Which led me to read the entire biographical novel by Luiza Lobo, Lie Factory: from the Coffee Valley to the Arc de Triomphe [1], it was my interest in Eufrásia Teixeira Leite.

For many years I had read, here or there, some reference to this woman. Born in 1850 in Vassouras, in the interior of Rio de Janeiro, she lived in Paris most of her life, dying, however, in 1930, in the former federal capital, victim of an illness that prevented her from returning to France.

Eufrásia is remembered above all for her romantic relationship with the Brazilian intellectual and abolitionist Joaquim Nabuco, but her name is also remembered as a pioneer in the field of finance, being the first, or one of the first women, to invest in the Paris Stock Exchange, in the middle of the XNUMXth century. Recently, Eufrásia started to be studied also due to the fact that she owned a significant set of clothes by some of the main Parisian couturiers of her time, among them Charles Worth [2].

But, actually, what made me curious about Eufrásia were the sporadic mentions about the fact that she was the owner of a significant art collection formed in Paris during the period she lived in that city, at the turn of the XNUMXth century to the XNUMXth.

I'm not one of those people who go straight to the point, so instead of immediately looking for the chapters where I could find data about the businesswoman and her collection, I dedicated myself to reading the novel in its entirety, which, by the way, is very more for the repetition and repetition of information (and therefore deserving the fine-tooth comb of a good review) than, properly, for being a text of a nature, if not literary, at least pleasant.

It was, therefore, because of my interest in collecting that I immersed myself in this biographical novel by Luiza Lobo, which deals with the life not only of Eufrásia, but also of other members of her family (or those associated with her), born or not in the Rio de Janeiro Paraíba Valley. There were pages and pages covered before reaching the part of the writing that interested me, that is, the one which the Arc de Triomfthe title of the novel refers to: the life of the millionaire Eufrásia Teixeira Leite, one of the most unique characters in the Brazilian community in Paris.

Luiza Lobo seems to oscillate in the characterization of Eufrásia. Although she exhaustively reiterates data about her relationship with Joaquim Nabuco – “Quincas, o Belo” –, who she had met through her father and with whom she would have had an affair for more than a decade [3], the author does not fail to mention (or create) other “tails” of Eufrásia with the intention, perhaps, of emphasizing the liberality or autonomy of the character. If she wasn't “engaged” to any of them – as she had been to Nabuco –, the millionaire from Vassouras would have had her interest as a woman awakened there by Antônio, a slave, and with – who knew! – Gaston d'Orléans, the Count d'Eu, husband of her friend, the notorious Princess Isabel.

The emphasis on Eufrásia's interest in men who are so different from each other, at least in the novel, underlines her supposed personality as a liberated woman who, as heiress to a respectable wealth left by her parents (an estate that made her grow exponentially), did not allow herself to be swallowed up by the fate of all Brazilian women of their time and social class: marriage [4].

***

In 1873, Eufrásia and her sister Francisca – five years older – moved to Paris, after their father died in 1872. [5]. Solely responsible for conducting a formidable fortune, Eufrásia would be known for being one of the first women to become a great financier, greatly expanding what she and her sister had received as an inheritance. Transformed into a business woman, a major investor, she gradually expanded her financial interests to various parts of Europe, the Americas (including Brazil) and the Near East.

Accompanying the reading of factory of lies, it is known that this profile of a financier – combined with his interest in art and culture – would have led Eufrásia to start an art collection, from a visit to the second impressionist exhibition, in 1876, in Paris. According to Luiza Lobo, Eufrásia would have started to be interested in forming an art collection, assisted by an agent and connoisseur by the name of Albert Guggenheim – allegedly cousin of Solomon and Peggy (in the future, great art collectors):

It was he who introduced him to the ateliers of the new impressionist painters, a market still little explored, and he would be his agent in the purchase of art paintings and finances, in his investments in the Paris Stock Exchange. It showed him that investing in works of art was the order of the day, and those painters represented an excellent business in terms of cost and benefit, Eufrásia dreamed of building a large collection of private art to adorn the walls of her future residence, and also as an investment [6].

