Tarsila by Pagu. In: At Tarsila's exhibition. For all. Rio de Janeiro, 3 Aug.1929, p. 21. Available at: http://memoria.bn.br/docreader/124451/27495
Tarsila by Pagu. In: At Tarsila's exhibition. For all. Rio de Janeiro, 3 Aug.1929, p. 21. Available at: memoria.bn.br/docreader/124451/27495

During the 1920s Tarsila do Amaral produced works that were considered syntheses of Brazilian modern art: to black (1923) abaporu (1928) and Anthropophagy (1929) are some of them. Same Postcard (1928) – a traditional composition, but, as will be seen, worked from procedures that were little or not at all usual in Brazilian painting at the time – caught the attention of Antonio Raposo, the pseudonym of Oswaldo Costa, an intellectual linked to the Anthropophagy movement. he wrote in Paulista Post Office: “Until recently, I thought that Anthropophagy – which is the cry of the Ipiranga of our painting – marked the end of his prodigious discoveries. I confess, however, that I was wrong: Postcard changed my opinion”[1].

What would have made Costa change his mind? Could he have perceived the potency of that painting, not exactly because of its apparent meaning – a “view” of Rio de Janeiro –, but as a result of the work of swallowing the traditional concepts of painting by techniques and procedures coming from modernity? After all, even being structurally a conventional composition, linked to the “landscape” genre, the work emulated a postcard, not only repeating its compositional structure (which came from painting), but above all its “beautiful, clean, shiny surface like a Rolls”[2]. Or like a postcard.


Unfortunately Costa did not elaborate on his impression of Postcard. In another review again he would compare the painting with Anthropophagy without, however, systematizing his thinking[3]. But whatever your opinion, the fact is that Anthropophagy remained on the podium of the most advanced paintings of local Modernism, sharing that space with to black e abaporu.

These paintings became symbols of the movement, in addition to belonging to the anthropophagic phase of Tarsila[4] and of representing humanoids posing in conventional pictorial spaces – reiterating the figure/ground dichotomy (even in the black, with their flat spatialization) – are also “dream-like” projections of the mythical Brazilian. The shapes contained in these three paintings are deformations more linked to a caricatural will – since they more illustrate themes such as “anthropophagy”, “anthropophagy”, etc. – rather than a purely plastic exploration.


At first, Tarsila’s paintings “that count” – that is, those from the pau-brasil and anthropophagic phases – can be divided into three groups: those that illustrate the theme of anthropophagy (to black, abaporu e Anthropophagy, cited above); those that, before the Anthropophagic Movement, were already made as a result of the swallowing of three types of painting: the traditional one; the “primitive” aspect – so appreciated at the beginning of the last century –; and the “Legerian” current of modernist painting[5].


To refer to the third group, one must return to Tarsila's “anthropophagic” experience. During this phase, a series of paintings was formulated in which the artist, leaving aside the need to illustrate what anthropophagy and anthropophagy would be, produces one of the best approximations of Brazilian art with the surrealist spirit and/ or metaphysical. I refer to The lake, The moon – both from 1928 –, Sunset (1929) and Composition (1930), among others.

“Self-portrait I”, 1924. Tarsila do Amaral. Oil on canvas paper. Artistic-Cultural Collection of the Government Palaces of the State of São Paulo. Boa Vista Palace, Campos do Jordão.

However, there is a series of self-portraits produced by Tarsila and, among them, two paintings stand out, produced respectively in 1923 and 1924: Self-portrait (Manteau-rouge) (1923) and Self portrait I (1924). The latter, in the same year, enabled the artist to produce a copy in graphite and ferrogallic ink on paper and, in 1926, a second painting.

In the last two articles published here[6], I believe I have discussed Tarsila's self-portraits, but, when bringing up the issue of the artist's works considered symbols of Modernism, I realized that it was still necessary to return to Self portrait I.

In "Tarsila's self-portraits, part II”, I commented on the direct relationship of the Self portrait I with photography, which was not only due to the fact that the image was produced from a photographic portrait of the painter[7], but also because of the translation process carried out by her to produce a pictorial self-portrait from the photographic portrait. Tarsila must have “taken out” the outline of her own face printed in the photo, using tissue paper or the like, capturing the identifying features of the image and printing them – by contact – on the tissue paper. In a second moment, she must have enlarged the image and passed – also through contact – her features to the canvas.[8].

In this process, in which sensitive and mechanical methods were mobilized, the desire for a formal synthesis was also implicit, which, in the end, resulted in an image that, without a doubt, referred the work to portraits of movie and theater stars. showbiz from the 1920s, but above all to the very old image of Jesus Christ imprinted on Veronica's veil.

The possible relationship between Tarsila's 1924 self-portrait and the various pictorial versions of Saint Veronica's veil is not only due to the centrality of the synthetic face of those portrayed on the white void of the canvas, but also to the gaze of both, facing the spectator.

Aracy Amaral, when referring to Tarsila’s self-portrait, underlined the strength of her gaze, present in the painting: “[…] the hair pulled back, the long earrings flanking her face and an almost hypnotic gaze fixing the viewer”[9].

