Modernist Movement Capstone Project

Length: 12 pages Sources: 12 Subject: Art  (general) Type: Capstone Project Paper: #88788504 Related Topics: Cubism, Cannibalism, Brazil, Propaganda

Excerpt from Capstone Project :

Tarsila Do Amaral

One of the most important Brazilian artists of the 20th century, Tarsila do Amaral, was born in Sao Paulo in 1886. She had a privileged childhood as the grandchild of a rich farmer. This brought with it various advantages, including an education that taught her to read, write, embroider and speak French (Damian, 1999). Finishing her studies in France and returning to Brazil, this artist left an impression on the Modernist movement in the country that remains to this day. With her husband Oswald de Andrade, Tarsila worked towards creating a unique artistic perspective for the Brazilian people. This perspective would not reject the European forms and images that had ruled the country's art world until the 1920s. Instead, these would be used and incorporated into traditional forms to create an entirely new and more inclusive perspective.

The Modernist movement came in the midst of a Brazil that was itself subject to numerous dualities, including the various cultures within its borders, the division of labor, the distribution of wealth, the duality between nature and industry, and so on. Andrade concerned herself specifically with the inherent dangers of not recognizing the importance of tradition and nature in favor of industrial greed.

After a lifetime dedicated to her artistic vision, Tarsila do Amaral died in 1973 in Sao Paulo.

Culture, Politics, and Arts in Brazil

Until the early 20th century, the arts scene in Brazil was dominated by European forms and images (Amaral, 1995). Despite the fact that Brazil included not only Europeans, but also black Africans and indigenous Indian tribes as part of its cultural mix, the art forms created by cultures other than the European were often considered to be inferior and not worthy of serious consideration.

This all changed, however, when a group of artists, writers, and intellectuals gathered at the Teatro Municipal for an exhibition of works in painting, poetry, music, and lectures. This was the Modern Art Week (Semana de Arte Moderna) in 1922. While this is the historical point for the start of Brazilian Modernism, there have been artists involved in the movement prior to this week. The importance of the week, however, lies in the fact that it represented a gathering of artists working within the same movement with the aim of creating a new and unique Brazilian artistic culture.

It is interesting to note that the year 1922 marked the first centennial of the country's independence. One might therefore consider it significant that this year sparked the start of an artistic revolution that would create its artistic independence along with its political achievements one hundred years earlier (Philippou, 2005).

This does not, however, mean that the movement occurred in a political vacuum. The context of the Modernist movement in Brazil included various issues, including the challenges presented by the lingering threads of slavery, abolished only in 1888, and the issue of industrialization that included developments like a free labor market and an urban transportation network. During the 1920s, Sao Paulo produced more manufactured goods than its primary rival Rio de Janeiro.

With these developments, questions arose around the national identity of the country in terms of its social, political, and economic drives. Change brought with it new questions about the meaning of the country's national identity and a search for the values that would unify its citizens. According to Kahl (1986), a national identity is an essential part of unity. The author places emphasis on a "common value-system" as an adhesive that unifies a society. The various upheavals, rapid development, and dualities in the country during the start of the 20th century appear to have eroded this adhesive somewhat. Hence, rather than perceiving the world in similar ways, there were many different viewpoints, depending on a variety of factors, including social status,


The Modernist movement, in many ways, sought to stabilize and unify at least the artistic community of the time.

In these terms, Korfmann and Nogueira (2004, p. 126) emphasize the importance of recognizing the uniqueness of the Modernist movement in Brazil. They note that, despite any similarity in terms such as "avant-garde," this does not mean that the movement is automatically the same in terms of aesthetics and principles across the borders of different countries. Indeed, Brazil is so unique in nature that one must recognize the sizeable differences in its artistic aesthetic and those in countries such as the United States. This is the very principle that de Andrade and do Amaral intended to promote with their work.

Hence, the Modern Art Week aimed to find a resolution for the longstanding artistic conflict between the young artists who considered themselves to be modernists at the time and the Brazilian Academy of Letters, the recognized entity dictating legitimate artistic expression in the country. Despite the controversy that surrounding the events presented during the Week, it marked one of the most important turning points in Brazilian artistic history, and for the art of Tarsila do Amaral.

