than in the previous painting – since less abstracted –, as well as the tonalities that naturalize the composition. The lake, the walls, the vegetation, the sky, as well as the girl holding the leaf, are treated in a descriptive way, leaving no doubt as to what they are. However, no less important are its “modern” procedures, which, if they were different, would Caipirinha it would be a naturalistic painting: the shapes that fill the field appear cut and juxtaposed like a work of cut and paste – which emphasizes its two-dimensional condition. This procedure, on the other hand, enhances a certain playful mood present in the painting. I am referring to the way Tarsila works with the center left area of ​​the canvas. By placing rectangular shapes over the representations of the tree, the house and the lawn (shapes that would represent windows and a fence), the artist does so as if she were gluing them in the “wrong” way (especially the rectangle over the house). e the tree), reinforcing the two-dimensional character of the picture and making during with another rectangular shape – this one representing a door in the right corner.


From this initial period, two works whose subject is the city of São Paulo stand out. I refer to the paintings São Paulo e Sao Paulo (Gazo), both from 1924. As has already caught the attention of many, the most emblematic absence of modernity surprises in them: the crowd

Tarsila's São Paulo is devoid of any reference to the human figure (unless one wants to see in the gas pumps present in both works some ciphered reference to human beings). In São Paulo the same scheme of the other commented landscapes is observed: a foreground occupied by a tree, lawn, ground and the gas pumps; an intermediate plane, in which there is a river mingling with a kind of road, crossed by a bridge with an iron structure and a background in which buildings, vegetation and industrial structure are opposed to the blue sky. In other words, a landscape linked to traditional conventions, but conceived within the same Legerian rigor that characterized his other paintings.

It is also noted that all those shapes were cut into defined and overlapping areas to reinforce the two-dimensional character of the support, the only exceptions being the structures that support the bridge, the gas pump and the metal tower, on the left. Only these forms are related to the background, as the others – the bridge and the wagon between them – cut the field of painting, transforming themselves into closed areas, without communication.

This same isolation of forms characterizes the juxtapositions that Tarsila used in Sao Paulo (Gazo). Only the trees and the house (on the left), in addition to the metal structure (on the right), relate to the later plans, replicating, so to speak, the large letters of the word “GAZO” – strangely the only elements in which he perceives an “authorial” wavering in the direction of the brush. The smoke coming out of the chimney, in the background on the left, looks like an unsuccessful attempt to find a balance between representation and presentation.

There is an idealization of São Paulo in these paintings, a nostalgia for the old town that, in the face of the new urban furniture that invades the previous placidity, resists, mixing with them through an order that at all times seeks to escape contradiction, to time and chaos. I think how difficult it must have been for Tarsila to translate from Léger's teachings – focused on a production based on the modern imagination – to this specific environment of the city that is relentlessly transforming and that the artist seems to want to slow down, stop, transforming the image of the almost metropolis in a kind of village, in posters that do not celebrate modernity as a commodity, a kind of ode to the time that fades and needs to be stopped.


Another modernist who “came later”, Tarsila, in the process of swallowing Léger's modernity, removes from her any remnant of circumstance, contingency, of history. And it gives us back a poetics still attached to the ancestral myth (the former enslaved, as “the” black woman, or the “caipirinha” and São Paulo as the village), which resists the clash with reality. If her paintings bear indices of the here and now – the postcard, the gas pump, etc. – they are outside the hustle and bustle of everyday life, more in search of mythical stability than the uncertainties of becoming.

[1] – On Tarsila do Amaral's stay in Paris, during 1923, and her contact with Fernand Léger, see: AMARAL, Aracy. Tarsila her work and her time. Sao Paulo: Ed. Perspective/Edusp, 1975.

[2] – “Advertising”, Kirk Varnedoe, In VARNEDOE, Kirk/GOPNIK, Adam. High&Low. Modern Art: modern art and popular culture. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1991. Page. 286.

[3] – For more details on Fernand Lèger’s ideas from the 20s onwards, read, among others, – LÉGER, Fernand. painting functions. São Paulo: European Book Diffusion, nd

[4] – LÉGER, Fernand. painting functions. São Paulo: European Book Diffusion, nd Page. 47.

[5] – An also significant example of Léger’s “presence” in Tarsila’s painting, and of her effort to adapt the artist’s postures to her practice as a painter, can be seen in A Fair I, 1924, and The fair II, 1925. We know how much Léger enchanted the display of goods in the windows of Parisian department stores. The artist even reflected on the “aesthetics” of shop windows –, for him, a fundamental index of urban modernity. I believe that Tarsila's interest in calling the attention of the observer to the ordering of the goods for sale in her two “Fairs” can be credited to an attempt by the painter to adapt that interest of Léger's to the supposed Brazilian reality. It is clear that, by opting for the fruit stalls at Brazilian fairs, Tarsila left out the reality of shop windows in the country's urban centers, reinforcing an idealized and “primitive” side of Brazil.

[6] According to Aracy Amaral (op.cit. p.95, note 43), the artist would have produced two canvases in 1923 with the title Rio de Janeiro. The reproduction shown here, belonging to the Collection of the Ema Gordon Klabin Cultural Foundation, SP, would have previously belonged to the Lasar Segall Collection, also in São Paulo.

[7] – On the subject, see above all chapter six of the book (p.75 et seq.).

[8] – Considering that she may have gone to Italy in mid-July and returned to São Paulo in early December, in time to spend the holidays with her family,

[9] – AMARAL, Aracy. (op.cit.) p.83.

[10] – AMARAL, Aracy. (op.cit.) p. 99.

[11] – Ditto.

[12] – Ditto, p. 98.

[13] – Based on letters and other documents by the artist, Aracy Amaral, in her book, states that Tarsila do Amaral would have attended three classes as a student at Fernand Léger's studio, in 1923. However, in a statement to the magazine Veja, (ed.181) of February 23, 1972, the artist stated that she was not a student of the French artist, but only his friend and his wife.

[14] – HEDEL-SAMSON, Brigitte. “Fernand Léger and Brazilian friends”.IN BARROS, Regina T. de (Editorial coordinator). Fernand Leger. Brazilian relationships and friendships. São Paulo: Pinacoteca de São Paulo, 2009. Page. 13 et seq.

[15] – In note no. 47, the author writes: “Tarsila remembers that Léger particularly liked the black, mentioning that he would like his students to come to the screen. AMARAL, Aracy. (op.cit.) p.97.

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