anita
Tarsila do Amaral's studio. Photo: reproduction
Anita Malfatti, Mário de Andrade, Menotti del Picchia, Oswald de Andrade and Tarsila do Amaral; the drawing "Group of Five" does not illustrate this article due to the exorbitant amount charged for its public reproduction. Photos: reproduction
Anita Malfatti, Mário de Andrade, Menotti del Picchia, Oswald de Andrade and Tarsila do Amaral; the drawing “Grupo dos Cinco” does not illustrate this article due to the exorbitant amount charged for its public reproduction. Photos: reproduction

Ggroup of five is a drawing that Anita Malfatti produced in the second half of 1922, a few months after the Semana de Arte Moderna. In it, the artist, in addition to portraying herself lying on a divan in her friend's studio, Tarsila do Amaral, also records Mário de Andrade and Tarsila at the piano and, lying on a rug, Menotti Del Picchia and Oswald de Andrade. In the drawing, therefore, five of the main modernists of São Paulo were represented who, for a brief period, developed a strong coexistence. Observing them together could lead us to imagine a coincidence of positions and purposes. But we know that things did not happen that way. This text, not without some sadness, will note some questions related to the members of this team that in the future may become more enlightening studies of the reality of the artistic and cultural environment of São Paulo.

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What stands out in the group of five (pen and pencil on paper) is that both the delicacy of the line and the use of color and the search for a formal synthesis – which gives it a certain intentional “primitivism” – have nothing to do with the production that Anita carried out between the beginning of the years 1910 to 1917. Here it is far from its aesthetic motivations derived from the historical vanguards (expressionism, futurism, etc.), now more attentive and adherent to a synthetic realism, linked to the Return to Order[1].

The affectionate design, more interested in highlighting the companionship that involved the five friends, makes Anita neutralize the sumptuousness fin-de-siecle from Tarsila's studio, maintained throughout the 1920s. In the design, both the refinement of the textures of the numerous pillows and rug and the sophisticated shape of a chair in the background are attenuated in the design – as well as the decorative elements of the divan where the portrait artist is represented lying down.

                                                      ***

Mario Amaral, popular guitarist described in the text by Menotti del Picchia. Photo: reproduction
Mario Amaral, popular guitarist described in the text by Menotti del Picchia. Photo: reproduction

If Anita is delicate and synthetic in her description of the studio, the same would not occur with a text by Helios (a pseudonym of Menotti Del Picchia) in which he also talks about a meeting that took place in that same studio. However, instead of five characters in Anita's drawing, Helios describes six people: the same people who formed the group of five, with the exception of Oswald, replaced by Jacques D'Avray - pseudonym of senator Freitas Valle[2]. Finally, Mario Amaral, popular guitarist, revered in the early 1920s in São Paulo, but little known today[3]. The first five are gathered there to hear the guitarist's music:

off workshop of Bulgarian cushions, where the colors of the manilla blankets, riches of bric-a-brac noble of this elegant and beautiful artist Tarsila do Amaral, Mário's guitar evoked all racial music...

Absorbed, vacant gaze, Jacques d'Avray, the strange poet of the Ballads; Mário de Andrade, the long taciturn Pierrot of Pauliceia's ravings; Anita Malfatti, the misunderstood creator of the Yellow Man; Helios, quenched their thirst for beauty in the crystalline cascade of harmonies that sprouted, as in a live stream of the magical and sonorous guitar…

One afternoon he walked [illegible], fading into violet lacquers, begging the reflections of the glass for alms of light for his dead eyes. No profane noise hurt the religious silence, filled only by the divine music that Mário Amaral's nervous hands woke up.[4]

If Anita zeroes in on the heavy and exotic atmosphere of the studio, it seems that it is precisely the somewhat intoxicating dimension of this atmosphere that directs Helios' writing, totally marked by a decadent bias, full of affected adjectives, far from modern objectivity. A little more text:

The music, suggestive, emotional cut, in the twilight that invaded the workshop, the Brazilian landscape, at the still hour of the day in a death trance, sick with melopeias, whistling with favoniums grazing the soft herbs. Then, in the “Blue Sky” a vast firmament expanded in our souls, a region of peace and eternity... There seemed to be hearts sobbing, up there, where passions overflow free from conventionalists and restraints.

