Category

Brazilian – Imperial and Republican

A Recent Addition to “The World Stage: Brazil”

Kehinde Wiley, "Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil," 2017. Oil on canvas.

Kehinde Wiley, “Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil,” 2017. Oil on canvas. Photo taken by the author

Last month I visited the Portland Art Museum and saw a painting by Kehinde Wiley that I hadn’t seen before. This painting is currently on display as a loan from the collection of Arlene and Harold Schnitzer, major philanthropists in the area (Harold passed away in 2011). I already was familiar with Wiley’s series called The World Stage that feature people from countries around the world, but I wasn’t familiar with this one that comes from the Brazil installment of The World Stage. And as I’ve studied this work, I realized that this painting was made fairly recently, in 2017, almost ten years after the initial series was begun and exhibited. The painting isn’t listed as part of Wiley’s Brazil series, and I wonder why Wiley decided to create this painting so much later. Did he have all of the source material and photos of the model from before, but simply ran out of time to start this painting until almost a decade later?

Wiley began this project through a residency in Rio de Janeiro in March 2008 and exhibited the installation in 2009. At the time, a short book was published with two essays and images of the exhibition painting, and similar books were produced for other installments of The World Stage. The exhibition aimed to draw attention to issues of Afro-Brazilian identity and the complex and problematic social issues created due to the history of slavery and colonialism in Brazil. As a result, Wiley’s Afro-Brazilian figures are positioned in compositions that are reminiscent of famous paintings and monuments in Brazilian culture. Here are a few examples:

  • Wiley’s painting “Omen Negro (Black Man)” refers to a watercolor by the German artist Zacharias Wagener (who was in Brazil when the Dutch were there). Ironically, Wagener’s watercolor is actually a copy of another painting titled “African Man” by Albert Eckhout, so there are multiply layers of copying and appropriation that are taking place. Furthermore, the title of this work seems have layers of appropriation and inadvertent spelling corruption: Wiley’s phrase “Omen Negro” is a corruption of Wagener’s title “Omem Negro,” which itself is a corruption of the accurate Portuguese phrase “homem negro” (“black man”).
  • Wiley’s painting “Marechal Floriano Peixoto” copies the composition of a monument in Cindelândia’s public square in Rio de Janiero. The monument honors the second president of the Republic, Floriano Peixoto, but these two particular figures represent the indigenous people of Brazil. The inclusion of these active, strong figures and their composition alludes to the colonial presence in Brazil and the subjugation of the native presence by the Portuguese. Other allegorical figures in the monument recognize the African, Portuguese, and Catholic aspects of Brazilian history.
  • Wiley’s “Alegoria a Lei do Ventre Livre” is inspired by a gesso sculpture by A. D. Bressae of the same title. Kimberly Cleveland explains that this allegorical figure is an reference to the 1871 law which declared that the children who were born to slave parents would be free. She writes, “The irony of this law is suggested in the less-than-enthusiastic expression of Wiley’s model,” but absent from the original, nineteenth-century sculpture” of a smiling boy.1
  • Wiley has multiple paintings (see one, two and three) dedicated to Alberto Santos Dumont, an innovator in aviation. The compositions for these paintings come from a monument honoring Dumont, located outside of the Dumont airport in Rio.

The influence of Brazilian monuments on the composition brings me back to the new Kehinde Wiley addition to this series: this 2017 painting is inspired by a monument of Cuauhtemoc that is located in the Parque do Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro.

Left: Kehinde Wiley, "Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil," 2017. Right: Monument to the Indio Cuauhtemoc in Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Left: Kehinde Wiley, “Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil,” 2017 (photo taken by the author). Right: Monument to the Indio Cuauhtemoc in Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy Wikipedia

The monument itself is a bizarre connection to Brazil, because is quite oblique. The statue is in Brazil because it was a gift from Mexico in 1922, to recognize the 100th anniversary of the Brazilians’ independence from Portugal in 1822. The statue depicts Cuauhtemoc, the last Aztec emperor, who ruled between 1520-1521 and then was executed by the Spanish. Perhaps there is a loose parallel between the end of an indigenous empire and the end of a colonial period, but it is a little bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, the sculpture is seen as a symbol of friendship between Mexico and Brazil.

