"Saci and three studies of animals", 1925. Graphite and watercolor on paper. Photo: Hugo Curti

The perception that Tarsila do Amaral's itinerary was quite peculiar becomes crystal clear in view of the collection of her drawings, acquired by the Marcos Amaro Foundation[1].

After all, of the 203 drawings belonging to the institution, only seven were produced after 1930, and the artist, who died in 1973, produced until 1970[2]! In other words: of a course that “officially” began in 1923, only the first years are royally contemplated there, and the next forty years are practically outside the Collection.

What would have happened to Tarsila's production from the 1930s onwards? Did it follow the same pattern as the works of the previous decade, or did they go into some kind of derailment, towards some final disaster?

It is known that the drawings that are now part of the Collection were chosen by Aracy Amaral for the artist's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, in 1969. The discreet presence of drawings made after 1930 may have had two reasons: Tarsila perhaps had not kept works from that period or else – which seems more likely – Aracy may have correctly chosen to exhibit only what she considered to be the best that the artist had produced.

Published in the exhibition catalogue, both in Aracy's own text and in Regina Teixeira de Barros's text, one can see how much the production of Tarsila's last decades of work constrains the scholars, who regret - not without reason, as will be seen - that the artist's productions from that period barely compare, in terms of quality and vigor, to those of the early years. It is as if Tarsila's melancholic end as an artist contaminates the end of the reflections of the two specialists[3].

These findings bring up again a problem that haunts everyone who looks at the trajectory of Tarsila do Amaral: what would have happened with her production from the 1930s onwards that made her lose the so characteristic vigor that she showed in her early works ? Based, therefore, on the premises that emerged with the Collection acquired by the Marcos Amaro Foundation as a starting point and on the texts written by the curators, the purpose of this text is to draw attention to some of the works considered to be the most significant now belonging to the institution and, finally, to raise some considerations that may contribute to, in fact, starting a direct confrontation of this problem that constrains everyone.

***

Getting in touch with these drawings by Tarsila is to delve into some of the artist's most thought-provoking productions, since her initiation with Pedro Alexandrino, in the late 1910s. The first ones are delicate, where she notes people lost in vagrant moments of everyday life. Her trait is subtle, almost embarrassed by approaching a tradition in which she still doesn't feel fully integrated. Within a few years, however, the shyness characteristic of many newbies seems to have disappeared. What delicious Venice is that, captured by Tarsila, as if she were sliding on a gondola? A drawing that, before faithfully registering the place, attests to how the artist already perceived the importance of two-dimensional support and the power of lines over it.

Many say that Tarsila's most incisive drawing from 1923 onwards would be linked to a taste for “primitive” art, which interested many in those years. I believe that this parameter was important for her. However, there is in them a sharpness, an impersonal clarity in these drawings that seem to me informed by the photography and the advertising image of the posters, a reference also present in Léger – so important to Tarsila. This characteristic can be perceived, both in a work carried out in 1923 – view of venice – and in later productions, such as a landscape with a crane, from 1924 or a view of Piraeus, from 1926.

The importance of the Collection resides precisely in these possibilities for a more complex understanding of Tarsila's career. THE self-portrait, produced in 1923, for example. This drawing is emblematic of the artist’s ability to move (or oscillate?) between the search for an unprecedented spelling (the result of the miscegenation of heterodox procedures) – as in the case of the landscapes mentioned above – and the ratification of the values ​​of traditional “good drawing”, although informed, of course, by certain modernist lessons (conventional, but still, modernist)[4].

“Self-portrait with short hair”, 1923. Photo: Hugo Curti

Another important set in this context is that of non-figurative studies produced by her in 1923 and 1925. Would Tarsila have taken any of them to the canvas? I do not think so. The support of Brazilian critics had clear limits and for Mario de Andrade, for example, no Brazilian artist should “develop” towards abstraction.[5]. Perhaps this type of positioning by the critic has curbed Tarsila's interest in carrying out this type of production. However, the painting projects are there in the Collection, waiting for someone to face them while frustrated ideas/projects are still in their infancy.

***

These questions raised above from this collection of Tarsila's works are just a few of a much larger set, full of potency, in the sense of a more in-depth knowledge of the artist's production during the 1920s. What do we have left of Tarsila, besides this rich production from the beginning of her career? Now, in my view, we have nothing left over, but what the artist produced during that short period of about a decade is worth an entire work.

