mountain man
"The green-haired woman", nd, by Anita Malfatti. Photo: Reproduction/ Fund. A. Queiroz, Fortaleza CE

mountain man
“The green-haired woman”, nd, by Anita Malfatti. Photo: Reproduction/ A. Queiroz Foundation, Fortaleza/CE

On the eve of the centenary of the Week of Modern Art, it is opportune to reflect on the criticism of what is seen as the intellectual who would lead São Paulo's modernism to gain public dimension: Monteiro Lobato. As the official historiography repeats, it would have been from her text “against” Anita Malfatti that the modernists, still in 1917/1918, began to regiment themselves[1].

Before entering the Lobatean critique, my intention is to introduce it into a broader framework, leaving the limits of the artistic debate in São Paulo in the second decade of the last century to think about its role in the struggle between two types of art that, since the end of the 19th century, were in dispute. One of them, the newest, imposed itself as an insurgent power; the oldest resisted the onslaught of the first, summoning forces for a fight that, in the end, would prove to be inglorious. I am referring to the clash between traditional art, which had been structured since the Renaissance, and modernist art, which emerged in the 19th century, seeking to become effective as a new paradigm.

Drawing this picture will allow us to understand in a less circumscribed way the role played by Lobato as a critic. In the second part, I will examine some issues of Lobatean criticism within this broader framework.


In the book After the end of art – contemporary art and history,[2] the American philosopher Arthur C. Danto proposes an “age of art” that began more or less from 1400. About the production prior to that date, the author, with reference to the German scholar Hans Belting, in Likeness and Presence: A history of the Image before the era of art, as follows:

This did not mean that these images were not art in the broadest sense, but that their artistic condition did not figure in their elaboration, given that the concept of art had not yet really appeared in the collective consciousness. Consequently, these images – indeed icons – played a very different role in people's lives than did the works of air.when are youand the concept finally appeared and began to govern a new relationship with them (…) They were not even considered in the elementary sense of having been produced by artists (…), but that they were observed as if their origin was miraculous (…)[3].

If there was this break in the understanding of the phenomenon of art, it would be possible, then, to conceive an end to the “age of art”. These questions are the beginning of the presentation of Danto's thesis, justifying the object of his book: the artistic production carried out “after the end of art”. For him, it was not a matter of discussing the “end of art” – as several authors have decreed in recent times – but the fact that an era had ended:

My opinion was not that there should be no more art (…) but that any new art could not support any kind of account that could be considered as its next stage. What had come to an end was this tale, but not the subject of the tale.”[4].

Within this great account proposed by Danto, still according to him, there would have been aperiod – modernism –, in which the painters who, before, were dedicated “to the representation of the worldo, painting people, landscapes and historical events as they appeared to his eyes. With modernism, the conditions of representation become central, and it is from here that art, in a sense, becomes its own subject.[5].

Danto will cite the American critic Clement Greenberg as responsible for the account of modernism, which would have replaced the narrative based on the lives of artists, created by Giorgio Vasari, in the 16th century.[6]. For Greenberg, Manet would have played the role of Kant in philosophy in painting. If the latter questioned how knowledge would be possible, Manet's paintings “became the first modernist images, due to the frankness with which the flat surfaces on which they were painted were manifested”.[7] Danto says:

If Greenberg is right, it is important to point out that the concept of modernism is not merely the name of a stylistic period that begins in the last decades of the 19th century, unlike Mannerism which is a stylistic period that began in the first decades of the 16th century (… ) Modernism is marked by the rise to a new level of consciousness, reflected in painting as a kind of discontinuity, as if accentuating mimetic representation had become less important than other types of reflection on the senses and methods of representation (…) The point is that 'modern' doesn't just mean 'the latest'. It means, in philosophy and art, a notion of strategy, style and action.[8].

“Olympia”, 1863, by Édouard Manet. Photo: Reproduction / Musée D'Orsay, Paris

Still according to Danto, in order to establish itself, modernism needed to impose a new paradigm, replacing the one practiced before, that of mimesis, which for centuries served the purposes of art.[9]. Continuing:

During a historical period, it was assumed that to be a work of art, especially a work of visual art, the work would have to be mimetic: to imitate an external, actual or possible reality (…). Mimesis was the usual philosophical answer to the question of what art was, from Aristotle to the end of the 19th century, including the 20th century (…) Mimesis became um style with the emergence of modernism (…)[10].

