Eliseu Visconti 150 anos

29.10 – 10.12 / 2016


Regarding the as yet indomitable tropical light of our painting, Visconti is a conqueror of the atmosphere. And that science of light and of color that he learned in France shall serve him now to master the atmospheric vapor, his great contribution to our painting.” The definition of Mário Pedrosa is one of the most accurate summaries of the work of Eliseu Visconti (1866-1945), a precursor of modernity in Brazilian art whose world was misunderstood by modernists of 1922 and by the historiography of Brazilian art, but is now being revived and revisited. It is against this backdrop that the Almeida & Dale Gallery promotes the Eliseu Visconti - 150 years exhibition, commemorating the 150 years since the artist´s birth. The show, curated by Denise Mattar, is open to the public from 29 October to 10 December 2016 and displays the high points of his work, such as the groundbreaking Busto de Mulher (Bust of a Woman)(1900) and Baixada de Vila Rica (1924), alongside works not seen for over forty years, such as Moça no Trigal (1916) and Estendendo roupa (Hanging out Laundry)(1922). The show boasts the consultancy of Christina Gabaglia Penna and support from the Eliseu Visconti Project which, through the artist´s grandson Tobias Stourdzé Visconti, has made a concerted effort to recover and catalogue Visconti´s oeuvre.


Eliseu Visconti - 150 years is part of an institutional initiative of the gallery which seeks to revive great talents of Brazilian art, with previous shows of Raimundo Cela, Ernesto de Fiori, Di Cavalcanti, Ismael Nery, Willys de Castro, Guignard, Alfredo Volpi and Aldo Bonadei.


The exhibition


Comprising 40 paintings covering three decades of his art career, from the first works in the late 1880s to paintings done in the mid-1930s, Eliseu Visconti - 150 years displays the diversity in subject matter and esthetics of the academically trained artist that took in impressionism and is today regarded as one of the leading names of pre-modernism.

Three of the artist´s works produced before his first trip to Europe demonstrate his search for new directions: Casebre no fim da praia do Flamengo (Shack at the end of Flamengo beach)(1888), Menino na Ladeira (Boy on Hill)(1889) and Uma rua da favela (A shantytown street)(1890). These are landscapes removed from the academic elaborate idealization that reveal Visconti´s interest in painting outdoors, forbidden by Academy rules.“Uma rua da favela” is recognized as the first art work to portray this scenario. The work depicts a black woman outside a shack holding a bowl. The scene has no romanticism or the half-tones so cherished by the Academy.  The raw tropical light dramatizes the uneven planking of the shack built up using thick brushstrokes as well as the whiteness of the clothes drying on the half-door improvised as a clothes line”, affirms exhibition curator Denise Mattar.

Eight works from different periods show Visconti´s involvement with Brazilian landscapes. The collection charts the trajectory of the artist up to his final works, in which all boils down to light. The Landscape of Santa Tereza (1910) has a register resembling that of his first works of the 1890s, when the artist discovered the outdoor setting and Brazil´s colors. Estendendo Roupa (Hanging out Laundry) (1922) depicts an everyday scene which Visconti portrayed many times throughout his life, always lending character to the garments and diverse white shapes on the line. In Garotos da Ladeira (1928), the banana trees under the intense sunlight are in stark color contrast  with the group of children at play.

The exhibition displays six pictures from his first stint in Paris, during which Visconti produced most of his nudes. In Nu feminino (Female nude) (1894), we see a young woman laid at an unusual angle on a white couch, contrasting against the black background. A white-striped cushion and the corner of the wall in dense red wall balance the composition. The figure of the girl is delicate and sensual, but the artist intentionally breaks the dreamy atmosphere revealing subtly realistic details, such as pubic hair and a dirty nail. The Modelo (The Model) (1895) shows a women saying farewell, whose face is concealed by her dress portraying an intimate, homey moment. The small size of the work, almost a miniature, accentuates the secretive atmosphere. Busto de mulher (Bust of Woman), c.1895, depicts a young woman lying on pillows. One of her arms is arched over and her hand rests on the other arm. The model gazes at the painter but her mind is elsewhere. Her long hair is loose and the unruly strands stick to her body, lending the scene a note of dishevelment, highly discordant with academic convention.

Throughout his lifetime, but particularly in his final years, Visconti´s preferred models were Louise and his children. Boa noite (Good night) (1910) depicts a domestic scene of the family with the addition of a son. The composition shows  Louise cradling the newborn Tobias, who receives a good night kiss from sister Yvonne. In the painting, done using dark chestnut hues, only the face of the sleeping infant and her pale dress are illuminated, accentuating the atmosphere of night. The delicate nature of the kiss is observed with delight by his mother creating an atmosphere of deep tenderness. Louise (1928) is an outdoor portrait of the painter´s wife. The sun illuminates her shoulders and hair, creating a delicate aura which enhances the model´s serious and serene expression. Retratos de família (Family Portraits) c. 1934, is considered the last known portrait of his wife with the couple´s three children.