By assuming the same composition as the Cuauhtemoc sculpture in Brazil, which is itself a copy of an original 1887 sculpture by Miguel Noreña in Mexico City, Wiley’s painting continues to add layers of appropriation and meaning. One theme is of connections and friendships between countries, since Wiley, as an American painter, took temporary residence in Brazil and painted Brazilian subjects. By depicting an Afro-Brazilian model, Wiley also touches on colonial history and those who were conquered and subjugated by Europeans, Africans and Aztecs alike.

Kehinde Wiley, detail of "Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil," 2017. Oil on canvas

Kehinde Wiley, detail of “Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil,” 2017. Oil on canvas. Photo taken by the author

Kehinde Wiley, detail of "Indio Cuauhtemoc-The World Stage, Brazil," 2017. Oil on canvas

Kehinde Wiley, detail of “Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil,” 2017. Oil on canvas. Photo taken by the author

The casual clothing of Wiley’s subject allude to commodifications by referencing popular (American) fashion and culture. In addition, the bright colors and thriving flowers also connect to Western commodification, suggesting how “the exotic” is a Western construct that has been fetishized and desired. The inspiration for at least one backgrounds in the series came from textiles found at the Sahara market in Rio, and perhaps this design may have been found in a similar place.2 I noticed that Wiley used this same floral background in a study for a painting called “Sidney da Rodra, Jr.” (2008), but it doesn’t appear in the final version, and a detailed image of this same floral background appears as an unlabeled plate at the beginning of the World Series: Brazil book.So Wiley was thinking about this background during this project and studying it, even though this painting wasn’t made (or perhaps finished?) until 2017.

The layered appearance of human figures and decorative patterns in Wiley’s paintings are an appropriate visual reminder of the layers of meaning and appropriation. Typically, Wiley’s paintings have a few elements from the background which extend out of their pattern to partially cover the clothing of the subject. This can be seen best on the t-shirt and the shorts of the “Indio Cuauhtemoc” figure by Wiley, which are partially covered with flowers. Such layers remind us that, despite the real life issues that Wiley addresses, he has presented them to us in a fictive environment to remind us that all the world is a stage and his “streetcast” models are actors.

1 Kimberly Cleveland, “Kehinde Wiley’s Brazil: The Past Against the Future” in Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Brazil by Kehinde Wiley (Roberts & Tilton, 2009), 26.

2 Kehinde Wiley, Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Brazil (Roberts & Tilton, 2009), 12.

3 Ibid., 4, 45.

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Manet and Brazil

Manet sketch to his mother

Edouard Manet, Porto Santo Island sketch, 1848. This sketch was sent to Manet’s mother in a letter, during Manet’s voyage to Brazil

One little-known fact about the painter Edouard Manet is that the artist traveled to Brazil as a teenager. When Manet was sixteen years old, he traveled to Rio de Janeiro aboard the Havre-et-Guadeloupe and subsequently spent several months in Rio. The point of his journey was to secure admission into the Navy and eventually pass the requisite admission exam, although neither of those things ended up happening. Travel conditions were difficult and the voyage took longer than anticipated: Manet left Europe on December 8, 1848 and docked in Rio de Janeiro on February 5, 1849. Poor Manet had to pass his seventeenth birthday while stuck at sea.

Manet was a really perceptive tourist and correspondent during this time traveling; his letters to his mother are full of very perspicacious observations, albeit that they are occasionally laced with stereotypical comments regarding Afro-Brazilians and Brazilian women. For example, Manet wrote that the nègres were “unfortunate men [who] seemed stupid.”As for women, he wrote, “Brazilian [colonists of European descent] women are generally attractive but don’t deserve the reputation of flirtatiousness attributed to them in France; no one is more prudish or stupid than a Brazilian woman.”