The strength of the gaze “fixing the spectator” will also be a point that Hans Belting will consider, when calling attention to the change of the image of Jesus Christ in Veronica’s veil, which from a stain, becomes a face:

The new miraculous images that people talked about usually only showed the face, as had always been the case with masks. After the simple stain on the body was, thanks to the paint, transformed into a face, the eyes became as alive as if Christ himself were looking through the mask. Therein lay the decisive effect of these original-images. According to legend, they were moldings of his face, which he [Jesus] had left on earth. But this was still not enough for their purpose. There was only effect, when he took possession, so to speak, of his face in the picture. This happened through the gaze that, in a way, animated the mechanical impression[10].

Self portrait I acts like the image of Christ painted on a canvas, because it behaves as such: the painting that covers the lines that demarcate the face and fills its internal spaces transforms that visual scheme – achieved, as we saw through the tracing – into an apparition full of mystery that, by fixing the observer, makes it difficult for him to look away from the enigmatic face.


Above I wrote that Tarsila produced Self portrait I in 1924, “a painting of which, in the same year, the artist made a copy in graphite and ferrogallic ink on paper”. In fact, the sequence of self-portraits may not have been this one. A plausible hypothesis is that this drawing is an intermediate step between the process of “taking” the image from the photographic portrait and the final objective of the operation, the Self portrait I[11].

If we observe the self-portrait on paper, it is remarkable how its appearance is closer to a representation produced from the contact with the artist's face (actually, her photographic portrait) than the painting. If, in the latter, the colors and the expression of the look “humanize” the image, the drawing seems closer to a mask – not a mask from the Greek theater, but the Roman death mask. According to Belting: “The death mask represented the face of the deceased without its mimic expression, distinguishing itself either from the living face, of which it proposed a double, or from the theatrical mask, which was based entirely on fiction. It was an image of remembrance […]”.[12]


Even in the 1920s, these self-portraits would become icons of Tarsila's production and, ultimately, of São Paulo modernism itself. In 1926, the cover of the catalog of the artist's first exhibition in Paris will show self portrait II, as well as his first solo show in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1929.

Before this show – and on several occasions – newspaper and/or magazine articles would use images of the painter's self-portrait, as a strategy to captivate the reader's eyes, based on that enigmatic portrait. The exploration of the two pictorial versions of the self-portrait will continue during the following decades and, if in the 1930s and 40s there is a decline in its dissemination[13], from the following decade onwards – when Tarsila and the other modernists returned to the country’s art circuit[14] – the image of the self-portrait (from 1924 or 1926) will once again illustrate books and catalogs about the artist and about modernism itself.


Finally, and in parallel with the dissemination of Self portrait I e II, I believe it is interesting to pay attention to a phenomenon that emerged in the wake of all the dissemination of the artist's image, still in the 1920s. I refer to images that portray Tarsila from, or in a very similar way, to the extreme synthesis of her self-portrait produced on paper.

As early as 1924, in the magazine Brazilian America, an article about the painter, written by the intellectual Ricardo Almeida, presents another graphic version of Tarsila's self-portrait. Almeida does not shy away from explaining her impressions regarding the image: Her self-portrait, just the head, from “which we reproduced a study drawing, is a marvel of fairness, harmony, balance, but equally psychological intimacy […] ”[15]

On the occasion of her first solo show in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1929, Tarsila's image will be released to the public in the country by the main newspapers of the former Federal Capital through stylizations produced from her self-portrait (probably the 1926 version). ).

The schematism that characterizes that image, its strength as a quasi-diagram or hieroglyph, seduced artists who, when illustrating journalistic articles about the painter, underlined the power of the synthesis of her self-portrait, the effective aptitude of that sign to transcend any limit of resignification.

Here, I refer the reader to the caricature of Tarsila, made by Say CavalcantiOn For all, 1929, under the photo and the news about the opening of Tarsila's exhibition in Rio de Janeiro; the “call” for the same exhibition, in the headline of the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Tomorrow (20.07.29); the caricature that illustrated a text by Bezerra de Freitas, in Review, (Rio, 01.18.29) and the caricature made by Pagu, also in 1929. In the latter, that photographic image of Tarsila is completely transformed into a kind of hieroglyphic or logo; an icon and symbol not only of an art movement or the work of a particular artist, but also – or above all – of a woman who, despite everything and everyone, marked a place for herself in Brazilian art of the last century.

READ TOO a first and second part of that reflection.


