Lot 4
  • 4

Cândido Portinari (1903 - 1962)

200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • Cândido Portinari
  • Fumo (Final Study for the mural Tobacco at Palácio Gustavo Capanema, Rio de Janeiro)
  • signed and dated 1938 lower center
  • tempera on chipboard
  • 18 1/8 by 15 1/8 in.
  • 46 by 38.4 cm


Kurt and Tulle Delmonte, Rio de Janeiro and New York
Thence by descent


Projeto Portinari, Cândido Portinari: Catálogo Raisonné/Catalogue Raisonné, Volume I, Rio de Janeiro, 2004, no. 877, FCO 3812, p. 458, illustrated in color


This work is on a soft board. The painting is unvarnished as it should be; it is clean and could be hung in its current state. The painting has probably never been restored. Although the artist has intentionally left some areas unpainted, there may be some losses in the shoulder of the seated woman on the far left and in the vegetation immediately above her in the center left. There may also be a few losses in the dark shape in the upper left corner. The lighter colors in the plant in the lower center and in the lower right could well correspond to the artist’s technique. (This condition report has been provided courtesy of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.)
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Cândido Portinari won the commission for a series of murals for the building that is now known as the Palácio Gustavo Capanema, a jewel of modernist architecture in South America. Completed in 1936 to house the Ministry of Culture, the building was designed by master architect Lucio Costa who would later create the lay out of the new capital of Brazil, Brasilia. Collaborators included Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier and the landscape architecture was entrusted to Roberto Burle-Marx (see lot 120 in this sale).

Portinari ‘s project was based on a visual catalog of the nation’s most important natural products executed as frescos. Eleven murals of 10 square feet each, were created for the Palácio: Brazil wood, Sugar cane, Cattle, Gold mining, Hierba mate, Coffee, Cocoa, Iron, Rubber, Cotton and Tobacco. In each composition, emphasis was placed on the human figure.

Looking at the Catalogue Raisonné of his painted work, it becomes easy to follow the artist´s ideas for each of the murals. The present work, Fumo (Tobacco) is one of the four registered painted variations of about the same size. There are also six fine works on paper, including the final color study which also shows the color chart guide. In each one of these studies Portinari alternatively placed five or six figures in the plantation. Portinari anchored the work  with the figure of a resting woman with a basket of fruit; at the center of the composition is a man dressed in white with a straw hat while he carefully picks the plant’s mature leaves; on the right, an X shaped worker drinks from a vessel, while on the left another picker turns his back to the viewer. Two women seem to walk towards the center of the composition with gourds on their head.

If we compare the mural to the present work, we can see that Portinari ultimately dropped the picker who is facing the viewer as well as  the distracting fruit basket. By doing so, he reinforced the abstract quality of the landscape. However, in this painting, as in the final mural, one can sense that the structural quality of each worker echoes the columns on the ground floor that distinguish the design of this landmark building. The present work is the only study in which the artist has opened up the composition to the sky. Portinari chose to paint the mural with a darker palette surrounding the clear zone with the two men dressed in white and the central plane with the plant. Although these six figures seem to overfill the composition, the painting suggests in fact that the collaborative activity of tobacco picking needs a great number of laborers.  When seen together at the Palácio Capanema, the 52 monumental figures of the 11 murals are one of the strongest and most heart-felt homages ever dedicated to Brazil’s work force.