Cândido Portinari (December 29, 1903 – February 6, 1962) was a Brazilian painter. He is considered one of the most important Brazilian painters as well as a prominent and influential practitioner of the neo-realism style in painting.
Portinari painted more than five thousand canvases, from small sketches to monumental works such as the Guerra e Paz panels, which were donated to the United Nations Headquarters in 1956. Portinari developed a strong social preoccupation throughout his oeuvre and maintained an active life in the Brazilian cultural and political worlds.
Born to Giovan Battista Portinari and Domenica Torquato, Italian immigrants from Chiampo, Veneto, in a coffee plantation near Brodowski, in São Paulo. Growing up on a coffee plantation of dark soil and blue sky, Portinari gained his inspiration from the homeland he loved. In the majority of his later paintings, murals and frescoes, he used the color blue and lots of browns and reds because this was the color of his home.
One of Portinari’s beginner jobs was drawing photographs where he closely captured the exact image using paints and then enlarging the photos. These sold successfully because the resemblance was astounding. Portinari then studied at the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes National School of Fine Arts) in Rio de Janeiro. In 1928 he won a gold medal at the ENBA and a trip to Paris where he stayed until 1930, when he returned to Brazil. He traveled to Europe again, finally returning to Brazil in 1933. These visits significantly influenced Portinari. Portinari studied various European artwork, visited museums and during his travels met his future wife, Maria Martinelli. Throughout his time traveling, he didn’t paint much but studied and possibly seeing life elsewhere, hoped to better his homeland as well. He came back to Brazil fully set on conveying the true Brazilian lifestyle and capturing the pain and struggles of his people through his art.
After his return, Portinari began portraying the reality of Brazil, from its natural beauties to the harsh lives of the country's most impoverished populations, pursuing an amalgamation of his academic formation with the modernist avant-gardes. Portinari remained himself and didn’t allow his new experiences and new outlooks change him. His roots remained important to him and he strove to portray this in his paintings; the true Brazilian spirit. He wanted the world to see the harsh reality of living conditions in Brazil and the struggle for survival. Strength, hard work, independence and authenticity shows through in almost every one of his works.
In 1939, Portinari exposed at the New York World's Fair. In the following year, Portinari had for the first time a canvas exposed at the Museum of Modern Art.The rise of fascism in Europe, the wars and the close contact with Brazilian problematic society, reaffirmed the social character of his work, as well as conducting him to political engagement.
He joined the Brazilian Communist Party and stood for deputy in 1945 and for senator in 1947, but had to flee for Uruguay due to the persecution of communists during the government of Eurico Gaspar Dutra. In 1951, the first São Paulo Art Biennial dedicated a special room for his works. He returned to Brazil in the following year, after a declaration of general amnesty from the government. In 1956, after the United Nations had appealed to its affiliated countries for the donation of a work of art to the organization's new headquarters. Brazil designated Portinari for the task, who took four years and around 180 studies to complete the painting. Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary-General, named the work "the most important monumental work of art donated to the UN".
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