Circumscribing Tarsila's work between 1923 and, more or less, 1933, does not mean wanting to instrumentalize her production so that it can well serve the dictates of a modernist historiography already well into the years. It is about marking the objective (and immense, by the way) limits of his contribution to the art produced in Brazil, without worrying about issues outside the work of art and its specificities. Of course, his productions, after Workers (1933), can be understood as “historical documents”, becoming fundamental for historians and sociologists, or for art historians concerned more with the lives and surroundings of the artists, than with their productions, in fact. However, they should not be regarded as works of art within the same standards as his production of the 1920s. Trying to relativize the immense distance that separates these two groups of productions, from an artistic and aesthetic point of view, can result in curious biographies, as well as in good financial deals, but it will hardly be enough so that, in a comparison between a work from the 1920s and another from the 1950s, for example – even if both are “pau-brasil” – the differences do not stand out in an overwhelming way.

The differences between the most important years of Tarsila’s career (between 1923 and 1930) and the fall of her attitude towards modern painting (beginning with her “social” phase, in the early 1930s) is so great, but so immense. , that it is even possible to say that his work, in fact, is less than a decade old. At most – if we want to be generous – a few more years could be added, so that it can be added to the corpus of his paintings “that count”, the canvas Workers – his already broken, but definitive, swan song.

What happened with her production, from the early 1930s onwards, was a gradual but fatal disintegration of the qualities that Tarsila had managed to combine in her paintings and drawings of the previous decade. In Workers From then on, there were only unsuccessful attempts to revive his “anthropophagic” (see some of his paintings from the 1940s) and “Brazil wood” (on which Tarsila practically insisted until his death) phases, interspersed with paintings in which, at times, he flirted with portinarian social realism, sometimes with a certain primitivism, or else with a frank conservative, “academic” appeal.

There are reasons for this dissolution: from the 1930s onwards, Tarsila would not have been as encouraged as she was at the beginning, when her painting had the support of some of the most important names in Modernism; after that date, stripped of her former affluent financial situation, she would have produced what she produced because, after all, she needed to work to survive, and so on. Many other allegations could be raised here to explain her failure, but whatever the mitigating factors, the fact is that none of them will be found outside the direction that the artist gave to the chain of her work. After 1930, it is noted that Tarsila simply could not maintain the relevance of her previous phases, and even the various resumptions of these phases were not able to revive her former vigor, because they were weak revisions, without any self-confidence.

Anita Malfatti also suffered a similar process, but with important differences. Although many attest that, after 1917, she would no longer reach the potency that preceded the exhibitions she made that year, it is important to remember that already at the end of that decade and until the 1930s, Anita struggled to redirect her poetics to directions away from the historical avant-gardes. (with whom he had flirted between 1910 and 1916/17), joining the return to the international order, which attracted many supporters in Brazil. Anita's “sin” was not having aligned her realistic and synthetic production of the return to order, with the nationalist theme, so dear to the Brazilian intellectual milieu at the time. Regardless of those who marginalized her from 1917 onwards, it must be said that Malfatti remained faithful to the new directions planned for her production, constituting a work that – regardless of whether we like it or not – has its coherence.

“Original illustration Beatriz reading IV”, 1945. India ink on paper. Photo: Hugo Curti

With Tarsila this did not happen. It is interesting to pay attention to the succession of phases that it went through, from 1923 to the beginning of the following decade, affiliating itself to opposite strands, within the framework of the international avant-garde of the 1920s. – and who knew how to respond to the demands for a modern Brazilian art, receiving a positive reception from the critics –, Tarsila launched herself into the anthropophagic phase, in which she supposedly forgot the rigorous analytical dimension of her first phase to immerse herself in the teachings of the metaphysical painting of De Chirico and surrealism. Now, between pau-brasil painting and anthropophagic painting there is a considerable abyss. While the first emphasizes the need for logic and reason to begin the work of art, the second bets on the irrational, on the underground of personal and collective memory to articulate. Fortunately Tarsila managed to jump between one side of modern art and another without altering the quality of her production. However, even if his works from the anthropophagic phase are still as significant as those from the “pau-brasil” period, the reception he received from the modernist intelligentsia seems not to have been the same.

However, the leap of rationalism by Léger and co. for De Chirico's metaphysics, he was not the only one in those glorious years of Tarsila. On her visit to the Soviet Union, she suddenly took another leap (aesthetic/ideological), throwing herself into the arms of socialist realism, a strand that was opposed to both the rationality of constructive strands and the mysteries of surrealism, both emanations of art.” bourgeois” to Soviet parameters. Of course, she tried to attenuate the authoritarianism of the side she had embraced, risking taking to her a certain “delicacy” that had already permeated her previous phases. But she was not happy with the endeavor. Between ourselves: none of her paintings produced during her “socialist realist” phase and those produced afterwards compare, in terms of quality of conception / realization, to her two previous phases.

