Brazil’s greatest sculptor of the first half of the twentieth century, Victor Brecheret (1894-1955), is the focus of “Victor Brecheret: Master of Forms” on display at São Paulo’s Centro Cultural Liceu de Artes e Ofícios (CCLAO) in partnership with the Instituto Brecheret, founded in 1999. Comprising pieces by the Italian-born artist produced from 1910 to 1950 in granite, marble, bronze, terracotta and wood, the exhibition also commemorates the 150 year-founding of its Lyceum of Arts and Crafts. Here its foremost apprentice began to learn his craft at the age of fifteen to later conquer fame in his adopted land of Brazil as well as in France, where he was awarded the highest French award, The Legion of Honour, in 1934.
If you have been to São Paulo, you have most likely driven by Brecheret’s largest and most famous work, the “Monumento às Bandeiras” (Monument to the Flag-Carriers), at Ibirapuera Park. With its 240 blocks of grey granite weighing fifty tons each along a fifty meter-extension, it is impossible to miss. Standing twelve meters-high at the entrance of the park, the city’s main green lung, “Monumento às Bandeiras” represents the iconic symbol of a city built by the effort and hope of poor immigrants like the sculptor himself, who arrived as a six-year-old boy with his family to escape a then-famished Italian region of Lazio.
From monumental public sculptures to tombstones, religious pieces and stylish figurines for the home of the elite, Brecheret’s commissioned art carved in stone, chiseled in marble and forged in bronze honors Brazil’s native-Tupi Indigenous heritage while combining the geometrical volume of cubist sculpture with Art Deco’s elegant stylization and maintaining a sense of balance and contrast. His sculptures are in the collections of major Brazilian museums.
The exhibition is curated by historian and researcher Fernanda Carvalho, who is also curator of the historical archives of the Lyceum of Arts and Crafts in São Paulo, and co-curated by Ana Paula Brecheret, consultant of the Instituto Brecheret, pediatric nephrologist by profession, and the sculptor’s granddaughter. To talk about this singular artist, we also invited Márcio Roiter, who since the mid-1970s spends his time between Rio and Paris and, is an internationally respected lecturer on Art Déco.
Fernanda, Victor Brecheret’s magnum opus, “Monumento às Bandeiras” (Monument to the Flag-Carriers) at the entrance of Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, is our city’s main symbol, an extraordinary piece of Art Déco sculpture in solid granite. How did it come about?
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 impacted the world economy. Brecheret, who was frequently moving between Brazil and France, was in Paris when the political situation, especially for foreign artists, became tough with the spread of xenophobia and the curtailing of the right for freedom of expression. In 1932, he was back in Brazil and founded Sociedade Pró-Arte Moderna (SPAM) along with other artists. The following year he traveled to France to trail a more abstract phase of his work. He was in Rio in 1934 for an exhibition of his work at the Palace Hotel (later renamed Copacabana Palace). During this occasion he was invited to create the “Monumento às Bandeiras,” a 140-feet long monument that became the symbol of São Paulo, only officially inaugurated two decades later as part of the 1954 commemorations of the city’s IV Centenary.
Tell us about his participation in Brazilian modernism.
Brecheret is among those pioneering artists and intellectuals in the 1940s and 1950s, like writer Mario de Andrade (1893-1945), who “rediscovered” Brazil and encouraged our Brazilianness. Along with him, artists such as Flávio de Carvalho (1899-1973), Maria Leontina, Luís Sacilotto (1924-2003), Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988), Waldemar Cordeiro (1925-1973), Lygia Clark (1920-1988), to mention a few, moved away from an over-powering Eurocentric expression to hail our own identity through new artistic constructive experiences while staying in tune with the latest international artistic trends.
Now let’s move on to his participation in the first edition of the São Paulo Biennial, the world’s second oldest art biennial after the Venice Biennale.
The event opened in 1951, masterminded by businessman and art collector Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho (1898-1977) [known as Ciccillo Matarazzo], and soon became a powerful tool for transcultural exchange.
Brecheret participated at the inaugural Bienal de São Paulo and was awarded a prize for his sculpture, “Índio e a Suaçuapara,” a beautiful, modernist simplification of forms inspired by the ancestral motifs of our native-Tupi Indian heritage.
Brecheret is, with no doubt, our greatest sculptor of the first half of the twentieth century. How was he described in his time?
“The stone and bronze prophet,” “the pontiff of beauty,” “genius of technique, symbolism and power,” “great and humble” and the two I like best, as “one of the fathers of Brazilian modernism” and “Victor Brecheret, outstanding Brazilian.”
Brazil’s foremost expert on Art Déco, Márcio Roiter, an international speaker, author, dealer and collector of pieces from the period, as well as president and founder of the Instituto Art Déco Brasil (IADB) in 2005 in Rio de Janeiro, shares his opinion.
Márcio, in terms of the Art Déco art market, can you tell us about what really happened at the recent June 28 auction at the Tajan Parisian auction house regarding Brecheret?
Recently at the Tajan sale “Arts Décoratifs du 20ème Siècle & Design,” Brecheret’s powerful and beautiful body of work was, at first, met by a certain disregard by an uninformed and—why not say—outright prejudiced international art market. At the auction there were three pieces to his name on sale in marble and sandstone: “Vierge à l’enfant,” “Couple de colombes enlacées”and “Diane.” In the catalog the three pieces were estimated in a total of 58.000 euros, however, the guests were in for a big surprise. The Brecheret statues were sold for a total of almost two-million euros!
Until the mid-1930s, Brecheret spent many years traveling to-and-from São Paulo and Paris, with studios in both cities. In his day, how was his work received in Paris?
From May to August 2018, I had a most pleasant surprise while visiting the exhibition at the Pompidou on the UAM [Union des Artistes Modernes, a Paris-based association of the highest level]. Watching the period documentaries on the salons promoted by UAM, which in its heyday had a star-studded list of artists and architects such as Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger, Sonia Delaunay, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Louis Barillet and Pierre Chareau, to my pleasant surprise I suddenly saw the movie screen fill in the name Victor Brecheret and several of his stunning sculptures displayed in the stylish modern décor he designed for his stand in the Pavillon de Marsan at the third edition of the UAM Salon in 1932. In his time, Brecheret was totally involved in the Parisian avant garde community of artists. There is no doubt he was a very successful artist in France. For fifteen years (1921-1936) he was an active participant at UAM events. In 2010, the Brecheret family donated to the famous Luxembourg Gardens, which today is owned by the French Senate, the large sculpture “La Porteuse de Parfum.” It was created in 1924 and earned rave reviews when it was first exhibited the same year at the Autumn Salon at the Grand Palais. Eighty-six years later “La Porteuse de Parfum” is finally back in Paris! Brecheret stands among the master sculptors of the first half of the twentieth century.
Victor Brecheret: o mestre das formas (Masters of Forms)
Through August 12, 2023
Centro Cultural Liceu de Artes e Ofícios, São Paulo
Rio-born Cynthia Garcia is a respected art historian, art critic and journalist fluent in five languages stationed in São Paulo. Cynthia is a recipient of the 2023 APCA (Paulista Association of Art Critics) award as a contributing editor of Newcity Brazil since its founding in 2015. Her daughter America Cavaliere works in the contemporary art market and her son Pedro Cavaliere, based in LA, is in the international DJ scene.
Contact: [email protected], www.cynthiagarcia.biz