Mario Amaral's great art, however, has all the prisms. And, to the naively grotesque “pizzicatos” of “Melindres”, precious, bouncy, sensitive, it seemed to us to see the lozenge of the vast Persian carpet slipping on the lozenge of the vast Persian carpet bizarre figures of small and sprightly dancers, with skittish weights, with bashful gestures, gliding, smiling on their faces. mouth, sliding, smile in the mouth, soul in the eyes, naked, playful and trembling ciranda rhythmic by the systoles of our hearts at parties...[5]

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If Anita, in the second half of 1922, finds herself connected with issues specific to the international art of that period – a time of avant-garde reflux and an adherence to an effective synthetic realism, typical of the aforementioned Return to Order – it can be seen, both by the painting he was producing at the time as well as for the to from her studio, that Tarsila do Amaral still had a subjectivity linked to the period before the First World War, an issue that the artist would begin to want to overcome precisely from the knowledge she acquired with her new Brazilian friends, Anita, Menotti, Mario and Oswald.

However, in 1922, his studio was closer to Helios' description than to Anita's drawing. And both Tarsila and Helios would never completely abandon that attachment to the sumptuous manner and the exotic. This fact, in the case of the painter, can be seen both in the maintenance of that stilted atmosphere in her studio – still in the late 1920s - and in the extravagant and showy clothes that the artist loved to wear on certain occasions. On the other hand, if we want to understand how much Tarsila also sought, in her production, a certain interest in the exotic and mysterious, we only need to remember her “anthropophagic phase”: to the potent, structural dryness of a large part of her pau-brasil production, she opposes the sensuality and the enigmas of the new phase.

Tarsila do Amaral's studio, recorded in the late 1920s. Photo: Reproduction
Tarsila do Amaral's studio, recorded in the late 1920s. Photo: Reproduction

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In Helios, the taste for the elegant and the rare will remain, since both he and his “mentor”, Menotti Del Picchia, did not overcome their penchant for the excess of late-century language, full of allegories, verbal juggling and far-fetched verbiage. A representative of the “B” side of modernism, Helios - Menotti -, will adopt, after that joint portrait, an extreme nationalism, adhering to the most conservative and restrictive regimes, which will tend to intensify his antiquated belletrist discourse. In fairness, however, it would also be important to note that Menotti on certain occasions – especially in his chronicles on Brazilian poetry and literature – will often assume a text structure closer to the other modernists (especially Oswald), sometimes “seriously” , sometimes with undisguised mockery intent.

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Without knowing for sure where the blague ended and the seriousness began, the fact is that Mário de Andrade – another of the characters in Anita’s drawing and Helios’ chronicle -, in 1922, already shows signs of having joined the Retorno à Ordem, as Anita. This is clear in a certain part of the Very Interesting Preface that the author wrote for his book of poems, released that year, frenzied Pauliceia:

(…) Now, according to moderns, Impressionism is a serious error.

Architects flee the Gothic as well as Art Nouveau, joining, beyond historical times, in elementary volumes: cube, sphere, etc. Painters disdain Delacroix like Whistler, to lean on the constructive calm of Raphael, Ingres, Greco. In sculpture Rodin is bad, African imaginaries are good. The musicians despise Debussy, kneeling before the cathedral-like polyphony of Palestrina and João Sebastião Bach. Poetry… “tends to strip man of all his contingent and ephemeral aspects, in order to capture humanity in him”…I am a past-timer, I confess (…)[6] 

As every lie has a basis of truth, it is not strange that, behind the intelligent mist thrown on the text (was it blague or was it serious?), Mario de Andrade was glossing the thought present in the manifesto After Cubism, written in 1918 by the painters Ozenfant and Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier):

(…) Cubism became a decorative art of romantic ornamentalism.

There is a hierarchy in the arts; decorative art is at the bottom, the human figure at the top.

Painting is good when the qualities of its plastic elements are good, not because of its possibilities of representation or narrative.

PURISMO expresses the invariant, not the variations. The work must not be accidental, exceptional, impressionistic, inorganic, protesting, picturesque, but, on the contrary, general, static, an expression of the invariable.

PURISMO wants to conceive clearly, to execute loyally, without falsehoods; he abandons disorderly conceptions, rough, summary executions. A serious art must banish any technique that is not faithful to the real value of the conception.

Art consists of conception before anything else.

Technique is just a tool, subordinated to the service of conception.

PURISMO fears the bizarre and the “original”. He seeks the pure element in the sense of reconstructing organized paintings that must themselves be facts of nature.

The method must be correct enough not to obstruct the conception.

PURISMO does not believe that returning to nature means copying nature.

He admits that all deformation is justified by the search for the invariable.

