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  Di Cavalcanti (1897 - 1976)        

Emiliano Augusto Cavalcanti de Albuquerque e Melo (Rio de Janeiro, 1897 - idem, 1976). Painter, illustrator, caricaturist, engraver, muralist, scenographer. Began his artistic career as a caricaturist and illustrator, publishing his first cartoon in the magazine Fon-Fon in 1914. In 1917, he moved to São Paulo, where he attended the course in Law at the Largo São Francisco and the studio of Georg Elpons. He mixed with São Paulo artists and intellectuals such as Oswald de Andrade, Mário de Andrade and Guilherme de Almeida. In 1921, he illustrated The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde, and published the album, Fantoches da Meia-Noite [Midnight Puppets], edited by Monteiro Lobato. He was the conceiver and principal organiser of Semana de Arte Moderna [Modern Art Week] of 1922, in which he exhibited 12 works. In 1923, he visited France for the first time, where he worked as a correspondent for the newspaper, Correio da Manhã. While in Paris, he attended the Academie Ranson, set up a studio and became familiar with the works of European avant-garde writers and painters, such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau and Blaise Cendrars. He returned to São Paulo in 1926, where he worked as a journalist and illustrator for the daily newspaper, Diário da Noite. His stay in Paris marked a new direction in his work. Reconciling the influence of the European avant-garde with the formulation of his own language, he adopted a nationalist theme and concerned himself with social issues. In 1928, he joined the Partido Comunista Brasileiro - PCB [Brazilian Communist Party]. In 1931, he took part in the Salão Revolucionário [Revolutionary Salon] and in the following year, founded the Clube dos Artistas Modernos - CAM [Modern Artists' Club], together with Flávio de Carvalho, Antonio Gomide and Carlos Prado. In 1933, he published the album, A Realidade Brasileira [Brazilian Reality], a satire on the militarism of the time. In 1938, he went to Paris, where he worked for the radio station, Diffusion Française, on the Paris Mondial transmissions. Returning to Brazil in 1940, he worked as an illustrator and published poems and travel memoirs. In 1972, his album 7 Xilogravuras de Emiliano Di Cavalcanti [7 Woodcuts by Emiliano Di Cavalcanti] was published by Editora Chile.

Critical commentary
Di Cavalcanti began working as an illustrator in Rio de Janeiro, in 1914, publishing his first caricature in the magazine Fon-Fon. In 1917, he moved to São Paulo, where, in addition to attending the Faculty of Law at the Largo de São Francisco, he held his first solo exhibition of caricatures and drew illustrations and covers for the magazine, O Pirralho.

The flourishing cultural scene in certain Modernist circles of São Paulo and the exhibition by Anita Malfatti led him to resume his study of painting, begun in Rio de Janeiro, with Georg Elpons. His first works used pastel tones to portray individuals sunk mysteriously in shadow, such as Figura [Figure], 1920 and Mulher em Pé [Standing Woman], c.1920, leading Mário de Andrade to call him the 'minstrel of veiled tones'.

In 1921, he illustrated Oscar Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol, also publishing the album Fantoches da Meia-Noite [Midnight Puppets], which focused on the Bohemian demi-monde and its nightlife: drunks, watchmen and prostitutes. His drawings reveal the influence of the English illustrator, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley and are characterised by a fine, elongated and sinuous line as well as decorative elements in the Art Nouveau style.

During this period, he made friends with São Paulo intellectuals such as Mário de Andrade, Oswald de Andrade and Guilherme de Almeida. The idea of Semana de Arte Moderna [Modern Art Week] in 1922 was his, with him creating the catalogue and poster for it. In 1923, he went to Paris, where he attended the Académie Ranson. This voyage allowed him to make contact with important contemporary painters such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger and Henri Matisse, whose influences appear in his works, albeit reworked in a highly personal language.

Returning to Brazil in 1925, his paintings began to feature a more accentuated use of colour that illuminated his palette. His intense dialogue with Picasso's work can be seen in the voluminous and monumental bearing of his figures or his treatment of their hands and feet, as may be seen, for example, in Modelo no Ateliê [Model in the Studio], 1925 or Cinco Moças de Guaratinguetá [Five Girls from Guaratinguetá], 1930. The artist reveals how he has formulated his style through the use of simplified, curvilinear forms and warm colours, especially the various tones of red which he works with a lyrical poetics.

In 1928, he joined the Communist Party, showing himself over the following years to be an artist ill at ease with social problems. His contact with German expressionism and its acidic social criticism, principally in the work of George Grosz, may be seen in works such as Mulher Ruiva [Redheaded Woman], 1931 and Retrato de Noêmia [Portrait of Noêmia], 1936. A social and nationalist stance, with themes linked to a certain kind of everyday life - the favela, the con-man, samba music, fishermen, bars, prostitutes and bohemian life, all based in Rio de Janeiro, would remain a constant feature of his entire work, including such examples as Samba [Samba], 1925, Scène Brésilienne, 1937/1938, Três Raças [Three Races], 1941 and Carnaval no Morro [Carnival in the Favela], 1963.

In 1932, together with Flávio de Carvalho, Antonio Gomide and Carlos Prado, he founded the Clube dos Artistas Modernos - CAM [Modern Artists' Club] in São Paulo. In the following year, he published the album A Realidade Brasileira [Brazilian Reality], a series of 12 drawings that took a critical view of society and its leaders. He also wrote an article for the Diário Carioca newspaper on the exhibition by Tarsila do Amaral, in which he highlighted the relationship between artistic output and social commitment. During the 1940s, he reached maturity as an artist, receiving public recognition within the Brazilian art world. An ardent defender of figurative art, in 1948, he delivered a lecture at the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo - MAM/SP [São Paulo Museum of Modern Art] entitled 'Os Mitos do modernismo' [The Myths of Modernism], that was published in the periodical Fundamentos, under the title 'Realismo e Abstracionismo' [Realism and Abstractionism], placing himself in favour of a national art and against the abstract art that was beginning to spread throughout Brazil.

Among other Modernist artists, Di Cavalcanti was particularly careful in his work to create a visual repertoire linked to Brazilian reality. Despite contacts with contemporary art during his stay in Paris, and his particular dialogue with the works of Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso, his works level and hone down modern artistic language, with the artist understanding art principally as a form of social participation in society. In this way, his output prizes themes of a realist character that aid in constructing a national identity, such as the representation of mulatto women or the carnival.

1ANDRADE, Mário de. Di Cavalcanti. In: DI CAVALCANTI. Desenhos de Di Cavalcanti na coleção do MAC. Organização Aracy Amaral; introdução Aida Cristina Cordeiro; introdução Sônia Salzstein; comentário Aracy Amaral. São Paulo: MAC, 1985. 221 p., il. p&b color. , p.47.

Updated on 01/10/2013
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