If in the novel, Albert Guggenheim is portrayed as a guy linked to big finance, an investor in tune with the field of modern art, as well as a relative of two of the main international collectors of the last century [7], the authors of a study entitled the emancipated sinha – Miridan Britto Falci and Hildete Pereira de Melo – present a more prosaic profile of Guggenheim: “A genealogical research was carried out on him, dozens of Albert Guggenheim were found, but the clues that were followed did not point to positive data, that is, taken as true. No Albert Guggenheim has been found who lived in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s […]” [8]. This non-evidence does not mean, of course, that he did not actually exist.

Earlier, in the same book, the authors, after examining the exchange of correspondence between Guggenheim and Eufrásia (when she was in Rio de Janeiro, in 1930, the year of her death), state: “We believe that reading these letters allows us to conclude that Guggenheim was an employee, a kind of private secretary for Eufrásia, a common habit of the European elite in those years”. [9]

A mere private secretary or – as Luiza Lobo identified him – financial agent, connoisseur and relative of the two main art sharks of the beginning of the last century? It may be that the novelist has, in fact, sweetened Guggenheim's biography. However, what is important to keep for future investigations is that Albert Guggenheim had been by Eufrásia's side since the 1870s, and could indeed have participated in the creation of the millionaire's art collection, whether he was just her secretary or not.

***

According to the novel, the collection that Eufrásia would have formed was exhibited in rooms and corridors of the palace, which she acquired in 1877. This permanent residence in Paris, had four floors in addition to the mansard, and was located near the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs avenue. Elysées.

Although her first contact with modern art may have been during the second impressionist exhibition, Eufrásia would have started her collection, not exactly with the “historical” impressionists, but with those of a younger generation, the “modernists”:

She continued to attend the Paris Exhibitions and buy many paintings by artists who only emerged in the ateliers, the modernists, at modest prices. The walls of the mansion at rue de Bassano, 40 […], were filled with the modernists Pierre Bonnard,, Fernand Léger, Amadeo [sic] Modigliani, Piet Mondrian, a Pablo Picasso, Georges Seurat, Wassily Kandinsky […] Advised by Albert Guggenheim, Eufrásia bet, in a pioneering way, on a new artistic world, futuristic, beyond the Belle Époque and art deco… an art non-figurative, without a definite object, pure imagination… [10]

Luiza Lobo reinforces Albert Guggenheim’s role in directing the Brazilian millionaire’s collection:

[…] Albert advised Eufrásia not to invest in those impressionist paintings, which were already valued in the international art market. There were others, excellent ones, who were despised for being too bold: the modernists! For prices not yet explored, they could constitute a beautiful thematic private collection for rue de Bassano, 40 […] [11]

Is the information contained in the Factory of Lies Or are they just fantasies of the author who, Eufrásia's fifth cousin, must have grown up listening to the stories and legends that surround the life of the famous relative?

***

Fruits of literary exaggerations or not, Luiza Lobo reports certain aspects of the collection and some works belonging to her distant cousin that deserve attention. In first place, the portrait of Eufrásia, painted by the Frenchman Carolus-Duran, a prestigious artist in the Parisian scene at the end of the XNUMXth century, who specialized in portraits of personalities of local society, could be pointed out.

The refined painting, typical of the artist's portraits, presents the image of Eufrásia as a beautiful woman, determined and not without some sensuality. Due to its treatment, the work is reminiscent of the great tradition of French courtly painting, updated, so to speak, by the worldly dimension of high society in Paris in the second half of the 19th century. Parisian aristocracy and high bourgeoisie of the time, the image of Eufrásia in painting, placed her as an indisputable member of that little big world.

