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Monday, June 20, 2016

José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior

The Guitar Player, 1899, José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior
José Ferraz de Almeida
(The artist's father)
As a writer, I like to think that I'm relatively unbiased when it comes to liking the art of various nationalities or ethnic groups. I don't keep track of how many artists from each country I've written on, but for some reason, over the years, I don't recall highlighting very many Brazilian artists. I just checked--only five. I'm not sure if that's sheer happenstance or if it reflects the number of outstanding Brazilian artists down through the past couple hundred years. Perhaps it is, in fact, more a reflection my own personal tastes in art. In any case, today I came upon a Brazilian artist, whom I like a lot. Primarily he was a portrait artist who, from time to time painted genre, religious scenes, and the occasional landscape. However, what I like most about his work are the portraits for which he likely went unpaid--those of the peasant population of his country. He went by the name (deep breath) Jose Ferraz de Almeida Junior.
The "Dia do Artista Plástico" (Day of Fine Artists in Brazil)
is celebrated each year on his birthday, May 8, 1850.
The Apostle St. Paul, 1869,
José Ferraz de Almeida Junior
Almeida Junior's art career began as he was working as a bell-ringer at the church of "Our Lady of Candelabra." He began creating some small works based on religious themes not unlike his portrait of The Apostle St. Paul (left). The head priest there was suf-ficiently impressed to hold a fundraiser, so young Jose, whom everyone called "Junior," could go to Rio de Janeiro and take formal art lessons. Thus, in 1869, at the age of nineteen, Junior enrolled at the Academia Imperial de Belas Artes, where he studied with Victor Meirelles and Pedro Américo. After graduating, he chose not to compete for a travel award to Europe, returning instead to his birth-place of Itu, a river city near Sao Paulo. There Junior set up a studio from which to paint portraits.

Brazilian Lumberjack, 1875, José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior,
painted shortly before he left to study in Paris.
However, in 1876, during a tour of the São Paulo region, the Brazilian Emperor Pedro II saw Júnior's work. He was impressed, and offered the artist his financial support. Later that year, a Royal Decree awarded Júnior 300 Francs per month for the purpose of studying in Paris. This was at a time when the average worker in Paris earned 5 francs per day (25-30 per week). The stipend from the emperor probably included tuition. In any case, Junior settled in Montmartre and enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, becoming one of the many students of Alexandre Cabanel (who was earning 800 to 1,000 francs per month). While there, Almeida Junior participated in four of the Salons.

A glimpse into the working Paris atelier in the 1870s.
The Boy, 1882, Jose Ferraz
de Almeida Junior
Knowing when he was well-off, Junior remained in Paris for six years, until 1882, while managing to save up enough money for a brief trip to Italy. When he returned to Brazil and exhibited the works (above), which he had created during his absence, Junior began exe-cuting portraits of notable people, rang-ing from coffee barons to politicians. The following year, he opened a studio in São Paulo where he gave lessons. Al-though Almeida Junior was offered a position as Professor of History Painting at the Academy in Paris, he refused the offer, preferring to stay in São Paulo doing what he loved best.

Girl with a Book, Jose Ferraz de Almeida Junior. This may, or may
not be, an actual commissioned portrait but is, nonetheless, typical
of the artist's work following his return from Paris in 1882.
Crucified Christ, 1889,
Jose Ferraz de Almeida Junior
From 1887 to 1896, Junior made three more trips to Europe. During this period, he would increasingly turn from Biblical and historical works such as his The Crucified Christ (left), from 1889, in favor of regionalist themes, depicting the everyday life of the "caipiras" (bush cutters or peasants) such as can be seen in his Study of Caipira's Head (below) from 1893. He began leaving the Academic style behind while gradually approaching Naturalism. Despite these changes, his reputation at the French Academy remained unchanged. He received the Gold Medal there in 1898. He became one of the first there to paint in the Realistic tradition of Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet.

Study of Caipira's Head, 1893, Almeida Júnior
The life of Jose Ferraz de Almeida Junior had a strange and tragic ending. On November 13, 1899, at the age of forty-nine, he was stabbed to death in front of the Hotel Central in Piracicaba by his cousin, José de Almeida Sampaio, who had apparently just learned about Júnior's long-standing affair with Maria, his wife. She had briefly been engaged to Júnior. The Guitar Player (top) was one of his final paintings, completed just days before his death.

Boy with a Banana, 1897,
Jose Ferraz de Almeida junior


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