Tarsila do Amaral, 1886-1973

Tarsila do Amaral, known simply as Tarsila, is considered one of the leading Latin American modernist artists. She was a member of the Grupo dos Cinco, which was a group of five Brazilian artists who are considered to be the greatest influence in the modern art movement in Brazil. The other members were Anita Malfatti, Menotti Del Picchia, Mário de Andrade, and Oswald de Andrade. Tarsila was also instrumental in the formation of the Antropofagia Movement, 1928-1929, and it was she who inspired Oswald de Andrade’s Cannibal Manifesto.


Four self portraits, left to right:
Tarsila do Amaral, Auto-retrato I, 1924, Acervo Artístico-Cultural dos Palácios do Governo do Estado de S. Paulo, Brazil
Tarsila do Amaral, Auto-Retrato [Manteau Rouge], 1923, Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tarsila do Amaral, Auto-Retrato
Tarsila do Amaral, Auto-Retrato, 1937

Tarsila was born in Capivari, a small town in the countryside of the state of São Paulo. She was born to a wealthy family of farmers and landowners who grew coffee, two years before the end of slavery in Brazil. At that time in Brazil, women were not encouraged to seek higher education, especially if they came from affluent families, but, despite coming from a well-to-do family, Tarsila had support in obtaining higher education. As a teenager, Tarsila and her parents travelled to Spain, where she began drawing and painting copies of the artwork she saw.

Three portraits of her by other artists, left to right:
Cavall, Retrato de Tarsila do Amaral
Anita Malfatti, Retrato de Tarsila, Acevo MASP, São Paulo, Brazil
Lasar Segall, Tarsila do Amaral

I know nothing about Carvall, but Mafatti was part of O Grupo dos Cinco, and Lasar was influenced by German expressionism,  noted for his depictions of human suffering.

Three portraits by Tarsila, left to right:

Tarsila do Amaral, Retrato Azul [Sérgio Milliet], 1923, Coleção Particular
Tarsila do Amaral, Retrato de Mário de Andrade, 1922, Acervo Artístico-Cultural dos Palácios do Governo do Estado de S. Paulo, Brazil
Tarsila do Amaral, Retrato de Oswaldo de Andrade, 1923, Museu de Arte Brasileira, São Paulo, Brazil

In 1916, do Amaral studied painting in São Paulo, and later with the academic painter Pedro Alexandrino, a respected but conservative teacher. Because Brazil lacked a public art museum or significant commercial gallery until after World War II, the Brazilian art world was aesthetically conservative and exposure to international trends was limited. Tarsila studied in Paris from 1920 to 1922 at the Académie Julian in Paris, where she met Fernand Léger, André Lhôte & Albert Gleizes.

Left: Tarsila do Amara, Academia n° 4, 1922, Coleção Acervo Instituto Moreira Salles, São Paulo, Brazil
Right: Tarsila do Amaral, Pont-neuf, 1923 Coleção Geneviève e Jean Boghici, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Tarsila do Amaral, A Negra, 1923, Coleção Museu de Arte
Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil

This work was painted during of shortly after her studies in Paris, and was influenced by the considerable interest  in African and primitive art at that time in Europe.


Tarsila do Amaral, Morro da Favela, 1924, Coleção Hecilda e Sergio Fadel Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

On her return to Brazil, she decided to use the culture and tradition of her native roots in her painting. This is a depiction of a shanty town.

Tarsila do Amaral, São Paulo [Gazo], 1924, Coleção Particular, São Paulo, Brazil
Tarsila do Amaral, São Paulo, 1924, Acervo da Pinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo, Brazil

Left to right: Tarsila do Amaral, O Mamoeiro, 1925, Coleção de Artes Visuais do Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros, São Paulo, Brazil
Tarsila do Amaral, A Feira II, 1925, Coleção Particular
Tarsila do Amaral, A Gare, 1925, Coleção Rubens Taufic Schahin, São Paulo, Brazil
Tarsila do Amaral, Palmeiras, 1925, Coleção Particular

But, soon a change appeared, and she began to look at her surroundings a a more abstract way

Left: Tarsila do Amaral, Manacá , 1927, Coleção Simão Mendel Guss, São Paulo, Brazil
Right: Tarsila do Amaral, A lua, 1928, Coleção Particular

Left: Tarsila do Amaral, O Lago, 1928, Coleção Particular
Right: Tarsila do Amaral, A Boneca, 1928,  Museu de Arte do Rio de JaneiroTarsilaAbaporu

Tarsila do Amaral, Abaporu, 1928, Acervo Fundación Costantini

In 1926, Tarsila married Oswald de Andrade, with whom she had has a long relationship and they  travelled throughout Europe and the Middle East. In Paris, in 1926, she had her first solo exhibition at the Galerie Percier. Her works were praised for her use of bright colours and tropical images.
Tarsila’s first painting during this period was Abaporu (1928), which had been given as an untitled painting to Andrade for his birthday. The subject is a large stylized human figure with enormous feet sitting on the ground next to a cactus with a lemon-slice sun in the background. Andrade selected the eventual title, Abaporu, which is an Indian term for “man eats”, in collaboration with the poet Raul Bopp. This was related to the then current ideas regarding the melding of European style and influences. Soon after, Oswaldo Andrade wrote his Anthropophagite Manifesto, which literally called Brazilians to devour European styles, ridding themselves of all direct influences, and to create their own style and culture. Instead of being devoured by Europe, they would devour Europe themselves. Andrade used Abaporu for the cover of the manifesto as a representation of his ideals.


Tarsila do Amaral Antropofagia, 1929, Acervo Fundação José e Paulina Nemirovsky, São Paulo

The following year the manifesto’s influence continued. Tarsila painted Antropofagia, 1929, which featured the Abaporu figure together with the female figure from A Negra from 1923, as well as the Brazilian banana leaf, cactus, and  the lemon-slice sun.


Tarsila do Amaral, Sol Poente, 1929, Coleção Particular

Her style changed again in later years


Tarsila do Amaral, Maternidade, 1938, Coleção Particular

Left: Tarsila do Amaral, A Praia, 1944, Coleção Particular
Right: Tarsila do Amaral Primavera, 1946, Coleção Particular


Tarsila do Amaral, O Batizado de Macunaíma, 1956, Coleção Particular

This painting was inspired by the publication of Macunaíma, a 1928 novel by Mário de Andrade, no relation to her husband, but a fellow member of the Grupo dos cinco. The work is considered to be one of the first examples of Brazilian modernism. The plot follows a young man, Macunaíma, an anti-hero, born in the Brazilian jungle and possessing strange and a shapeshifting ability, as he travels to São Paulo and back again. The protagonist is often considered a representation of the Brazilian personality. The novel uses elements of what would later be called magic realism and is based on Andrade’s research into the language, culture, folklore, and music of the indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Religion played a large part in Tarsila’s life.

Tarsila do Amaral, Religião Brasileira, 1927, Acervo Artístico-Cultural dos Palácios do Governo do Estado de S. Paulo, Palácio Boa Vista
Top right
Tarsila do Amaral, Religião brasileira II, c1928, Coleção particular, São Paulo, SP
Bottom right:
Tarsila do Amaral, Religião Brasileira III, 1964, Coleção Particular

BT, Meeing No 18, 29 May 2018



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