Ernesto De Fiori

09.08 – 30.09 / 2016

Where harmony in music is the sum of the multiple tensions of the musical notes that compose a uniform esthetic whole, then in the work of Ernesto de Fiori (Rome, 1884 – São Paulo, 1945) it is the tension in the brushes and hands that create the harmony in the composition of the painting and sculpture.  His work was characterized by the human figure – predominantly female -  of everyday life and urban and natural landscapes with an emphasis on sailing boats, a sport in which the artist was a champion – during the period in which he lived in Brazil between 1936 and 1945. Part of the work of this artist admired by his contemporaries and collectors alike, both in Brazil and abroad yet hardly known by the public at large, will be brought together in the show Tension and Harmony curated by Denise Mattar, which the Almeida & Dale Gallery is set to open on the 9 August (Tuesday) from 7pm. 

The exhibition includes 22 sculptures, 25 oils, 9 gouaches and 12 drawings. The sculptures cover a period from 1929 to 1945, displaying works produced in Germany such as Adam, Jungling and Barbara of 1929; artworks done in Brazil such as Homem Brasileiro, Maternidade e Mulher Reclinada (Brazilian Man, Maternity, and Reclining Women) in 1938, produced for the Ministry of Education and Health, and also busts such as Greta Garbo of 1937, and of his nephew Christian Heins (which would become one of the first Brazilian pilots to compete internationally) and his Self-portrait, 1945. Of the oils and gouaches, mostly produced in Brazil, there are three groups of works: Landscapes, in which he depicts his impressions of the retiring city of São Paulo, and of the boat races on the Santo Amaro lake where he sailed. Saint George and the Dragon, allegories of the battle between good and evil making references to the War in Europe, and Galas in which he portrays single or groups of individuals alone or in groups, generally taking part in society events. His agitated and vibratory painting conveys the underlying movements and tensions in these apparently mundane scenes, with a surprisingly contemporary result. The show also includes a group of drawings which evidence his creative process plus some caricatures of Hitler and Nazism.


The artist

De Fiori was born in Rome but a descendent of a family from North Italy during a period marked by political upheaval in the region owing to the unification process which gave rise to the modern Italian State. He began his visual arts studies at 19 years with Gabriel von Hackl (1843 - 1926) at the Königliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste [Royal Academy of Fine Arts] in Munich. In 1905, he returned to Rome and received guidance from the German painter and lithographer Otto Greiner (1869 - 1916). Between 1911 and 1914 he lived in Paris, where he produced sculptures with the assistance of the Swiss Hermann Haller (1880 - 1950).


In Paris, he was part of the so-called “German circle” of Matisse together with artists, collectors and historians including Marie Laurencin, Hans Purrmann, Rudolf Levy, Oskar and Margarete Moll. He knew the German painter Hugo Troendle and the Italian sculptor Arturo Martini.

With the emergence of the First World War (1914-1918), the artist enlisted in the German army and acted as correspondent for an Italian newspaper. The horrors of the War shook the artist who, before the end of the conflict abandoned his post and moved to Zurich where he again dedicated himself to art.


Polemic and combative between 1918 and 1919, the artist argued with the Dada group – to which artists such as Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball belonged – about the concept of the movement, which proposed breaking with all that had gone before. It was impossible for De Fiori to create new art without referring to the past. 


During the 1920s and 1930s the artist made his name in the European market with his sculptures, drawing and paintings. He garnered artistic and intellectual prestige.

The consolidation of Nazism in 1933 represented a setback in De Flori´s life and career. No longer able to live in a Germany dominated by one of the most violent and sadistic totalitarian states the world had ever known, De Fiori moved to Brazil in 1936 – already home to his mother and brother – and set himself up in São Paulo. The city was experiencing an interregnum between the “crazy” 1920s and the artistic rebound which took place in the late 1940s with the creation of the museums of modern art.  De Fiori tried to settle in the city and started working with the newspapers of the German and Italian colonies, for the O Estado de S. Paulo and also modelled important figures in São Paulo society at the time, such as poet Menotti del Picchia (1892 - 1988) and Count Francisco Matarazzo.


The output of De Fiori in Brazil occurred during two different phases: the first, between 1936 and 1939, in which sculpture predominated, and the second, between 1940 and 1945, in which he did less sculpting, focusing more on painting.

Although never fully integrating in Brazil, where he felt internal conflict, the artist experienced changes in his work during the nine years in the country. In the Brazil years, which he intended to be a stint and not his final years, a growth in his painting is evident with the use of a wide range of techniques, such as rapid or solvent-diluted brushstrokes, the use of toothed instruments, and portraits free of the limits of schematization, with closer mirroring of the human form, acquiring expressionist traits with an added psychological element, also evident in his sculptures.

The presence of the artist in São Paulo also helped promote new directions in the city´s art scene, influencing the work of artists involved in the  Família Artística Paulista - FAP, such as Mario Zanini (1907 - 1971) and Joaquim Figueira (1904 - 1943), and also the work of Alfredo Volpi (1896 - 1988), particularly in some of his seascapes.


His contribution also extended to sports: a yachtsman, De Fiori not only won a series of medals and honors for the São Paulo Yacht Club located in the Santo Amaro neighborhood, but also helped promote and take Yachting to a another more professional level.


Admired by Mário de Andrade, the artist was introduced to the Minister of Education and Health, Gustavo Capanema, who commissioned him to create a series of sculptures for the Ministry of Education building which, upon completion, were not accepted. The artist, who had come to Brazil to flee Nazi repression, had to face another repressive regime: the New State of Getúlio Vargas, which prevented him from manifesting open resistance against Nazi fascism.


De Fiori would only manage to openly oppose Hitler´s regime in 1942, when Brazil joined the War effort in support of the Allies. He produced the painting which later became known as  Saudação a Hitler (Salutation to Hitler), in which he expresses his aversion to Hitler´s Germany and published articles in the O Estado de S. Paulo opposing Nazi fascism.

In 1945, he modeled his last self-portrait. He died on 24 April 1945, without seeing the fall of Nazi fascism, Hitler´s death and above all, without returning to Germany, a country where he had naturalized and had never wanted to leave.

Rua Caconde 152

01425 – 010 São Paulo, Brazil

+55 11 3882 7120

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