[1] – RAPOSO, Antonio. "Tarsila". Paulista Post Office, Sao Paulo, 22.9.1929. apud AMARAL, Aracy. Tarsila. Your work and your time. São Paulo: Editora Perspetiva/Edusp, 1975 p. 464. For more information on Oswaldo Costa, read: JAÚSEGUI, Carlos A. “Oswaldo Costa, Antropofagia, and the Cannibal Critique of Colonial Modernity”. In Culture&History Digital Journal, 4 (2): and 017.doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3989/chdj.2015.2015.017
[2] – Here is a paraphrase of the text of the letter that Tarsila do Amaral wrote to João Inojosa about his artistic production. At one point she comments: My job has been huge lately. From April to now I have about 10 new paintings, almost all finished. Gone are the days when a Paquita would smile on canvas with 8 hours of brushstrokes. Today I work with Fra Angelico's patience so that my painting is beautiful, clean, shiny like a Rolls leaving the office”. Letter from Tarsila do Amaral to Joaquim Inojosa, dated November 6, 1925. Cited in: AMARAL, Aracy. Tarsila do Amaral, her work and her time. Sao Paulo: Ed. Perspective, 1975, p. 176.
[3] – In the aforementioned book by Aracy Amaral (p.465), there is a review of the exhibition published in Paulista Post Office, on September 21, 1929. The article has no authorship, but, based on arguments, everything suggests that its author is the same “Antonio Raposo”. Let's see: “… The most recent work by the great painter from São Paulo appears in the current exhibition: Postcard. It's simply a marvel, worthy of being next to Anthropophagy, whose admirable sense of liberation deserves a separate note, They are, on what….". On the other hand, the fact that this review, although dated, in the book cited by Amaral, dated September 21, 1929 (page 465 in the book), succeeds the review commented on earlier, dated September 22, 464 (page .XNUMX in the book).
[4] - I am of the opinion that the black would be an “anticipation” of this phase, since it was produced in 1923.
[5] With these three “ingredients”, Tarsila formulated perhaps one of the happiest interpretations of modernity in Brazilian art in the first half of the last century.
[6] – “The self-portraits of Tarsila, part I: the Spaniard” https://artebrasileiros.com.br/opiniao/conversa-de-barr/autorretratos-tarsila/ and “The self-portraits of Tarsila, part II: the image “Achiropita”, https://artebrasileiros.com.br/opiniao/conversa-de-barr/os-autorretratos-de-tarsila-parte-ii-a-imagem-achiropita/
[7] – Nádia B. Gotlib points out the authorship of the photographic portrait of Tarsila as JB Duarte, which seems unlikely, since the photographer, at the time. was just a teenager (GOTLIB, Nádia Battell. Tarsila do Amaral, the modernist. 2nd Sao Paulo: Ed. Senac/São Paulo, 2000. Page 210). Aracy Amaral, in a study already mentioned, states that the photographic portrait that would have served as a matrix for the artist’s self-portrait would have been published for the last time as an illustration of an article by Geraldo Ferraz, written in 1950 for the dissemination of the painter’s retrospective. Despite the poor reproduction published in Newspaper, one comes to doubt whether that image is, in fact, photographic (“Retrospectively, Tarsila do Amaral”. Newspaper. São Paulo: Sunday, December 17, 1950. AMARAL, Aracy. Op. Cit. 225. A third photo from the painter's period may also have served as a matrix for the painting.
[8] – To raise this hypothesis, I start from the description given by Aracy Amaral about the painter’s process when “taking” a copy of works to keep them: “[…] Tarsila’s explanation for this first repetition of the theme, in this case of the self-portrait, was to have left the first version of the small painting in Brazil […] One cannot, in any case, forget the beginnings of Tarsila's painting, tracing (either at the college in Barcelona, ​​either before or under the guidance of Pedro Alexandrino, according to him to retain compositions that would otherwise be lost on the occasion of the sale of the works).
In 1927 Tarsila makes a copy of the Sacred heart of Jesus, made in the previous anto […] In the textured, diluted painting of this phase, this canvas fits into the stylization of the figure with some concessions, however, in the treatment of the hair and a certain modeling of the face and hands. It is as if, in fact, the same “recipe” used by Tarsila in her self-portrait had been applied in carrying out these two Jesus' heart.” In AMARAL, Aracy. Op. Cit. page 227.
[9] – Amaral, Aracy. Tarsila: between the rational and the surreal. In Amaral, G.; Amaral, T; Abdalla, A. 2006, p.11. apud SATURNI, Maria E. Raisoné Tarsila do Amaral Catalog. São Paulo: Base 7 Cultural Projects: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2008. Vol. I page 117. Before, the author had already shown interest in the mysterious look that appears in the Self portrait I. As in her fundamental study of Tarsila: “In any case, [the artist] emerges ethereal [in the painting], like an apparition, this fixed physiognomy, in the air, against an infinite background”. AMARAL, Aracy. Tarsila her work and her time🇧🇷 São Paulo: Perspectiva/Edusp, 1975. Vol.1 page 211.
[10] – BELTING, Hans. The real picture. Porto: Dafne Editora, 2011, p. 94.
[11] – I believe the same can be said of the drawing that illustrates the article by Renato Almeida, commented below (“In a cubist studio.” Ricardo Almeida. brazilian america. Edition 026, year 1924.
[12] – BELTING, Hans, on. cit. page 87/88.
[13] – Accompanying, as is to be expected, the very decline of the artist's career.
[14] – On this recovery of the 1922 modernists from the 1950s onwards, see: “Art in São Paulo and the modernist nucleus of the Collection”, Tadeu Chiarelli. In MILLIET, Maria Alice (org.). Nemirowsky Collection. São Paulo: mam, 2003. Page 79 et seq.
[15] - Op. cite.

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