Subsequently, in the midst of his considerations about modernism and its end (which he places from the mid-1960s onwards), Danto demonstrates how the transformations from mimetic art to modern art were perceived. To do so, he will quote the English esthete Roger Fry who, in 1912, when reviewing an exhibition by post-impressionists in London, states:

When the first post-impressionist exhibition took place two years ago in these galleries, the English public mostly knew for the first time that there was an artistic movement, a movement that was the most disconcerting because it was not a variation on accepted themes but rather implied a reconsideration. of the purposes and goals themselves, as well as of the methods of pictorial and plastic art (…) Accusations of turpitude and incapacity were freely made [by an audience] which in a painting mainly admires the dexterity with which the artist produces illusion and which resists an art in which dexterity is completely subject to the direct expression of feeling.”[11].

It is noted that Fry understands that he is facing a non-mimetic art – the main value for the public at the time. However, even without having a repertoire to judge post-impressionist painting, the respect with which the Englishman approaches the non-mimetic art proposed by the exhibitors is noticeable.

But we know that almost no one acted with sensitivity when talking aboutabout modern art. The reception that modernist art had in Europe, from the end of the 19th century, until the first years of the following century, was dictated by the incomprehension and the attempt to make the verisimilitude paradigm prevail, even among intellectuals who, at first, fought in favor of of the impressionists. Here the figure of the Frenchman Émile Zola is emblematic. Defender of Manet and the Impressionists, in 1896 he was scandalized by the art of the time, demonstrating his limits in the face of Impressionism itself:

But my surprise turns to anger when I see the madness to which the theory of reflexes could lead in thirty years. And this was one of the victories that we got, the forerunners! We rightly argued that the lighting of objects and figures is not simple, that under trees, for example, the naked flesh takes on green tones, which thus produces a continuous interchange of reflections that must be taken into account if one intends to to give a work the real life of light. Light decomposes incessantly, breaks and spreads. If one does not want to fall into academic painting made in the fictional light of the studio, if one approaches the immense and changing nature, in the eternally diverse light it becomes the soul of the work. But there is nothing more delicate and difficult to capture and represent than this decomposition and these reflections, these games of the sun that, without deforming them, bathe creatures and things. When you insist on an aspect and when rationalization intervenes, you quickly arrive at the bottleture. and are really theThese multicolored women, those violet-colored landscapes and those orange horses that artists offer us, scientifically explaining to us that they are this way as a result of certain reflections or a certain decomposition of the solar spectrum are disconcerting. Oh! Those ladies who have one cheek blue in the moonlight and the other cheek yellow under the dome of a lamp! Oh! Those horizons where the trees are blue, the waters are red and the skies are green! It's horrible, horrible, horrible![12].

It is remarkable how Zola becomes exasperated with artists who overcome issues dear to the realists and early impressionists, abandoning expedients to achieve greater mimetic effect. Now they invest in the very act of painting.


In 1905, seven years after Fry's text and 12 before Lobato's, a couple of North American collectors take a stand on the Paris Autumn Salon:

Now we come to the most amazing gallery in this Salón so rich in surprises. Here all description, all formlessness, as well as any criticism, become equally impossible given that what has been presented to us here - with the exception of the material used - has nothing in common with painting: some formless confusion of colors: blue, red, yellow, green: a few patches of pigment crudely juxtaposed: the barbaric naive sport of a child playing with the color box he has just received as a Christmas present (…). This select gallery of pictorial aberration, of color madness, of unspeakable fantasies produced by people who, if they don't play some game, should be sent back to school[13].

Again the prejudice against what only seemed to resemble painting due to the use of the same materials. Moreover, a visuality that had nothing to do with mimesis, nothing to do with “cultured” or “adult” art. Hence the direct relationship with the art of children or people who, if they weren't playing, should be sent immediately to school to learn the “right”.