Carlos Julião, "Slaves Carrying a Sedan Chair (Palaquin)," after 1764

Carlos Julião, “Slaves Carrying a Sedan Chair (Palaquin),” after 1764. Watercolor

He also made various observations about Brazilian culture, including that women were carried around in sedan chairs (perhaps similar to what Carlos Julião depicted a century before in a watercolor painting, shown above). Manet also visited churches in the area, though he didn’t enjoy the highly-lit gilt interiors. He found the churches to be in poor taste, writing that “they do not stand up to ours [in France].”One can imagine how the colonial Brazilian aesthetic must have seemed excessive to the French teenager! Manet must have visited a colonial church like the Igreja de São Francisco da Penitência (interior shown below), or one very similar in style.

Interior of Igreja de São Francisco da Penitência, Rio de Janeiro. Constructed 1657-1733

Interior of Igreja de São Francisco da Penitência, Rio de Janeiro. Constructed 1657-1733

Although some aspects of Brazil proved to be a disappointment (including the Carnival celebrations), the experience overall proved to be a positive one. Even some of Manet’s criticisms and cynical observations seem to have set the foundation for her later observations of modern life in France. Beth Archer Brombert observed along these same lines, writing, “A duality arose in him that would become a major factor for the modernism in Manet’s paintings. [Manet wrote:] ‘The Carnival is a very strange thing: I saw myself in it, like everyone else, as victim and actor‘ [emphasis added]. The germ of Manet’s future vision, as seen in works such as Music in the Tuileries and Ball at the Opéra, had already begun to grow in the seventeen-year-old.”4

Manet’s overall journey abroad lasted around six months: he returned to Paris on June 13, 1849. Although he didn’t end up having a career in the Navy, this trip did help to foster and encourage his interest in art. Manet wrote to his mother in one letter from 1849, informing her that he was invited to teach an art class to his companions on the ship, and explained “Here I a elevated to the rank of a drawing master; I have to tell you that I developed a reputation during the crossing. All the ships’ officers and all the instructors asked me to make caricatures of them. Even the captain asked for one to give his family as a Christmas present.”5

In retrospect, translator Jean Marcel Carvalho França has said that Manet was one of the most significant individuals to set foot on Rio de Janeiro soil during the nineteenth century. (Which is why, I assume, that the Praça Manet, a public square with soccer fields in Rio de Janeiro, received its name?) You can read more about Manet’s impressions of Brazil in a Portuguese publication, with more information found HERE.

1 Ana Lucia Araujo, Brazil Through French Eyes: A Nineteenth-Century Artist in the Tropics (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015), p. 76. Available online HERE.

2 Beth Archer Brombert, Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ), p. 28. Available online HERE.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., p. 29

5 Ibid, p. 28

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Women Painted into “Exotic” Studio Scenes

William Merritt Chase, "A Corner of My Studio," c. 1895

William Merritt Chase, “A Corner of My Studio,” c. 1895

Recently I have been researching about the American artist, William Merritt Chase. Chase lived an extravagant lifestyle in New York in the late 19th century. He famously moved into Albert Bierstadt’s old studio on Tenth Avenue and used this space not only to paint, but to showcase his collection of various foreign and exotic objects including Japanese fans, Egyptian pottery, Italian swords, and even a stuffed flamingo!1 Chase was undoubtedly proud of his collection; he would open up his studio to the public once per week. Additionally, he painted several scenes of his studio interior. Even after financial difficulties forced Chase to sell his studio and auction off its contents in 1895, Chase continued to paint the interior of the studio of his summer home in Shinnecock Island, New York.

As I’ve been looking at these paintings of Chase’s studio and collection, I’m struck with how often he included a female figure within the space. These women are usually involved in some type of action, which gives them an element of subjecthood that I appreciate. Such is the case with A Corner of My Studio (c. 1895, shown above), which depicts a woman painting in the background. I also like Chase’s Studio Interior (c. 1882, shown below) which shows a woman reading book.