All freedoms are accepted in art except those that are not clear.[7]

In 1920, the two painters launched one of the most influential magazines of the French and European Return to Order: L'Esprit Nouveau, published until 1925. Mário de Andrade collected it and seems to have had publication as a parameter. To get an idea of ​​how L'Esprit Nouveau impregnated his thought in the “Very Interesting Preface”, just look at how he, in that text, is impregnated with classicism. Like the magazine:

This “classic” character of purism is already evident in the first edition of L'Esprit Nouveau, when its editors publish a page with six photos of works placed vertically, in two columns containing three reproductions. Next to the two reproductions that top the columns (the reproduction of a painting by Monet and a sculpture by Rodin) is written the word bad (bad). Next to the reproductions of paintings by Juan Gris and Georges Seurat and the reproductions of an African sculpture and an archaic Greek sculpture is written the word good (Good)[8]

Mário de Andrade's aesthetic conceptions will be largely shaped by the French publication. As early as 1922, it is possible to notice how, in his art criticism, the author takes as a parameter these values ​​transmitted by L'Esprit Nouveau, focusing on artists who had not caught his attention until then, such as Gastão Worms, Navarro da Costa, Tulio Mugnaini and Hugo Adami – all very far from avant-garde experimentalism, and stuck to the “eternal values” of art. This attachment of the critic to the “classical realism” of the Return to Order will gain total legitimacy within the modernism of São Paulo, when Mário encounters the work of Lasar Segall[9] – “finally a realist painter! – and, subsequently, Candido Portinari[10].

Nude, 1934, by Gastão Worms, from the Collection of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo
Nude, 1934, by Gastão Worms, from the Collection of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo

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Candidately lying on the rug with Menotti, Oswald de Andrade would become, from that year on, one of the most controversial figures in the country's culture.

The only child of a wealthy couple, who owned a significant part of the west side of São Paulo, Oswald was perhaps the first of the five friends of 1922 to break with the modernists' uncritical subservience to the culture coming from Europe, which did not mean assuming any kind of blind nationalism. On the contrary: from the “export” poetry of the first half of the 1920s, until the explosion of the anthropophagic movement, Oswald fought for the critical devouring of the European legacy, returning an autochthonous culture, but never xenophobic.

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As we know, that scene represented by Malfatti expresses the union of purposes and expectations present in the relationships between those people in the months immediately after the Week. Soon, however, this situation would begin to change.

If after the production of that drawing Tarsila and Oswald began a romance that would result in a brief marriage that changed the physiognomy of art in Brazil, the break between them meant the beginning of great transformations in their lives. At first, Oswald and Tarsila, separated, lean ideologically to the left. Brief experience for her; for Oswald the beginning of a path with many obstacles that will make him return to anthropophagy as a philosophical project.

The recent publication of your Confessional Diary[11] presents an intellectual at the end of his life, suffering from real and imagined illnesses as he and his family struggled to survive financial bankruptcy. Where is the peace and tranquility to complement your work exemplarily? There was no peace and serenity towards the end of Oswald's life.

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Friends in the early 1920s, Anita and Tarsila also grew apart over time, although in the last years of their lives they experienced similar situations. Both, little by little, left the vitality of their initial productions to enter a process of collapse that would not allow them to constitute a true work.

This process began earlier with Anita who – coming out of German and North American experimentalism – embarked on an anachronistic painting, without any commitment to a “national art”.[12]. This non-engagement of the artist to the nationalism of the themes of her paintings will make the acceptance of her works by the other modernists increasingly attenuate, leading her, as a painter, to a situation of virtual erasure within the São Paulo scene. The recognition of her role as a “pioneer” of São Paulo's modernism, which began with some shyness after the end of the Second World War, found an artist already empty, with nothing else to contribute to the local art environment.

Even more dramatic was what happened to Tarsila. Main name of modern painting during the 1920s, after the middle of the following decade his career went into frank decline, further aggravated by Tarsila's attempt, practically at the end of her life, to want to revive the potency of her painting from the beginning of her career.

Anita and Tarsila, each in their own time, pioneers in renewing the country's visuals; Anita and Tarsila, each in their own way, at the melancholy end of their lives, icons of the precariousness of the Brazilian artistic milieu.

                                                        ***

Mário de Andrade, the author of the main work of the anthropophagic movement – Macunaima – and of studies and critical essays that are valuable for the culture of the country, he dies without his friends from 1922, sick and bitter. As he himself stated, already in the last years of his life, he said he was suspicious of his past and the directions he had given to his work.[13].

He had broken with Oswald for years and distanced himself from Tarsila, Menotti and even from Anita, with whom he maintained a close relationship for a longer time.