Then, another statement of little empathy towards modern art, also mentioned by Danto. This is an article published in Munich in 1909, about an exhibition that was then taking place at the New Artists Association:

There are only two possible ways to explain this absurd exposition: one, that someone assumes that the majority of the members and guests of the Association are incurable deranged, or another that we are dealing here with shameless deceivers who only know very well the desire for sensationalism of our time. and try to take advantage of their peak.[14]


The excerpts above reaffirm the difficulty of many (and not just Lobato) in facing that painting could go beyond the creation of doubles of the real.

Since the Renaissance, it was believed that art could capture the real in an idealized or non-idealized way, and the debates always walked within this limit. Until the second half of the 19th century it had never been doubted that painting was not committed to being an analogue of reality. However, as some artists raised another paradigm – claiming that art could turn to the analysis of its own production, to the exploration of its intrinsic “truths” – reactions to this new possibility tended to manifest themselves through three postures:

1 – modern art was a production carried out by artistic “illiterates”, and hence the best thing was that they went to study; 2 – modern art was practiced by insane people, and then they should go back to the asylum; 3 – modern art was a production practiced by mystifiers who would aim to confuse public opinion, disrupting the values ​​of traditional art.

“Rosita”, 1913, Ignacio Zuloaga

Having collected these data, I now read an excerpt from the famous text that Lobato wrote about the exhibition starring the artist Anita Malfatti, in 1917:

There are two kinds of artists. A composite of those who see things and consequently make pure art, keeping the eternal rhythms of life, and adopting, for the realization of aesthetic emotions, the classic processes of the great masters.

Those who follow this path, if they have genius, are Praxiteles in Greece, Rafael in Italy, Reynolds in England, Dürer in Germany, Zorn in Sweden, Rodin in France and Zuloaga in Spain. If you have only talent, you will add to the plethora of satellites that gravitate around these undying suns.

The other species is formed by those who see nature abnormally and interpret it in the light of ephemeral theories, under the cross-eyed suggestion of rebellious schools, arising here and there as boils of excessive culture (…); they are end-of-season fruits, worms at the hatch. Shooting Stars (…).

Although they present themselves as new, as precursors of an art to come, nothing is older than abnormal or teratological art: it was born as paranoia and mystification (…)

(…) All the arts are governed by immutable principles, fundamental laws that do not depend on latitude or climate (…)

(…) As long as sensory perception takes place in man normally, through the common door of the five senses, an artist in front of a cat will only be able to “feel” a cat; and the cat’s “interpretation” of the toró, a beetle or a pile of transparent cubes is false (…)[15].

This text closely echoes the excerpts I have commented on. Faced with the production he saw in the show starring Anita Malfatti, for him there were two options to frame those works: either they were the result of paranoia or pure mystification.


Rereading Lobato's text against the backdrop of the battle between the defenders of the “mimetic age of art” and the “modernist age”, makes his provincialism and reactionaryism find their peers on the international scene. Although there is a small gap between the cited texts and that of Lobato, there is no doubt that, if we were to start a survey of European and North American archives from the second decade of the last century, we would find other evidence that Lobato, in 1917, was not alone. On the other hand, his text resizes the reception of modernist art as a whole: it was not only bellicose in Brazil. In other countries, supporters of the old paradigm and that proposed by modern art also entered a struggle that has not yet been properly recovered and studied in its most varied scopes.

As in the Brazilian case, adherence to modernist ideas abroad also occurs with some delay. In Brazil, it would be precisely from 1917 onwards, with the exhibition starring Malfatti, that this phenomenon would begin.

But this adhesion – we cannot forget – took place at a time when the most radical strands of European modernism were in a phase of reflux, losing the strength they had had since the end of the 19th century. In 1917, in some sectors of the European environment, many artists, previously linked to the avant-gardes, began to partially or unrestrictedly repudiate the most radical manifestations of the avant-gardes, replacing the rebirth of mimesis from the return to a previous visuality.[16].

Thus, in 1917, when Lobato became indignant at the exhibition starring Malfatti – as he saw signs there that there would be a project that was opposed to his own Brazilian art project (on which I will return) –, at the international level, another a situation of even greater complexity: many artists denied the gains established by the modernist paradigm.


