Portrait of Raphael Galvez, in the studio on Rua Lopes de Oliveira, in the 1980s
Portrait of Raphael Galvez, in the studio on Rua Lopes de Oliveira, in the 1980s. Photo: Disclosure

In this year in which the centenary of the Modern Art Week of 1922 is celebrated, with the exception of two or three titles relating to it, one of the main bibliographic releases in the field of art history in São Paulo was Raphael Galvez: autobiography🇧🇷 Organized by scholar José Armando Pereira da Silva and editorial project by entrepreneur and collector Orandi Momesso, the book re-presents the artistic environment of São Paulo at the beginning and middle of the last century from a peculiar point of view: Galvez's text – a petite maître of sculpture and painting.

Autobiographies of Brazilian artists are rare articles. A listing that would exclude notes for future writings (never materialized), would not go much further than the names of Antônio Parreiras, Carlos Oswald, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti and José Antônio da Silva[1]🇧🇷 This exceptionality alone makes it clear to me the importance of launching Galvez's text. But she doesn't stop there.

Like all other works of the genre, this autobiography projects an idealized character (the author himself), thus becoming a kind of exercise in self-fiction. Above the scenes recalled and described by the artist hovers the image of an incorruptible, naive, pure individual. Someone who just unwittingly provides some clues that your life has not been so linear and devoid of mistakes or regrets. 

One of these clues becomes visible when Galvez, in the last paragraphs, writes:

I really hope that there is reincarnation so that we can make up the differences of things that were not realized in this first life.

And, if that is true, I will spend my new life with much more control and with more accomplishments, because what remains are the works...[2]


The idealization of the artist's self – an “inevitable deviation” in all autobiographies – does not, however, remove a fundamental component from it: within the limits that this type of writing imposes (I am referring to all repressions and self-censorship), Galvez he never stops being – or trying to be – a meticulous interpreter of his life, his career, his friends and acquaintances and, equally, his city. São Paulo is one of the main characters in Galvez's book.


In the text that introduces the publication, Professor José de Souza Martins outlines the artist's profile, highlighting one of his peculiarities: of humble origin, an immigrant, Galvez was a worker and, in his production, art and craftsmanship were united, with no disconnection. between the artist and the craftsman who lived there. In Martin's words:

Galvez is a being from a social class in which people have no biography except through mediations, which is different from what happens in selfish social classes, in which people are authors of themselves. This characteristic of his personal history has a lot to do with his work, an expression of experience and alterity.[3]

Further on, in his effort to single out the sculptor/painter in the context of São Paulo art, the Professor demonstrates the differences between the horizons of the 1922 modernists and that of Galvez:

Other differences give meaning to this autobiography. For the modernists, São Paulo society was the size of the world: it began on a farm in the countryside from São Paulo and ended in Paris, in Russia, in England. The society of Galvez, and of the artists of the Santa Helena Group, was from São Paulo, starting in Barra Funda and going to Canindé, the parish of Ó, Santana, Várzea do Tietê, the Limão neighborhood, Casa Verde, Pari and, much further away, Santo Amaro, at the other end of the city.[4]

“Raphael Galvez: Autobiography”, Publisher WMF Martins Fontes, 2022. Photo: Disclosure

This is yet another reason to read Autobiography🇧🇷 Through her, it is interesting to be able to think about how her experience develops outside the great theaters and cafes and salons of the “aristô” in São Paulo. This peculiarity brings the reader to a São Paulo that is perhaps less glamorized, it is true, but certainly much more human.

As Martins also suggests, the city is another character in the text, it is the artist's circumstance, the real and affective space in which he, his friends, acquaintances and relatives moved. A city between the provincial past from which he wanted to break free, and its becoming a metropolis; São Paulo as the infinite limit of Galvez.


Throughout the text, the sculptor/painter writes about some of the main art teaching establishments in the city, about the environment of the marble works that thrived around the main cemeteries of São Paulo, about the collective ateliers of that time (the Santa Helena Group) , as well as the universe of exhibitions and art salons. He names the streets, avenues and parks he passed through, where he and his friends lived, worked, circulated and got lost and found. 

Galvez also took care to write short chronicles about some personalities. For the most part, these small reports bring important data, and perhaps this review would take too long if it were to touch on all the subjects touched on there. Thus, I dedicate myself to reflection on two reports outlined by Galvez, which, I hope, can further awaken the interest of readers. I chose to comment on what the artist wrote about the sculptor Nicola Rollo and the painter Tarsila do Amaral.