                                                        ***

Menotti Del Picchia, the Helios, outlasted all the friends depicted in Anita's drawing[14]. Until the end of his life, adhering to the political and cultural power of the state and the country, the intellectual has a vast poetic and literary production, and a journalistic production - articles and chronicles - which, despite having already had a part compiled and studied[15], still awaiting further studies.

During his career, after having his image registered in Anita's drawing, Del Picchia increased his aesthetic/ideological differences with Mário de Andrade and with Oswald, without, it seems, definitively breaking with the latter. In fact, the conflicting, but almost always good-natured relationship that was established between the two intellectuals during the 1920s, as perceived in their articles published in Paulista Post Office, in which Del Picchia commented and/or glossed Oswald's texts.

The aulic spirit that characterized Del Picchia's personality, combined with his political career – always connected to power, regardless of where it emanated –, explain how his literary ability was wasted. His poetic and literary production, which never lost its old-fashioned accent, could have been, who knows, better explored, had the intellectual dedicated himself more to it and not dispersed himself in pleasing those in power.

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group of five, a work that belonged to Mário de Andrade, is now part of the collection of the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros at USP – one of the most significant research centers for the process of institutionalizing modernism in São Paulo.

In addition to Anita's drawing, the Institute it also preserves fundamental works for the understanding of art in Brazil in the first decades of the last century. It is now necessary that more scholars pay attention to the importance of all of them, for a less idealized understanding of the modernist movement and its possible consequences.

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[1] – The Return to Order was an international phenomenon that took place in the period between the two world wars, in which artists and critics overcame total or partial adherence to the currents of historical avant-gardes, perceiving them as other items from the past.
[2] – The senator signed his poems as Jacques D'Avray. Freitas Valle was an important figure in the São Paulo scene, not only because of his show weekly, but above all for being responsible for the scholarship that the state of São Paulo granted to young plastic artists and musicians.
[3] – Flávia Rejane Prando, in her thesis on the guitar circuit in the first half of the 1925th century in São Paulo, refers to Mario Amaral Souza, as an important guitarist in the city who would have died young, between 1928 and XNUMX. The author cites a work by Mario Amaral – “Céu Azul” – which, in turn, will be mentioned in the chronicle of Helios. PRANDO, Flavia Rejane. The world of the guitar in S. Paulo: processes of consolidation of the instrument circuit in the city (1890-1932). São Paulo: Doctoral Thesis. PPG Music, ECA USP, 2021, p. 186.
[4] – HELIOS (Menotti del Picchia). "Hearts in Ecstasy...". Paulista Post Office, September 01, 1922 p.5
[5] – Ditto.
[6] ANDRADE, Mario. “A very interesting preface”. frenzied Pauliceia, 1922. In ANDRADE, Mario. Complete poetry. Ed. review of Dileia Z. Mafio. Belo Horizonte: Itatiaia; São Paulo: EDUSP, 1987. Page. 60.
[7] – Amédée Ozenfant, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, Apres le Cubisme, 1918. Quoted in: BALL, Susan L. Ozenfant and Purism. The Evolution of a Style 1915-1930). Yale University, 1978, page 36.
[8] - apud: CHIARELLI, Thaddeus. Painting is not just beauty. Florianópolis: Contemporary Letters, 2007, p. 41 et seq.
[9] – On how Mário de Andrade receives the production of Lasar Segall, see: “Realistic Segall: some considerations on the artist's painting”. IN CHIARELLI, Thaddeus. A modernism that came later. São Paulo: Alameda, 2012. Page 87 et seq.
[10] – On how Mario de Andrade receives the production of Candido Portinari, see: CHIARELLI, Tadeu. Painting is not just beauty. Op. Cit. page 41 et seq.
[11] – ANDRADE, Oswald. confessional diary (org. by Manoel da Costa Pinto). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2022.
[12] – The concern with the production of a “national” art was like a prerequisite for the painters to be accepted in the modernist universe of São Paulo. Anita, when she left the German and American experiences, paid little attention to this problem, which ended up leaving her on the sidelines of the whole process.
[13] – ANDRADE, Mário de. “The Modernist Movement”. in Aspects of Brazilian Literature. 5th. Sao Paulo, Martins, 1974.
[14] – Del Picchia died in 1988; Mario de Andrade, in 1945; Oswaldo de Andrade, in 1954; Anita, in 1964 and Tarsila, in 1973.
[15] – I refer to DEL PICCHIA, Menotti. The Gideon of Modernism (org. Yoshie Sakiyana Barreirinhas). Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1983.

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