Lot 5
  • 5

Emiliano di Cavalcanti (1897-1976)

1,200,000 - 1,600,000 USD
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  • Emiliano di Cavalcanti
  • Reclining Nude with Fish and Fruit
  • signed and dated 1956 lower right 
  • oil on canvas
  • 44 1/2 by 77 in.
  • 113 by 196 cm


Acquired from the artist
Thence by descent 
Sale: Christie's, New York, Latin American Sale, November 21, 2000, lot 26, illustrated in color 
Acquired from the above by the present owner 


This large work is in lovely condition. The canvas is well stretched. The paint layer has developed slight cracking in the neck and upper cheek of the figure, as well as cracking corresponding to the horizontal stetcher bar in the center of the work. These are not indications of any instability. The painting seems to be clean. The varnish is light but illuminates the picture well. In the hip of the figure, there is a restoration measuring about 1 1/2 inches long which addresses slight paint loss. There does not seem to be any corresponding damage on the reverse of the canvas. There is another restoration in the very light colored passage beneath the head of the bright red fish in the lower center; this retouching is not very well applied and is clearly visible to the naked eye. There are also a couple of small spots of retouching around the extreme edges. The retouching in the lower center could be adjusted, but the work can otherwise be hung as is. (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

A fundamental figure of Brazilian modernism and consummate Carioca, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti personifies the bold sensuality and exuberant spirit of his native Rio de Janeiro. One of the masterminds behind the Semana de Arte Moderna of 1922—arguably the single most influential event of the historical avant-garde in Latin America—Di Cavalcanti’s canvases reveal the artist’s affinity for the School of Paris, a pictorial framework he generously impregnated with unsurpassed brazilianness. Like many of his contemporaries, Cândido Portinari (1903 – 1962), Tarsila do Amaral (1886 – 1973), and Cicero Dias (1907-2003), Di Cavalcanti’s artistic evolution was deeply influenced by the great French masters—artists who would inform his work beginning in the 1920s and throughout lengthy sojourns in Paris. 

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.