Today belonging to the collection of Hera House Museum [12], in Vassouras, (according to the author of Factory of Lies), the painting would have been dispatched to Eufrásia’s former residence in Vassouras – which would later house the aforementioned museum –, as it did not suit the modernist characteristics of the rest of her Parisian collection [13].

Luiza Lobo refers to the lack of expressiveness of the works in Eufrásia's collection that survived the problems that arose with her estate after her death. This is how she reports the situation of the “French” collection that remained in the palace where Eufrásia lived in Paris:

In the little access that is available from the French part of the will, […], the tiny value achieved by the contents of the house, several dinner sets with 50 pieces, from Saxe, Gubbio earthenware, furniture and so on, is really surprising. But, apart from a Watteau and two valuable rugs, the collection of paintings sold is paltry, nothing that comes close to what Lenita, Georgina's second daughter [and Eufrásia's cousin], when visiting the manor house, saw on its walls. An important collection of art, mainly impressionist and modernist. The only painting that could come close, by date, to modernist art is a Fantin-Latour, Bathers (Bathers), worth 20 contos, but which is pure romantic art, totally far from a Picasso. He is from 1879 and is today at the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon! Another of his paintings, Flowers and fruits (Flowers and Fruits), from 1865, unrecognized at the Impressionist Exhibition, is now at the Musée d'Orsay. How will they get there? Sold at auction, with inventory? Sold piecemeal or together with the complete collection, of which there is no trace? [14]

This description could be confirmed and expanded by reading the study by Falci and Melo who, reviewing the collection of Eufrásia, in addition to the artists mentioned by Lobo, also pay attention to the existence in the collection of works by Ziem, Vinet, Dael and Henri Harpignies , between others. [15]

In a survey on the websites of the museums cited by Lobo, no image of Bathers, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon, but in that of the Musée d'Orsay an image of a painting with the title Flowers and Fruits, 1865 – a traditional still-life, typical of Fantin-Latour, whose work developed between the naturalist/romantic painting of the second half of the XNUMXth century and the aesthetic speculations carried forward by the impressionists and their surroundings.

Lobo also cites a third work belonging to the “modernist” collection of Eufrásia, a portrait of her painted by Georges Rouault:

Eufrásia's death, on September 13, 1930, was reported even by the Figaro, among many other newspapers in Paris and Rio. Georges Rouault's 1914 painting titled Mlle Euphrasie et son chien represents it, with imaginative strokes, very elegant in its coat, pulling the beloved white dog Quiqui by the collar. The painting belonged to his physician, Dr. Maurice Gerardin, who donated it in 1953 to the Museum of Modern Art in Paris [16]

In search of website of the Museum of Modern Art of the city of Paris, the work was found Mlle. euphraise, from 1914, portrait of a woman who appears to be pulling something by a strap. The date matches the work entitled by Luiza Lobo as Mlle Euphraise et son chien, as well as the fact that it was donated to the Museum by Dr. Maurice Gerardin.

This portrait of Eufrásia painted by Rouault is very different from the one painted by Carolus-Duran: it seems to be part of a series of quick paintings produced by the artist in the mid-1910s, portraits in which the speed of the pictorial annotation and the humor that characterize some figures are far from his best-known production.

***

From Factory of Lies, it is concluded that the fate of most of the items in the art collection formed by Eufrásia Teixeira Leite in Paris is unknown. From what the author indicates – and from what was confirmed on the websites of the mentioned museums –, her collection must be spread around the world, and in Brazil, it seems that only the portrait painted by Carolus-Duran and another pastel, also portraying Eufrásia, by an unknown author, are to be found, in addition to an oil portrait of her sister, Francisca too, undated.