Nicola Rollo, despite being one of the main figures in Galvez's life (or precisely for that reason) did not receive a specific chronicle in the chapter personalities and friends, which brings together all the profiles drawn by him. The presence of the sculptor, however, permeates much of the text, because Rollo served as a reference for Galvez, not limited to his first formation.

The various moments in which Galvez quoted Rollo are also worth reading his memoirs because they bring a considerable amount of data about the artist born in Italy, with a significant presence in the São Paulo environment, but still practically unknown to the public.

Portrait of Nicola Rollo in her
youth, in the 1920s. Photo: Reproduction

The information about an important sculptural project by Nicola Rollo – the model of a monument in honor of the bandeirantes, to be placed on the slopes of the garden in front of the Museu Paulista – is yet another element to mark the interest of the Autobiography from Galvez. 

Surely, all (probable) readers of these Bar Talk(r) are aware of how much I am interested in the aspects that involved the debate on the São Paulo identity that, at first, would culminate in the construction of the Monument to the Flags, by the Italian-Brazilian sculptor Victor Brecheret, in the mid-1930s[5]🇧🇷 Thus, before commenting on some peculiarities of Nicola Rollo's habits revealed by Galvez, I propose a small digression to bring to the debate about the Monument to the Flags, the information contained in Autobiography.


In the art produced in São Paulo in the first decades of the XNUMXth century, Nicola Rollo is one of the professionals whose life and work still await further studies, despite the steps already taken in this direction.[6]🇧🇷 Everything indicates that his work in the field of sculpture in São Paulo seems to have been eclipsed by that of Victor Brecheret, a sculptor who had the support of a group of modernist intellectuals from São Paulo.

A fact rarely mentioned in the bibliography on art in São Paulo during the early 1920s is the fact that, when the modernists “discovered” Brecheret working in his studio at the Palácio das Indústrias – borrowed by the architect and businessman Ramos de Azevedo –, Nicola Rollo also worked in the same Palace, in a studio obtained under the same conditions[7]🇧🇷 And more: responsible for the sculptural decoration of that building, Rollo was already working on the conception of the model of the monument that would honor the bandeirantes, to be placed on the slopes of the garden of the Museu Paulista[8]🇧🇷 Such data, little publicized, show that the non-approval by Washington Luís – then governor of the state – of the project for a monument on the same subject, conceived by Brecheret, did not happen – or, at least, it didn’t just happen. – due to the fact that the Portuguese colony had already shown interest in donating to São Paulo a monument in honor of the bandeirantes, designed by the Portuguese sculptor Teixeira Lopes[9], but because there was already, at that time, another project in production: that of Rollo.

Maria Cecilia M. Kunigk, in her dissertation on the artist, states that, according to Rollo, when he was producing his life-size model for the monument in honor of the bandeirantes in his studio at the Palace, the Revolution of 1924 broke out. he would have prevented him from entering his studio to moisten his work in clay on a daily basis, because the Palace had been transformed into the headquarters of the rebels. Without the necessary care, the model was destroyed. When, after the end of the Revolution, Rollo was finally able to enter his old studio, the model was lost. This version spread by Kunigk is contradicted by the reasoning that Raphael Galvez produced about the same case. We then return to your Autobiography

Galvez relates that, during the Revolution, he – who was then assistant to Nicola Rollo in the Palace studio –, sneaking between the obstacles that took over São Paulo, then under siege, went to the studio every day to wet the model, even risking reprisals from the rebels. Once the conflict was over, and Rollo found the model intact, without any damage, he believed that phenomenon was actually a great miracle, which was immediately contested by Galvez. According to the account, if not for the bravery and sense of responsibility of the then assistant, Rollo would have lost the job.

However, even having been preserved with difficulty, the model, according to Galvez, did not have a happy ending. Shortly afterwards, she was removed from the Palace and taken to a shed in the Ipiranga neighborhood, from where she would have disappeared.[10].


In principle, these episodes may seem a bit far-fetched, but without real importance, since the monument in honor of the bandeirantes proposed by Rollo would never have been executed. However, if Galvez's statements are proven, the non-realization of Rollo's project is no longer explained by the incident caused by the Revolution, raising other hypotheses about the sculptural environment of São Paulo at that time. Why, after the conflict, was the monument project not carried forward, since Brecheret's project had been rejected? Why was the model sent to an Ipiranga shed?[11]🇧🇷 Behind this quarrel, what would be in dispute within the scope of culture and art in São Paulo?


Rollo was a fundamental figure in the life of Raphael Galvez, but in his memoirs the master assumes a certain role not exactly – or not, only – because of the influence he exercised in the formation of the sculptor/painter, but also because of his eccentric behavior, which seems to have marked the former student and assistant, to the extent that Galvez, more than once, will recall facts that prove such eccentricity.

