Di Cavalcanti’s majestic Reclining nude with fish and fruit (1956) epitomizes the longstanding tradition of associating the female body with classical ideals of beauty, fertility, and abundance. Unlike previous renditions from the Renaissance period through the nineteenth century—where mythological or allegorical attributes provide a context for the figure’s nudity—the “painter of mulatta women” as Di Cavalcanti was fondly known, provocatively situates his Reclining Nude as an earthly being. Sleeping delicately, she is protected by the schematic figure of a dark horse while resting over a plethora of freshly captured fish that seem to carelessly spill over the foreground. As a giantess mother earth figure, the mulatta entrusts herself to her bountiful land. In so doing, she bears fruits upon her people. Seamlessly moving "between lyricism and sensuality, the real and the fantastic, she becomes the very embodiment of Di Cavalcanti’s magic realism." (1)
Like Fernand Léger, Di Cavalcanti embraced the Cubist notion of fracturing objects into geometric shapes, but retained an interest in depicting the illusion of three-dimensionality. Léger's unique brand of Cubism was also distinguished by his focus on cylindrical forms, a quality clearly visible in both Le corsage rouge (1922) (Fig. 1.) and Reclining nude with fish and fruit. Léger's modern interpretation of a classical theme portrays the elongated restful figures of two women in an interior space: a polished vision of elemental forms representing the human presence in the modern world. As in his most successful works, the painter emphasizes the flat surface of the composition, making use of the cubist vocabulary while maintaining a complete adherence to figural representation. He applies vibrant colors to provide balance and rhythm to the canvas. Unlike the French artist however, who used robot-like human figures to express harmony between men and machines, Di Cavalcanti’s endorsement of the machine age was grounded on its promise to elicit progress, a modernist and utopian ideal he maintained until the end of his life.
(1) Denise Mattar, Di Cavalcanti, um perfeito carioca, Caixa, 2006, p. 111.
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