Luiza Lobo, however, speculates about what could have happened to the millionaire's collection, during the period when she was already in Brazil, but kept her interests taken care of in Paris by Albert Guggenheim:

However, on October 24, 1929, the New York Stock Exchange plummeted. Albert realizes from Eufrásia's letters that her health situation is desperate… she is sick, probably hopeless, trapped in Rio […] at that moment, he could make decisions for himself. He was practically in possession of that unique collection of art in the world, which he himself had helped to assemble, […] Who were the painters, how many paintings hung on those walls, in the mansion with four floors and a garret? Who could say for sure? In fact, Eufrásia had never provided a catalog [17]

What follows can be understood as pure speculation by the author who, trying to think like her cousin/character, lets her imagination fly:

She tortured herself. What if he sold the art gallery to his cousin Solomon Guggenheim, who wanted to put together an art collection?

[…] the famous Solomon Robert Guggenheim, bought a huge amount of paintings, taking advantage of the downturn of the Great Depression […] He acquired many private collections at affordable prices, during the interwar period […] In 1943, he inaugurated the Guggenheim Museum, in the building white snail, beautiful design by Frank Lloyd Wright […]

How many Robert Delaunay, Pierre Bonnard, Juan Gris, Wassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Henri Rousseau, Georges Seurat, did not come, in these collections, from the “powerful Brazilian” of Paris […]

Or would part of Eufrásia's collection have been sold to Albert's cousin, the millionaire Peggy Guggenheim, sole heiress of the powerful Benjamin, who sank with his wife on the Titanic in 1912, leaving her a millionaire [...] And if Princess Winnaretta Polignac -Signac [heiress of Singer, a sewing machine factory and friend of Eufrásia] make an offer they can't refuse, to display them in his new Singer-Polignac Foundation, recently inaugurated in 1928, in his mansion on Avenida Henri-Martin? [18]

***

As can be seen, Eufrásia Teixeira Leite was one of the most unique women of her time and – bearing in mind her profile as a fierce financier – the possibility of having constituted an art collection led by artists who emerged after impressionism is not remote. On the contrary, it seems that she would meet this persona conceived by herself: a modern woman, owner of her body, a financier interested in risky businesses. Therefore, an investor capable of creating a collection of modern art, betting on the possibility of the future appreciation of that heritage.

It would be important for any professional with an interest in XNUMXth/XNUMXth century collecting to address the issue, bearing in mind the apparently concrete traces left by this collection in some museums in France. The recovery of data on this still hypothetical collection could raise questions of interest about international collecting in the passage from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth, in addition to some deeper reflection on the taste of this Eufrásia that, born Sinhazinha Fluminense[19], built for herself the image of a victorious woman in a male universe.

Was the sensibility of this apparently modern missha more linked to the radicalism of an artist like Georges Rouault or the delicacy of Fantin-Latour? Did modern art really speak to her sensibility, or was it nothing more than a pure investment, with more conservative painting being what most touched her? [20]


 