Rollo, in addition to being a demanding teacher, had habits that made the prudish Galvez a little embarrassed, as in the period when he advised him on the production of a plaster sculpture, placed in the backyard of the master's residence, on Alameda Joaquim Eugênio de Lima:

One morning, he [Rollo] in a loincloth and a white hat (…), went out into the backyard to start this task [the production of the plaster sculpture, in which I started to help him. This outfit was noticed by the maids and even by the mistresses of the neighboring houses, as the backyards were only separated by boxwoods (…). And, as at that time the shame for nudism was a manifest fact and as Rollo's loincloth was of a very fine material, which pronounced the masculine sex of the master too much, this provoked a tremendous comment and a real scandal among these matrons and girls. from the neighborhood, which for a long time did not appear in the yard.[12]

Galvez recounts other “exploits” by Rollo, always linked to his interest in nudism and athletics. However, one of the most interesting aspects of the sculptor's thinking, something that even went beyond the limits of his artistic production – his studies on the “continuous motion machine” – does not seem to have captured the interest of the former student..[13] 

On the subject, Galvez only mentions an episode that took place at the São Paulo School of Fine Arts, where Rollo kept a room to carry out his research. One day, says Galvez, one of the students placed a sign on the door of the room where Rollo was researching, which read: The stanza of the continuous motorbike [14]🇧🇷 Galvez only seems to have cited the episode to subtly underline his influence on the master. And that's because, according to the author, the only reason the student who made the plaque was not expelled was because he, Galvez, would have managed to appease Rollo's anger, who decided not to punish the student.


If what Raphael Galvez wrote about this still virtually unknown Rollo provides yet another justification for reading his memoirs, I have no doubt that considerations about his contact with the much-studied Tarsila do Amaral also reinforce the importance of his Autobiography be read and appreciated.  

Galvez recounts his encounter with Tarsila during the artist's first solo show in São Paulo, at Rua Barão de Itapetinga, in 1929. Young high school student, Galvez and three colleagues[15] went to visit the exhibition that would mark the history of art in the country. What he narrates brings – in my opinion, for the first time in Brazil – the painter's speech about how her work should be experienced by the public. And, as a corollary, we also have the way in which Galvez, then an artist in training, received that guidance on how to appreciate a work of modern art. It is interesting to reflect on Galvez's attitude on that occasion; Immersed as he was in a type of traditional art teaching, the young man makes an effort to understand and respect the propositions of that artist, so far removed from the ordinary reality of Lyceum classes.

I have not transcribed a single line about this meeting between the two artists, so as not to remove from the reader the desire to directly access the text, which is so significant. The only thing I can't stop myself from paying attention to is the fact that, in the exchange of ideas between the painter and those young artists at the time, it becomes evident how much Tarsila was still connected to Fernand Léger's aesthetics, despite the fact that some years had passed since her closer contact with the French artist.

From Galvez's report, it becomes clear that Tarsila's painting, with that “anonymous” treatment, due to her interest in the invisibility of brush strokes, etc., attested to her commitment to a visuality committed to speed as an inducer of a new sensitivity, what defined for her and her mentor Léger, the very notion of modern.[16] 

The reader will have no difficulty in realizing how much that memory of Galvez can bring new considerations about Tarsila and her work. Seen by historiography as a painter interested in bringing a “primitive” Brazilianness to the field of modern art, static and in many cases dreamlike, Tarsila, in Galvez’s words, demonstrates her commitment to an aesthetic reception linked to the speed of life Modern. Undoubtedly, a deeper analysis of such a paradox can bring another degree of understanding about the artist's work.

Tarsila, one of the main Latin American painters, appears in Raphael Galvez's memorial text as a strong wind shaking the structures of São Paulo art at the time. She may not have achieved the desired success, but by proposing to young students another way of thinking and reacting to the art of her time, she showed herself to be fully connected with the aspirations of the Modern Art Week of 1922, although she had not participated in it. .


For all the questions raised here is that Raphael Galvez: Autobiography stands, as I mentioned, as one of the main books on art in Brazil, released in this year when the centenary of the Modern Art Week of 1922 is celebrated. the fact that the organization of the book, by removing some excerpts from Galvez's originals, made it impossible for the reader to get in touch with the considerations he would have produced about the Week and its participants[17]🇧🇷 I conclude once again by congratulating everyone involved for such an important launch and hoping that, in a second edition of this Autobiography, let us have the pleasure of getting in touch with all of Galvez’s text, in order to better understand the reception that an event as important as the 1922 Modern Art Week had for an artist so close – and at the same time, so distant – from his protagonists.