Untitled, 1887, by Anders Zorn. Photo: Reproduction / National Museum, Stockholm

It is worth rereading the following excerpt from Lobato's text:

Those who follow this path, if they have genius, are Praxiteles in Greece, Rafael in Italy, Reynolds in England, Dürer in Germany, Zorn in Sweden, Rodin in France and Zuloaga in Spain. If you have only talent, you will add to the plethora of satellites that gravitate around these undying suns.

The critic evokes great artists linked to the European tradition (Praxíteles, Rafael, Reynolds and Dürer), alongside contemporaries: Zorn, Rodin[17] and Zuloaga. If the former are still references for Western art today, Zorn and Zuloaga went to the limbo of history for practicing a painting that merged naturalist styles with a conservative structure.

What, then, would have made Lobato bring these two sets of artists together, without bothering to define the differences between them? It's just that, “classic” or “modern”, “good” or “medium”, everyone was adept at mimetic art. Faced with the trends that threatened to break with this paradigm, the differences between the two groups ceased to exist, as it was necessary to summon everyone against the common enemy.

Lobato, from his first texts, positioned himself as affiliated with naturalist art, believing it to be the modern aspect of Brazilian art. This affiliation served as a filter for his appreciation of any artist, including Pedro Américo – whom he does not accept because he is an idealist and not a naturalist artist – and Almeida Jr. – for him the great painter of the country, for having portrayed, within naturalism, the “pure” Brazilian man.

Saudade, 1899, by Almeida Jr. Photo: reproduction

However, after the exhibition starring Malfatti, Lobato is shocked by the possibility of another modern art project for Brazil. He then hesitates and, as a critic, shows signs of being questioned. It is in this sense that his sudden interest in Pedro Alexandrino, faithful to idealized mimicry and producer of still lifes eagerly gathered by the city's bourgeoisie, is understood. It is precisely Pedro Alexandrino whom Lobato will visit in 1918 and about whom he will write, extolling the traditional values ​​of painting and the artist's actions. At the end, he leaves the following advice:

If we were given the freedom to advise someone, we would say to all young painters in training: go to Pedro Alexandrino, learn from him how to make art a religion, take his enchanted simplicity as the norm for your moral life; as a norm of mental life your hatred of all that is false, quackery, burlesque, Vila Marianesque, Kyrialesco, idiotic, cubic or futuristic, and your love of truth and sincerity[18].

Interestingly, Lobato's need to look for a great promoter of what he understood to be the art of “love of truth and sincerity”. This, after writing about the exhibition starring Malfatti, who brought to São Paulo an art that, for him, was pure paranoia or mystification.

Such an attitude demonstrates that, for Lobato, the exhibition starring Anita did not mean little. Her convictions were shaken in the face of the new paradigm that the artist, her teacher and colleagues presented[19]. Hence, perhaps, the need to visit Alexandrino, seeking the “truth of art” that seemed to want to escape. Hence the idea of ​​advising young artists in training to go to the studio of the older artist in search of “true art”[20].

“Apples and Grapes”, nd, by Pedro Alexandrino. Photo: Reproduction / Pinacoteca de São Paulo


Lobato considered himself a modern critic and this statement reflects the complexity of the São Paulo artistic environment in the 1910s. Agostini and Felix Ferreira, also naturalists. He also aligned himself with Zola, the critic who, having divulged the “scientific” and positivist art of French naturalists and impressionists, found himself dissatisfied, at the end of that century, in the face of the “distortion” that had been imposed on the paradigm of art as a double. of the real.

The difference between Lobato and the three was that, combined with his unrestricted adherence to naturalism, he joined nationalism. His criticism advocated a nationalist naturalism and this, in fact, was the shield he used to reflect on art.

Lobato constituted a project of nationalist aestheticization of Brazilian life, they were not restricted to painting and sculpture. it is worth paying attention to his texts on architecture, foreign words in the Portuguese language and his proposals for a national fashion[21].