[1] – LOBO, Luiza. Lie Factory: from the Coffee Valley to the Arc de Triomphe. Rio de Janeiro: Editora 7 Letras, 2022. The novel is based on the biography of some members linked directly or indirectly to Eufrásia Teixeira Leite, with the life of this character being the most prominent element in the work
[2] – At least part of this collection of costumes is part of the Casa da Hera Museum, former residence of the Teixeira Leite family. I will mention the Museum again later.
[3] – A somewhat clandestine “engagement”, full of secret meetings in Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Venice and other cities
[4] – Within the framework of Eufrásia’s “uniqueness”, it is important to underline the fact that she left her entire fortune to the areas of education and health in the city of Vassouras.
[5] – The mother had died a year before, in 1871.
[6] – LOBO, Luiza. Op. Cit. P. 365. By all indications, and it can be compared further on, the author, when she uses the expression “new impressionist painters” is referring, not to the “pioneer” impressionists, but to those who emerged shortly after the beginning of the movement. 1904 user of the Socièté des amis du Louvre, an organization that sought resources from the private sector in the acquisition of works of art for the Museum”. “Eufrásia Teixeira Leite between finance and fashion”. Magazine of the Institute of Brazilian Studies at USP. São Paulo: University of São Paulo, n. 84, April 2023, p 148. https://www.revistas.usp.br/rieb/article/view/211002/193550
[7] – Solomon and Peggy Guggenheim.
[8] “- FALCI, Miridan/MELO, Hildete Pereira de. The emancipated sinha. Eufrásia Teixeira Leite (1850-1930). Passion and business in the life of a daring XNUMXth century woman, 2nd. São Paulo: Hucitec Editora, 2021, p. 159.
[9] – Ditto, p. 112.
[10] – Idem .378/379.
[11] – Idem p.379.
[12] – The said museum was set up in the residence where Eufrásia and Francisca spent the first years of their lives.
[13] – As Luiza Lobo wrote: “Years later, in 1924, [Eufrásia] brought the revolutionary painting [in which she had been portrayed with short hair] by ship and had it hung in the old abandoned ballroom at Chácara da Hera, as it did not match her collection of modernists in Paris”. (op. cit. p; 422).
[14] – LOBO, Luiza. Lie Factory: from the Coffee Valley to the Arc de Triomphe. Rio de Janeiro: Editora 7 Letras, 2022. p. 483.
[15] – FALCI, Miridan Britto/ MELO, Hildete Pereira de. Op. cite. P. 158. Another interesting data is provided by the book of the two scholars. At a certain point they comment that, already ill in Rio de Janeiro, and unable to write personally to the Guggenheim, Eufrásia asks her friend Torres Guimarães to do so. In the letter addressed to the alleged private secretary, among other concerns of Eufrásia that Guimarães conveys, is one of Eufrásia's express requests: “have your house on Rua Bassano aired out, especially the ground floor and please check the paintings and objects not hung in order to avoid possible deterioration – (humidity, mice, etc.). Letter from Torres Guimarães, dated July 10, 1930 (apud FALCI, Miridan Britto/MELO, Hildete Pereira de. Op. Cit. p.110/111).
[16] – Idem, p.489.
[17] – Ditto, p. 481.
[18] – Ditto. P. 482.
[19] – Sinhazinha, whose inheritance she received had its origin, ultimately, in coffee and, consequently, in the slave trade.
[20] – When this article was about to be published, I received an email from Antônio Xavier, historian and researcher at the Casa da Hera Museum – Vassouras, RJ – in which he kindly provided important information about Eufrásia and her fortune. At a certain point in his considerations, the historian thus pronounces on what would have happened to the modern art collection supposedly amassed by Eufrásia: “When she died in 1930, Eufrásia left a considerable monetary legacy, something around 1,8 tons of 24k gold (standard at the time, which, due to the factors of the crisis triggered by the Crack of 29, was highly valued), which would place this lady as a billionaire, by current standards. It is to be expected that much of this fortune was in the form of works of art. /The point is that, in her final wishes (and her will) she had had all her belongings and possessions converted into Treasury Bonds. Thus, currencies of different nationalities, negotiable securities, shares (of dozens of companies and industries around the planet), reimbursable credits, promissory notes receivable, furniture, real estate and properties, jewelry and artworks they were sold, collected and auctioned, so that there would be no endless inventories and disputes by those who wanted (and thought) to be entitled to a fraction of this immense fortune. / Eufrásia's first intention was to leave all material possessions to Pope Pius XI (as head of the Roman Catholic Church), perhaps an influence of her late friend Princess Isabel. / People close to her and trusted by her must have made her change her mind about the destination of this huge amount of money. It was determined then that part of this money would be used in the construction of a hospital, a school for girls and another for boys, in addition to some improvements in Vassouras and donations for the poor and destitute (in Rio de Janeiro and Paris). Being so "conservative" there is no evidence that Eufrásia had modern artwork, perhaps some impressionistic, but I suppose academicism was more "her style of hers." (email received on July 06, 2023).

Leave a comment

Please write a comment
Please write your name