Thanks to the Modern Art Week, Sao Paulo now distinguished itself from the culturally conservative Rio de Janeiro in another important way; it was now the location of the new modernist movement and as such a culturally and artistically highly important city, if not the most important city, in the country.

Tarsila do Amaral: Artist and Art

Tarsila do Amaral was somewhat unusual for her epoch, as she was born into the rural aristocracy, as mentioned above. Girls born into this world were generally not expected to be interested in furthering their basic education in favor of marriage. She was well to do throughout her life, with parents who provided her with all she needed, if not in terms of education, then at least in material well-being (Damian, 1999). It is within this tradition that she entered into an arranged marriage with her mother's cousin in 1906. Although the marriage produced a daughter, do Amaral soon found herself craving for independence and a fulfillment of her artistic needs (Damian, 1999).

She asserted her independence by studying sculpture, painting, and design with the help of Brazilian teachers who were very respected but also very traditional. In other words, they advocated the dominance of European art forms and images in favor of what was considered inferior art forms. These were the more traditional images of native people and practices in the country (Damian, 1999).

A pivotal time in do Amaral's life was when she went to Paris to study at the Academie Julian during 1920. Although she still focused on conservative work while studying with Emile Renard, her life and associations in Paris would soon bring Tarsila to a new artistic consciousness, which she would use to begin creating images and works of her own design and inspiration (Damian, 1999). In 1921, for example, she returned to Brazil and immersed herself in the history and legends of the country to unearth the artistic heritage of the country. In addition, she became concerned not only with the subversion of ancient culture by a general greedy drive towards industrial profits, but also with issues like deforestation and the destruction of the Amazon forests by the same drive. As such, she began to incorporate these concerns into her art work.

The entire decade of the 1920s for do Amaral was filled with a quest towards building a singular and unique identity that incorporates her own concerns with new artistic directions she was exposed to. Studying with artists like Andrew Lhote, Fernand Leger, and Albert Gleizes, the young artist was exposed to directions like Cubism, Futurism, and Expressionism. She gained firsthand experience with new forms of art, while also gaining an understanding of European artistic trends at the time (Damian, 1999). Parisians, for example, were fascinated with what was termed the "new world." In other words, ethnic art forms emerging from third-world countries like Africa formed the center of such attention. It is this fascination that brought home to Tarsila do Amaral the possibility of presenting her own native culture and heritage with pride and respect.

In 1922, her artistic journey brought her into contact with a group of artists and intellectuals in Sao Paulo, whose main search focused on the quest for a Brazilian identity while questioning the dominance of European art and culture in the country. Since this was precisely the focus of Tarsila's quest, she found a sympathetic bond with the group (Damian, 1999).

This quest ultimately manifested themselves in the Semanda de Arte Moderna (the Modern Art Week Exhibition), a week during which various Brazilian artists took the opportunity to display works that attempted to voice a social and cultural break-away from the norm of European art in Brazil, as mentioned.

This is considered to be the most significant event in the Brazilian arts during the 20th century (Nist, 2014). The aesthetic manifesto during this exhibition represented several things in terms of artistic recognition and development in the Brazilian culture, including a public and violent break with past artistic traditions…

Sources Used in Documents:


1. Amaral, Aracy. "Stages in the Formation of Brazil's Cultural Profile." The journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 21 (1995): 8-25.

2. Amaral, Tarsila do. Brazil, Sao Paulo drawing [Semana de Arte exhibition, 1922] c.1913.

3. Amaral, Tarsila do. Drawing Study of Black Woman. 1923.

4. Amaral, Tarsila do. Madrid: Fundacion Juan March. Tarsila, 1886-1973: 2009.

Cite this Document:

"Modernist Movement" (2014, December 05) Retrieved March 31, 2023, from

"Modernist Movement" 05 December 2014. Web.31 March. 2023. <>

"Modernist Movement", 05 December 2014, Accessed.31 March. 2023,

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