Above I mentioned the fact that Tarsila, after her “realist” phase, would have tried to “copy herself”, producing works that repeated themes and plastic solutions already developed in the 1920s. This procedure takes us back to Giorgio de Chirico (dear Tarsila ) who, during the final period of his life, carried out a series of paintings in which he “painted himself”. Before his death, De Chirico, apparently like Tarsila, also produced a series of works in which he “remade” metaphysical paintings very close to those he conceived at the beginning of his career. However, unlike her, De Chirico began, during his long career, a particular return to his origins. Only after passing through most of the main periods in the history of Western art (De Chirico was Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Romantic, etc.), did he return to the metaphysical painting that he helped to constitute at the beginning of the last century.[6] Appreciating his work or not, the fact is that these productions from the last years of De Chirico's life retain a coherence that, while not faithful to the search for originality (desired by the moderns), never betrayed his radical search for the origin of painting itself. Which, unfortunately, did not happen with Tarsila.

I conclude these considerations by returning to the collection of drawings by Tarsila that are at the Marcos Amaro Foundation and paying attention to how fundamental it is that we have collections like this one open to the public. The direct contact with the artist's drawings and the possibility of also reading the texts of the curators, present in the catalog of the exhibition that takes place from March 14th in Itu, managed to mobilize and, in some way, configure a series of questions that came cherishing about the artist's production, but who, until then, had not had the chance to elaborate on it and give it a first and still timid systematization. I leave this experience with a different understanding of the role played by Tarsila do Amaral in the Brazilian art scene of the first half of the last century and this was only possible thanks to the generosity of the Marcos Amaro Foundation, which made this series of works public, after they had been locked up for fifty years, in a private collection, and out of sight!

I hope that the Collection will not only provide new studies on Tarsila, which will deepen her importance and uniqueness, but also that a new audience will come into contact with the production of this artist who, in so few years, has done so much for the visuality of the country. And I end up asking: and why are there collections like this, if not to entertain, teach and, above all, to put people's minds to work?


Studies and NotesTarsila do Amaral
Curated by Aracy Amaral and Regina Teixeira de Barros
Opening: March 14, Saturday, from 14 pm
Marcos Amaro Art Factory (FAMA Museum): Rua Padre Bartolomeu Tadei, 9, Itu, São Paulo
Visitation: Wednesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 17 pm


[1] – The Collection will soon be made available to the public at the show Tarsila. Studies and Notes, to be inaugurated at Fábrica de Arte Marcos Amaro, in Itu, curated by Aracy Amaral and Regina Teixeira de Barros.
[2] – On the work of Tarsila do Amaral, consult: SARTUNI, Maria Eugenia (Dir.) / BARROS, Regina Teixeira de (org.Ed.) Raisonné Tarsila do Amaral Catalog, São Paulo: Base 7 Cultural Projects: Pinacoteca di Estado, 2008. Vol.1, 2, and 3.
[3] – Read: “Tarsila. Drawings”, by Aracy Amaral and “About Tarsila's drawings”, by Regina T. de Barros. In AMARAL, Aracy; SLAMS. Regina T. de (curators.). Tarsila. Designs. Itu: Fundação Marcos Amaro, 2020. In addition to the cited texts and images of the works, the catalog also has important texts on conservation and restoration of works in the Collection: “Conservação e Restauro I”, by Ana Maria C. Scablianti (and others ); “Conservation and Restoration II”, by Ana Nakanderkara and “Conservation in the works of Tarsila do Amaral. Kogan Amaro Collection”, by Isis Baldini.
[4] – Note that in self-portrait, despite its “modern” geometric structure, values ​​very attached to the celebration of the artist’s “hand” persist, sweetening the image – a procedure, in fact, that Tarsila will tend to suppress in her recognized self-portraits from that same decade.
[5] – On Mario de Andrade's relationship with modern art, see, among others: CHIARELLI, Tadeu. Painting is not just beauty. Mario de Andrade's Art Criticism. Florianópolis: Contemporary Letters, 2007.
[6] – As the Italian critic Renato Barilli well recalled on several occasions (See, among others, BARILLI, Renato. Contemporary art. From Cezanne alle ultime tendenze. Second edition. Milano: Feltrinelli Editore, 1985.
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