What could we conclude about Lobato's critique of modernism's onslaughts? In the first place, we must not forget the complexity of the situation, remembering that such resistance occurs with greater force after 1917, when, at the same time, aspects of the Return to Order began to play against the avant-gardes, insisting on a return to a production linked mimesis, making the implementation of São Paulo modernism even more complex. On the other hand, one should not think of Lobato as an “academic” critic. His production is conservative, especially if we think about it having its own modernist strands as a basis. However, if we pay attention to the artistic debate during his fiercest performance, it will be seen that he represented an alternative in that framework and this because, in addition to being an adherent of naturalism, he postulated nationalism in art. Nationalist naturalism: this was the difference between Lobato's criticism in the Brazilian debate. It was this position that made him not just another critic, but O most respected art critic in São Paulo between 1914 and 1918[22].

However, to give the exact dimension of the complexity of that moment, it is not possible to leave aside that Lobato was run over by the modernism that arrived through the exhibition starring Malfatti. This fact made him feel obliged to put aside his differences with academic art, in order to rally forces against the enemy that came to jeopardize the positive belief in an art that was an analogue of the real, idealized or not.


[1] – “Paranoia or Mystification”, Monteiro Lobato in LOBATO, Monteiro. Ideas by Jeca Tatu. 7th São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1956 p. 59-65. In time: Lobato did not write the famous article against Malfatti, but against modern art (Hence, the word against have been written between quotation marks in the paragraph.
[2] – DANTO, Arthur C. After the end of Art. Contemporary art and the linde of history. Barcelona: Paidos, SA, 1999.
[3] – DANTO, Arthur C. op.cit. page 25/26.
[4] – Ditto. page 27.
[5] – Ditto, p. 29.
[6] – Giorgio Vasari, painter, architect and historian who, in 1550, published Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects, based on the biographies of the artists. Vasari is considered by many to be the first art historian.
[7] – Greenberg, C. apud DANTO, Arthur C. Ditto. page 29.
[8] DANTO, Arthur C. op.cit. page 52.
[9] – Ditto.
[10] – Ditto. page 68.
[11] – Ditto. page 74/75.
[12] – ZOLA, Emile. The good fight. In defense of impressionism. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1986. Pages. 259/260.
[13] — DANTO, Arthur, op.cit. page 77/78.
[14] – Idem, p. 78.
[15] – “Paranoia or mystification”, Monteiro Lobato. op cit. Recently, the scholar Daniel Rincon Caires published the article “Bichado ao nasdouro – scientism and degenerationism in the art criticism of Monteiro Lobato”, (, in which he advances the studies on Monteiro Lobato's intellectual affiliations in relation to prejudices against modern art.
[16] – I am referring to the Return to Order, an artistic trend between the wars that recovered various aspects of mimetic art. On the subject, read, among others, CHIARELLI, Tadeu. Brazilian international art. 2nd São Paulo: Lemos, 2002.
[17] – Rodin dies in 1917.
[18] – “Pedro Alexandrino”, Monteiro Lobato. Brazil Magazine, year 3, vol.7, n.26, feb 1918. Pág, 118-130. apud CHIARELLI, Thaddeus. A Jeca at the vernissages. São Paulo: Edusp, 1995. Page 210-211.
[19] – Let us not forget that, due to the fact that Anita Malfatti presented her production alongside works by her North American professor AS Baylinson, and her colleagues Floyd O'Neale and Sara Friedman, the exhibition can be considered not exactly a solo show , but a press conference starring Malfatti. Corroborating this hypothesis, the title of the show: “Exhibition of Modern Art. Anita Malfatti”.
[20] – Ironic is that, shortly after, directly or indirectly accepting Lobato’s advice, Malfatti goes to study with Alexandrino, in whose studio will meet Tarsila.
[21] – On these topics, it is worth reading articles such as “The caricature in Brazil”, “The creation of style (Apropos of the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios)”, “The question of style”, “Still the style” and “Aesthetics official”, among others. IN LOBATO, M. Op.Cit.
[22] – It is important not to forget that modernist nationalism will borrow some questions from Lobatean postulates. On the subject read: CHIARELLI, Tadeu. Painting is not just beauty. The art criticism of Mário de Andrade. Florianópolis: Contemporary Letters, 2007.

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