William Merritt Chase, "Studio Interior"

William Merritt Chase, “Studio Interior,” (c. 1882). Brooklyn Museum of Art

Despite the action of these female figures, though, I think that these women also are supposed to function in a symbolic light, given the exotic nature of Chase’s collection. Exotic cultures and their respective products had feminine associations in the 19th century, in part because these cultures were linked to nature and fertility. I think that the female figures in Chase’s painting are meant to heighten the exoticism of the objects in Chase’s collection. Along these lines, then, these active female subjects are also reduced to decorative elements within the studio space, inviting a “to-be-looked-at-ness” that is not dissimilar to the exotic plants, vessels, rugs, sculptures, and pictures that Chase has placed on display. As a result, I think these females vacillate between subjecthood and objecthood.

Other paintings by Chase that have deal with female figures within exotic interiors (some more exotic than others) include In the Studio (c. 1884), The Inner Studio, Tenth Street (1882), Alice in Studio in Shinnecock Long Island Sun (c. 1900), Weary aka Who Rang? (c. 1889), Did You Speak to Me? (1897), and also the pastel drawing May I Come In? (1893). Most, if not all, of these works of art are depictions of Chase’s studios (I am only uncertain about where Weary aka Who Rang? was painted – does anyone know?). When looking at all of these paintings by Chase, I am reminded of another 19th century artist, the Brazilian painter José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior. Almeida Júnior also was interested in depicting female figures within the studio space, although he added an element of sensuality to his works of art by depicting nude or partially-undressed figures.

José Ferreira Almeida Junior, O Descanso do Modelo (The Model's Rest), 1882

José Ferreira Almeida Junior, O Descanso do Modelo (The Model’s Rest), 1882

Also like Chase, Almeida Júnior includes a female figure in an artist’s studio that is surrounded by exotic objects. The decorative and exotic nature of the fertile female body is emphasized through the partially-undressed female figure; her exposed, curvy form is placed in the center of the composition for the viewer to immediately appreciate. Although I do feel like Chase’s female figures have much more subjecthood and individual personality than Almeida Júnior’s sensuous model in this painting (we can’t even see her face!), in both instances the female figure helps to heighten the exoticism of the artist’s luxurious objects found within the studio space.

I think that Almeida Júnior especially focuses on the sexual and sensual associations of the female model within the studio space with another painting, O Importuno (shown below).2 Although Almeida Júnior does not depict the female model with exposed flesh in this work of art, the subject of the cowering model in underclothes (presumably hiding because someone has knocked on the door) suggests an element of sexuality and even scandal. And, once again, the decorative female form seems to be associated with exoticism and luxury: the model hides behind a richly embroidered tapestry, while she stands next to an Oriental rug and fur rug pelt.

José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, "O Importuno ("Inopportune"), 1898

José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, “O Importuno (“Inopportune”), 1898

While both of Chase and Almeida Júnior depict the female figure within luxuriously-decorated interiors, I feel like there are some differences. Chase tends to focus more on the collection objects within the studio space, and he seems to add the female figure as another decorative element. It almost seems to me like Chase places more focus on his collection; the female figure is ancillary, yet symbolically important. On the other hand, I think that Almeida Júnior wants to focus more on the suggestive interactions between the model and artist, and he uses the luxurious interior to heighten those connections between the female form and exoticism. Do you agree?

Do you know of any other 19th century artists who were interested in depicting the female form within an studio filled with exotic luxury items? Probably Gustave Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio; A Real Allegory Summing Up Seven Years of My Artistic and Moral Life (1854-55) would best be seen in opposition to the approach taken by Chase and Almeida Júnior. Even though Courbet depicts an undressed nude female model in the center of this Realist painting, the crowded space and drab, brown background don’t hint at luxury or exoticism to me!

1 Keith L. Bryant, Jr., William Merritt Chase: A Genteel Bohemian (Columbia/London: University of Missouri Press, 1991), 43-62.

2 For further discussion of the eroticism found in this painting and “O Descanso do Modelo” see Daryle Williams, “Peculiar Circumstances of the Land: Artists and Models in 19th Century Brazilian Slave Society,” in Art History 35, no. 4, September 2012: 23-24.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.