Lot 362
  • 362

CÂNDIDO PORTINARI | Baiana com crianças (Baiana with Children)

125,000 - 175,000 USD
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  • Cândido Portinari
  • Baiana com crianças (Baiana with Children) 
  • Signed Portinari and dated 1943 (lower right)
  • Oil on canvasboard
  • 20 5/8 by 17 3/8 in.
  • 52.4 by 44.1 cm
  • Painted in 1943.


Nestlé Brasil Ltda., São Paulo (acquired directly from the artist)
Edouard Muller, Switzerland (a gift from the above in 1943)
Thence by descent


João Cândido Portinari et al., Cândido Portinari Catálogo Raisonné, vol. II, Rio de Janeiro, 2004, no. 1214 [FCO 4113], illustrated p. 139 


This work is in perfect condition. The paint layer is clean and lightly varnished. There are no damages or retouches. The work should 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

Born in 1903, deep in the coffee plantations of the Brazilian state of São Paulo, Cândido Portinari grew up in a changing and recently independent Brazil. Rapid industrialization and political shifts would soon lead to the formation of a new national consciousness, which Portinari would be at the forefront of shaping aesthetically. He left his home at the formative age of fifteen to study at the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes (ENBA) in Rio de Janeiro. However, the school’s strictly enforced traditional academic method of painting, coupled with Portinari’s geographic distance from the early stirrings of Brazilian modernism in São Paulo, meant that he did not turn toward a modern approach to painting until a scholarship voyage to Europe in 1928. In Paris, he studied not only the early Cubist works of Picasso and Léger, but also the painting of Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet. The Realists’ focus on social consciousness and portrayals of everyday life in rural France led Portinari to turn toward similar themes, and upon his return he began to depict the rural Brazil of his childhood almost exclusively.    Key to Portinari’s aesthetic project is a deep love of Brazil and its people—a driving force in his creation of a new national artistic style that would launch Brazil into the forefront of global modern art. He believed “Brazil needs to look at itself and stop imitating foreigners… Our nature and our people are full of surprises. Our people come from all races; our country has many different climates; distinct national characteristics…art should convey that restlessness, that strength of race, the Brazilian moment within humanity” (Cândido Portinari, quoted in João Portinari, op. cit., vol. V, p. 281). The ethos of antropofagia (translated to cultural cannibalism, the idea that driving Brazil’s culture was an impulse to consume its influences and create a new aesthetic borne of that fusion) that had governed the beginning of the modernist movement in Brazil gave way to a new social consciousness in Portinari’s art. In his masterworks of the mid 1930s-40s, he synthetizes the aesthetic vocabulary of modernism with thematic matter designed to “impact the artistic world according to a progressive ideal and within the social and economic conditions in which we live” (ibid., 284). His arrestingly powerful depictions of Brazil’s rural laborers and their families attracted global attention and skyrocketed him into a larger artistic arena in the early 1940s: by 1943, the year the present work was painted, Portinari had returned from an exceptionally successful tour of the United States, during which he sold important works to The Museum of Modern Art in New York and completed a mural commission for the United States Library of Congress.

In the present work, Baiana com crianças, Portinari depicts a baiana, a woman dressed in costume typical of certain women from the northern state of Bahia. The baiana’s traditional garments represent not only a blend of Portuguese colonial and West African influences; they also hold a religious significance. Baianas traditionally dress all in white as a part of the practice of Candomblé, a syncretic religion born in northern Brazil of the blending of deities and spiritual practices from several different West African religions with the saints and religious beliefs of Catholicism. Although repressed in Brazil throughout much of its history, adherents of Candomblé gained protections under the Vargas military regime (1930-45), as “the ideologies of national identity and the New State (Estado Novo) began to embrace Afro-Brazilians and mulattos as distinctive facets of Brazilian society and culture” (Clarence Bernard Henry, Let’s Make Some Noise: Axé and the African Roots of Brazilian Popular Music, Jackson, 2008, p.47). The baiana’s status as a symbol of the racial and cultural mixture that came to define Brazil’s identity in the 1930s and 1940s led her to become a national icon to this day. In 2005 Bahia’s baianas were declared intangible cultural patrimony.  

Portinari depicts his baiana with extraordinary tenderness and lightness of touch; the brushy folds of her rosy skirt shimmering and the light playing across her softly smiling face and carefully wrapped hair. The jewel-toned dresses of the young girls at her feet sway gently as they reach up toward her, inviting the viewer into this intimate scene. Light diffuses from the bright sun behind her into a deep turquoise sky; the kite of a boy far in the background rises up toward the heavens just beyond the baiana’s head. The scene is universal in its poignancy, capturing the joys of childhood as fleeting as the early morning light dancing across the small family. Simultaneously, it is specific in its Brazilian-ness; Portinari’s baiana stands in for Brazil itself, nurturing her children of many races (clothed in the colors of the national flag). It is a hopeful portrait of a youthful nation, one that brings to life Portinari’s ambition “to paint, to bring to life … the mission that each of us carries inside” (Cândido Portinari, ibid., p. 297).