The life of Candido Portinari

Discover who was and the main artworks of the Brazilian artist

By Projeto Portinari

Família Portinari (1953)Projeto Portinari

"I was born in a coffee plant…"

Candido Portinari was born on December 30, 1903 on a coffee plantation near the small town of Brodowski, São Paulo. He grew up poor, the son of Italian immigrants of modest means.

Portinari menino (1913)Projeto Portinari

He received only an elementary school education. He showed talent for art even as a child. He began painting when he was nine years old. And – from the coffee plantation to the United Nations – he became one of the greatest painters of his time.

Colegas de Portinari na ENBA (1924)Projeto Portinari

At age fifteen, he left for Rio de Janeiro. He enrolled at the National School of Fine Arts.

Portinari e sua obra (1926)Projeto Portinari

In 1928 he won the European Travel Prize with his Portrait of Olegário Mariano. This was a milestone in the young painter’s artistic and existential development. He stayed in Paris for all of 1930.

LetterProjeto Portinari

He could see his homeland better from a distance. He decided: I’m going to paint those people with those clothes and that color…

Palaninho, Candido Portinari, 1930, From the collection of: Projeto Portinari
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Missing his own country, Portinari returned in 1931. He put into practice his resolution to depict Brazil in his paintings:

The First Mass in Brazil (1948) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... the history,...

Wedding in the Country (1940) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... the people,...

Serenade (1959) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... the culture,...

Brazilian Flora and Fauna (1934) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... the flora, the fauna.

Festival of Saint John (1936) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

His paintings, prints and murals reflect the Brazilian soul.

Migrants (1944) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

Also concerned about the suffering, Portinari used strong colors to depict the poverty, the hardships, the pain. Little by little, his visual expression transcended the academic art of his training, melting the old science of painting into a modern experimentalist spirit. Writer Antonio Callado said that his work was a monumental book of art that teaches Brazilians to love their homeland more.

Homenagem a Graciliano Ramos (1942-10-29)Projeto Portinari

Companion to poets, writers, journalists, diplomats, Candido Portinari was part of Brazil's intellectual elite in an era of sweeping changes in the country’s cultural and aesthetic understanding.

Portinari no Partido Comunista (1946-04)Projeto Portinari

This select group also reflected on the world’s problems and the country's situation. The escalation of Nazi-Fascism and the horrors of war, as well as close contact with Brazil’s troubled past reinforced the tragic sense of the social messages in Portinari’s work and led him into political activism. He joined the Communist Party. He ran for the House and then the Senate, but was not elected for either.

Portinari no Uruguai (1948)Projeto Portinari

Later, as political repression tightened, he went into exile in Uruguay for a time.

Cangaceiro (1951) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

The essential theme of Candido Portinari’s work is Mankind.

Head of Indian Man (1938) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

The greater public knew him most for the power of his social themes.

Woman Crying (1947) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

Sitting Girl (1943) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

Perhaps less well-known was Portinari’s lyrical side. This other dimension was populated by elements from his childhood memories:

Playing Leapfrog (1959) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... the children from Brodowski with their games,...

Children’s Dance (1932) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... dances,...

Chorus, Candido Portinari, 1955-06, From the collection of: Projeto Portinari
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... and songs;...

Circus (1957) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... the circus;...

Lovers (1940) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... the lovers;...

Rice Threshers (1955) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... the peasants...

Boy with Sheep (1954) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... human beings expressing tenderness,...

Migrant Dying, Candido Portinari, 1958, From the collection of: Projeto Portinari
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... solidarity,...

Boys Swinging (1955) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

... peace.

Coffee (1935) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

The importance of his aesthetic production and conscientious involvement in Brazilian political and cultural life earned Candido Portinari recognition in and beyond his country.

His value is reflected in the multitude of invitations he received from cultural, political and religious institutions to have exhibitions and to create works; in the awards and honors he won in many different parts of the world; in the aura of friendship and respect surrounding his image; in the pride of the Brazilian people that his work portrayed so well.

Morte de Portinari (1962-02)Projeto Portinari

Candido Portinari died on February 6, 1962, poisoned by his paints.

Painéis de Portinari na ONU, 1957-09-06, From the collection of: Projeto Portinari
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In his final decade of life, he created the "War and Peace" panels for the United Nations headquarters.

Portinari pintando o painel da ONU (1955)Projeto Portinari

This culminating work is the most important of the painter’s lifetime. The most universal, the most profound as well, in its majestic dialogue between the tragic and the lyrical, between the fury and the tenderness, between the drama and the poetry. Artist Enrico Bianco sees "War and Peace" as two great pages from the moving message the philosopher / painter sends to humanity.

Credits: Story

Executive Director: João Candido Portinari
Curatroship and Research: Maria Duarte
Texts: Projeto Portinari
Copyright Projeto Portinari

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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