Visions of a Brazilian Childhood

Portinari portrayed childhood in several of his pieces. Get to know them.

Boys Flying Kites (1947) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“The landscape where we first played and the people who we first talked to never leave us, and when I come back, I’ll see if I can create my land.”


Migrants (1958) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

When one thinks about Portinari, the mind immediately recalls those emblematic images of the Dispossessed, the dolorous Pietàs, the mothers holding dead children, as represented in the War panel at the UN Headquarters, in New York. The social theme, the obstinate protest against violence and injustices.

Migrants (1960) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

Like Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade said: “Portinari’s work is an authorial hymn about the miseries of the world, and particularly of his country. It is testimony and redemption…”

Boys Swinging (1960) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

But there is another Portinari, all in pink and blue, of a simple, delicate beauty. It is the Portinari that portrays childhood, the lyrical Portinari, all affection.

Drought (1939) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

In fact, we could go so far as to look at Portinari’s work as a majestic counterpoint between drama and poetry, between tragic and lyrical, between fury and tenderness. Throughout his life, the painter dealt with this dichotomy, which evolved over time, from the regional to the universal.

Peace (1952) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

If, at first, his children are boys and girls from Brodowski, by the end they are universal children, like in the beautiful choir of kids seen in the Peace panel, at the UN Headquarters, in New York.

War (1952) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

If, at first, his Pietàs are Northeastern migrants, in the War mural they are universal mothers.

Boys Playing (1955) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“If you want to be universal, start by painting your own village.” Tolstoy

Portinari took this journey literally, from Brodowski to the UN.

Boy with Top (1947) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

It is this lyrical Portinari, the painter who brings childhood unforgettably engraved in his heart, that we present, though in a simple manner.

Memory from My Childhood (1957) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

In 1957, Portinari starts to write “Retalhos da minha vida de infância” [Scraps from my childhood life]. The following passages are excerpts from the painter’s manuscripts.

Soccer Game in Brodowski (1933) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“We began to open our eyes to life and to a life of dreams, tiredness, great fears. During the day, people told stories about werewolves, headless mules, one-legged saci-pererê and otherworldly souls. At night, when we were lying down, any noise frightened us.”

Soccer (1935) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“Father Josué came as a vicar, very kind and a friend of the kids; he soon organized an efficient school in an appropriate location; then, he turned the square into a sports field with a seesaw, swing, bar, hoops, and a game we liked to play. We called this game ‘beti’.”

Children Playing (1940) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“Our life was intense. At night, we lay down on the grass around the church, and, on our backs, we looked at the stars and dreamed; one asked the other what he wanted to be—the answers were ambitious: one longed to be a king; another, a general; that one, a circus owner; and so on.”

Boy with Sheep (1954) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“After we picked some corn, the guard let the dogs out—it was run-for-your-life; I laid down amidst a bush of annual sedge and stayed there until I felt the silence of fear; I ran and felt lost, didn’t know where I was, had no idea of direction, and then I remembered: the sun goes down in the Santa Rosa farm. I headed toward the sun, which was finishing his work—I walked and walked until the cemetery appeared in front of me. I was startled but at the same time, relieved because I knew where I was and, with one more impulse, would be home. What a joy when I arrived.”

Brodowski (1958) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“Mornings were beautiful when the sun came up and their rays, through tree trunks in the field, lit up everything, colors enlivened, giving out a magnificent impression.”

Boys Playing Leapfrog (1957) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“Our toys varied according to the month, and there were also those for the day and those for the night. For the day: marbles, spinning top, airplane, kite, diabolo, bilboquet, yoyo, table football, balloons, and soccer. For the night: hide and seek, leapfrog, blindman’s bluff, and so on.”

Dream (1938) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“I really liked to go horseback riding with horsemen. I liked lying on the grass and looking at the stars, it was a huge pleasure. There were also Dona Iria’s stories—she was a Portuguese lady who had many children and was a good person; at night, sitting on the floor around her, we paid attention to the stories: Devil Robert, Rolando, Charles Magno, kings, princes, and princesses. How beautiful her stories were, and how nice that time.”

Boys Playing (1958) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“Cold mornings were beautiful during coffee harvest season, and the sound of the bullock carts transporting the harvest sacks was delicious. Many times we have slept over the sacks. The sunlight seemed strongest. It was just for us. Down the road went the slow car, singing. We slept full of happiness. We always dreamed, whether asleep or awake. Our imagination flew through the sky. Forged fantasies, looking at the white clouds, whiter than snow. It all moved around us as if through magic. The wild flowers were beautiful. We knew the birds, the ants, the red-legged seriema, the slaty-breasted wood-rail, and the armadillos. When we saw a hole in the ground, we knew to which animal it belonged. We also knew most of the trees and bushes, their uses to cure diseases; the rains, the rainbow, the clouds, the stars, the moon, the wind, and the sun were familiar to us. The contact with the elements molded our imagination and filled our heart with tenderness and hope.”

Girl with Braids and Bows (1955-12) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“Child love is poetry overflowing.”

Girl with Braids (1956) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

Boy from Brodowski (1946) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“In class, the teacher told us to draw whatever and then describe it. I drew a lion, and the drawing was commented on by teachers and students. They never left me alone, I had to draw the cover for tests to be shown at the end of the year. …

Then, I waited for a prince to appear and take me to where I would become a painter… I did some crayon portraits out of small pictures.”

Circus (1958) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

“Around that time came the circus with Tôni, the clown, jugglers, and acrobats, as well as what we called ‘the macaws.’ Here, also in dreams, we were transported to other regions. We all fell in love with the trapeze artist. The clown called everyone mounting backwards on an old, morose animal, painted and dressed for the show; he toured the village with kids trailing behind and answering his calls: ‘What does the clown do?’ Answer: ‘He steals our women!’. ... He went around the village and, on the way back, drew a cross on the boys’ forehead. This mark meant they were allowed to get in.”

“Retalhos da minha vida de infância” [Scraps from my childhood life].
Candido Portinari

Credits: Story

Executive Director: João Candido Portinari
Curatorship 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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