[1] - According to some colleagues from the Brazilian Art History Committee, only two or three other local artists are known to have published their autobiographies. Here is some important survey work to be done.
[2] - GALVEZ, Raphael. Raphael Galvez: autobiography🇧🇷 São Paulo: Publisher WMF Martins Fontes, 2022.
[3] - “Raphael Galvez's Modernism on the inside of life”, by José de Souza Martins. IN GALVEZ, Raphael on. cit. p. 14.
[4] - Ibidem, p. 19.
[5] - Since 2019 I have published in the column Bar Talk(r) the following articles on Monument to the Flags, by Victor Brecheret, and the debates on the need to build monuments that honor illustrious paulistas: The Doctor and the Monuments, December 18, 2019; The pantheon of São Paulo's immortals: tropical delirium in Pátio do Colégio;  June 24, 2020 and Bandeirantes on the move: between disputes and conciliation, 14 July 2020; Where graffiti screams: São Paulo in the 90th anniversary of the Avenidas Plan, August 14, 2020 and The Monument to the Flags, by Victor Brecheret: the present past, December 20, 2021.
[6] - About Nicola Rollo, see: KUNIGK, Maria Cecília Martins. Nicola Rollo (1889-1970). A sculptor in Brazilian modernity🇧🇷 São Paulo: Master's Dissertation. Dept. by A. Plásticas. ECA. University of Sao Paulo, 2001.
[7] - Raphael Galvez contextualizes the practice of Ramos de Azevedo, by providing rooms for studios in the buildings he produced: “[…] In addition to the noble mission of giving young people a trade or art so that they have a good future assured, Dr. Ramos has also always had the nobility to admire artists, both national and foreign, supporting them in their workspace, that is, in their works in progress, giving these artists a place to set up their work studios. The most suitable place for this purpose was the Palácio das Indústrias project, as it is very spacious and more accessible to the installation of workshops”. IN GALVEZ, R. op. cit🇧🇷 pg. 168.
[8] - On the subject read. CHIARELLI, Thaddeus. Menotti Del Picchia and the Monument to the Flags: between the Capitoline wolf and the tapir🇧🇷 Sao Paulo: ARS, v🇧🇷 20, no. 45, 2022. Brazilian Modernity Special. Available in: https://www.scielo.br/j/ars/a/PFY5zQhDvLBszBT4RNKn4JR/ 
[9] - On the controversies surrounding the conception of the first model of the Monument to the Flags, by Victor Brecheret, see, among others: BATISTA, Marta R. Brecheret flags. History of a Monument (1920-1953)🇧🇷 São Paulo: Department of Historical Heritage of São Paulo, 1985. (in time: the book makes no reference to Nicola Rollo's project).
[10] - In your research on the Monument to the Flags, by Victor Brecheret, the scholar Eliane Pinheiro found, in the Archive of the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, a document dated April 22, 1933, signed by the then director of the Water and Sewage Department of São Paulo. The letter, addressed to the director of the Pinacoteca, suggests that “a plaster model, sold to the State by the sculptor Rollo”, kept in the Repartição, on the corner of Avenida D. Pedro I and Avenida do Estado, be transferred to the Pinacoteca, which would have better conditions to keep it. No reply was found to this letter.
[11] - For more information on the subject consult: Bandeirantes in movement: between disputes and conciliations.
[12] -  GALVEZ, Raphael. OP. cit. p. 125.
[13] - About these researches by Nicola Rollo, see: KUNIGK, Maria Cecilia. Op. Cit.
[14] - In free translation: “permanent bike room”.
[15] - Namely, Carlos Gonçalves, Ado Malagoli and Adriano Danti. GALVEZ, Raphael. Op. Cit. p. 162.
[16] - On Léger’s “presence” in Tarsila’s work, see the column The caipirinha and the French: Tarsila do Amaral and the devouring of modernity via Léger.
[17] - As José Armando P. da Silva writes: “Two topics were excluded. One about the Second World War, which dwells on irrelevant details. Another on the Modern Art Week, more opinionated and surely the result of an idiosyncratic moment, which goes against the bonds, manifested in another chapter, with artists participating in the Week: Anita Malfatti, Brecheret, Di Cavalcanti and Tarsila. A few other cuts focused on digressions and unnecessary repetitions in the narration”. GALVEZ, Raphael. Op. Cit. p. 8.

Leave a comment

Please write a comment
Please write your name