The artist also was also distinguished for his self-portraits. His youthful chestnut hair and beard can be seen in Self-portrait (1900), the only painting in which he paints his naked torso, and Self-portrait (1905) in which he portrays himself as a seasoned artist, depicting a persona which he would maintain until his death: a penetrating stare, thick short and carefully cropped beard, white shirt and bowtie. His image during later years showing grizzled beard and hair can be seen in Ilusões Perdidas (Lost Illusions)(1933). Originally called Inspiração (Inspiration), the canvas portrays the artist with muses emerging from his pallet.

Dedicating to painting en plein air, he produced many works of the Luxembourg Gardens where, in a sweet and melancholic atmosphere contemplative female figures emerge absorbed in their activities, as in the paintings of the Jardim do Luxemburgo (Luxembourg Garden) and Tricoteuse (Knitting woman) (1905). The first painting is of a man at a balustrade with a boy at his side, whereas the other depicts a woman embroidering. This is the same subject matter as Tricoteuse, whose model in fact does not appear to be doing embroidery but another manual task. According to the researcher Mirian Nogueira Seraphim, all of these paintings are precursors to the outstanding work Maternidade (Maternity), part of the collection of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo.

The show also includes creations by Visconti involving design, such as the Commemorative Seals of the 1st Centenary of Independence 1922), The Poster for the Antartica Company (1920) and creations for vases and crockery, done in the early twentieth century, placing the artist at the forefront of Brazilian design and one of the leading figures fostering its professionalization. 


The artist

Eliseu d’Angelo Visconti was born on 30th of July 1866 in Giffoni Valle Piana Comune in the Province of Salerno, Italy. In 1873, he immigrated to Brazil with his sister Marianella, heading straight to the farm owned by Luiz de Souza Breves, the Baron of Guararema in Além Paraíba. The great fondness of little Eliseu by the Baroness leads him to studying young in Rio de Janeiro. In 1883 he joined the School of Arts and Crafts. Two years later, while still with the School, he enrolled at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, under the tutorship of Zeferino da Costa, Rodolfo Amoedo, Henrique Bernardelli, Victor Meirelles and José Maria de Medeiros.

In 1890, Visconti joins the group of “modernists” comprising teachers and students that rebelled against the academic rules and broke away from the Academy of Fine Arts to found the “Free Atelier”. The Republican government approved reforms and the Academy became the National School of Fine Arts. Visconti resumed studies at the school and after entering a competition wins the first trip abroad awarded by the Republic.

He joined the École Nationale et Spéciale des Beaux Arts in Paris and studied decorative art at the Guérin School together with Eugène Grasset, one of the exponents of Art Nouveau. Visconti traveled to Madrid as part of his remit as a scholar, where he produced copies of Diego Velázquez, assimilating solutions for the effects of reflection of natural light, later employed in some of his works. In the French capital, he repeatedly exhibits at the Art Salons and after receiving the silver medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle (World´s Fair) of 1900, for his artworks Oréadas and Gioventu, Visconti returned to Brazil.

During his development as an artist in France, Visconti, open to innovations, changed his painting both in subject matter and composition approach, acquiring the techniques of Impressionism and assimilating the contemporary  interpretations of symbolism and Art Nouveau.  Visconti, however, used these styles in a highly personal fashion. His embracing of new languages, however, did not mean breaking with tradition or teachings acquired in Brazil.

In 1901, Visconti put on his first solo exhibition at the National School of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro. Besides the oil paintings brought from France, he displayed his design works, fruit of his time learning with Grasset. Visconti´s pioneering incursion into design also included posters, ceramics, fabrics, wall paper, stained-glass windows and lamps.

Visconti´s first exhibition, which was well-received only by critics of the time, was in part responsible for the invitation extended to him by the city mayor Pereira Passos, in 1905 to produce all the paintings for the concert hall of the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro. The mayor´s pick was also influenced by the fact that Visconti was in Paris at the heart of the latest art innovations. The decorations produced in Paris between 1905 and 1907 were, in Visconti´s view, his most important works.

Between 1908 and 1913, Visconti taught painting at the National School of Fine Arts, a position he gave up to return to Europe and produce the decoration of the foyer of the Municipal Theater of  Rio de Janeiro, his masterpiece, completed in 1916.

After 1920, Eliseu Visconti would never again leave Brazilian soil. He was involved in the continuous urban modernization of Rio de Janeiro city, producing important decorations for the National Library, Tiradentes Palace and Pedro Ernesto Palace.

In 1922, he was awarded the Medal of Honor at the Exhibition Commemorating the Centenary of Independence. He followed the events of Modern Art Week with interest, albeit not invited. Pietro Maria Bardi commented: “They overlooked the only true modern artist of his time.”

In 1926, he held a new design exhibition at the Jorge Gallery, presenting his earlier works and displaying the award-winning postage stamps of 1904, in addition to the National Library bookplate and emblem.The enlarging of the stage of the Rio de Janeiro´s Municipal Theater in the mid-1930s, provided an opportunity for Eliseu Visconti to relive the emotions of his youth.

In this same period, between 1934 and 1936, he taught on the University extension course of decorative arts of the Polytechnic School of Rio de Janeiro. According to Guilherme Cunha Lima, Visconti ´s role marked the beginning of the teaching of design in Brazil.

Eliseu Visconti would pursue his infatigable quest for the new, continuing to evolve his technique without decline. He passed away on the 15th of October 1944 at the age of 78.

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