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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Antonio Parreiras

One canvas yields two paintings, Captain Dias Adorno (lower left), 1933,
and The Invaders (upper right), 1936. Notice the color differences in the two.
If only there weren't so many countries in this world I might be able to get my feeble mind (which grows feebler every day) around each country's great artists. Every few weeks I come upon an artist, considered the greatest, or one of the greatest, artists of some country only to be faced with the realization that I've never heard of the guy before (few, if any, are women). In Europe, that's not so amazing as there are several smaller countries, each having a long history of artistic achievement with several outstanding artists down through the centuries. However, many of the countries in the western hemisphere have comparatively short Post-Columbian art histories. Moreover, just because I, and most other people, can't name the greatest artist to ever emerge from Bolivia (for example) assuming we could agree on a single name, doesn't make that artist or that country's art any less important than that of any other country in the world. It's simply indicative of that country's obscurity and our indifference (or ignorance). Brazil is another example. Could you name that country's greatest artist? I couldn't have, until today. His name was Antonio Parreiras.

My First Oil Painting, 1883, Antonio Parreiras
Antonio Parreiras, probably
a self-portrait, ca. 1890.
Whenever one talks in terms of superlatives having to do with artists from the past there is the implied additive "...of his (or her) time." Antonio Parreiras was born in 1860, one of nine children of a goldsmith, so naturally we're talking about "his time" being roughly the period 1880 until his death in 1937. Interestingly, that period also coincides with the rule of Brazil's Emperor Pedro II (who ruled from 1831 to 1925), a period of political stability, social justice, economic growth, and relative prosperity for the country (as compared to most of South America). I mention this for two reasons. The conditions listed above are necessary prerequisites for a flowering of the arts in any culture. There's also the incidental fact that Pedro II purchased one of Parreiras' paintings in 1886, for a sum sufficient to allow the twenty-six-year-old art student to travel to Italy where he enrolled in the Art Academy of Venice. He studied there for two years. Exposure to European art, artists, and academic instruction was extremely important for a painter who, up until that time, was mostly self-taught.

Beach Corner, 1886, Antonio Parreiras
The Windstorm, 1888,
Antonio Parreiras
Upon returning to Brazil, Parreiras participated in the "Exposição Gerais de Belas Artes". Later he became a Professor of landscape painting at the National School of Fine Arts where he introduced his students to plein-air painting. His Beach Corner (above) from 1886, is an excellent example of European influence imposed upon a South American scene. It would be safe to say Parreiras painted impressionistically after his return from Italy, though referring to him as an impressionist is something of a judgment call. Parreiras' Windstorm (left) from 1888, is probably his most famous and oft-reproduced paintings. As one of the few Brazilian artists trained in Europe, and with several medals to his name, from around 1900, Parreiras began receiving commissions for history paintings. His 1907 Conquest of the Amazon (below) is typical of several such works completed during the first decades of the 20th-century when he also found his talents in demand in decorating newly built public buildings. A history painter painting impressionistically was something of a peculiar combination, even for Europe.

The Conquest of the Amazon, 1907, Antonio Parreiras
Antonio Parreiras, ca. 1925
During the 1920s, Parreiras' popularity was such that he maintained studios in both Rio de Janeiro as well as Paris, where he both taught and painted some of his larger, history painting canvases such as his The Invaders (top). He seems to have struggled some with the composition. Eventually it evolved into two smaller works, Captain Dias Adorno, from 1933, and The Invaders, from 1936, the latter of which appears to have been much altered from its original incarnation. It was also likely one of Parreiras' final paintings. He died the following year at the age of seventy-six.

The End of Romance, 1912, Antonio Parreiras
The Wicker Worker, 1927,
Antonio Parreiras
It's in Parreiras' paintings from late in his career that we see the most variety and expressive content. His The End of Romance (above) dating from 1912, is by no means the first handling of such sentimental content (though undoubtedly a first for Brazilian art). The theme had been a recurring one in European painting for years, though the pistol in the man's hand suggests suicide rather than combat. His Wicker Worker (left) from 1927 would seem to indicate an interest late in life for the indigenous people, arts, and crafts of his homeland. Though usually classed as a landscape painter, it was only during the latter years that he found the time to concentrate exclusively on such work. His Iguazu Falls (below), from 1920, is indicative of his renewed interest in the Brazilian landscape. His Fantasia (bottom) from 1909, combines the two, an interest in the work of Brazilian artists, as well as in the female landscape.

Iguazu Falls, 1920, Antonio Parreiras
Fantasia, 1909, Antonio Parreiras


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