I saw the world…It started in Recife

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“When it was publicly displayed for the first time, in 1931, it caused a scandal: with nude women, it was really daring for that time period, and it was requested that he cut out a part. At three meters less, but long and slender, it was still 12 meters long by 2 meters high. After the fury of its debut, it rested in the dark for decades and only left the Museum of Fine Arts in the 1960s, to make its first trip – to São Paulo, where it was the star of the 8th Biennial, in 1965.

“Eu vi o mundo… ele começava no Recife” took three years to be born – in a house at number 8 of Rua Aprazível, in Santa Teresa, where the artist Cícero Dias (1907 – 2003) lived and worked since his arrival in Rio. From 1926 to 1929, the Pernambucan bent over the painting that, later, would be acclaimed as a masterpiece of his artistic trajectory and one of the most important in the country’s art history. Thus, the painting came into the world like gouache and watercolor on ocher-colored wrapping paper. Later, in the 1990s, like an old woman who needs attention, it was pasted on a canvas. In this way, it would better resist the passage of time.

The life of “Eu vi o mundo…” is just as composed of the stories that the painting itself “tells” – in its characters either in cane fields or flying through the sky – as it is by its own circulation since its first viewing, in the so-called Salão Revolucionário, in 1931, at the National Museum of Fine Arts (then the National School of Fine Arts), until its sale at the end of the 1990s, in Paris.

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click once, then once more to enlarge

When it came out, it left Mário de Andrade stunned. On August 28 1931, the writer sent a letter to Tarsila do Amaral, exaggerating even the painting’s measurements, perhaps under the impact of the commotion it caused: “Here, there’s a large uproar due to the Salão in which Lúcio Costa allowed entrance to all the modernists, and Cícero Dias presents a 44 meter long panel with a portion of immoralities in it. The MASTERS are frenzied, the scandal is thick, I heard it said that the building of the Fine Arts School started cracking…” The shock was so strong that vandals invaded the showing and cut part of the left side of the painting (the part with the nude women).

After that, “Eu vi o mundo…” remained in safe-keeping at the museum until going to the 1965 São Paulo Biennial. It’s at this point that its history gets a bit obscure. Legend says its author removed the canvas from the showing, saying he never donated it to the Museum, and that, therefore, it didn’t have the right to borrow it. Cícero then took it to the hotel where he was staying, called up the Brazilian embassy to organize the extradition documents and, at last, took it to Paris (where the Pernambucan lived from the end of the 1930s until his death, in 2003). It was in France that, after restoration, “Eu vi o mundo…” was pasted onto a canvas and, later, put up for sale.

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– This is around 20 years ago, but I don’t remember exactly when – said the collector Luis Antonio de Almeida Braga, about the purchase of the painting. – The person who told me that I could perhaps buy it, put in a lot of effort and organized everything was my friend and art dealer Jean Boghici. He set up a dinner in Paris with Cícero, and took us as a surprise. It was memorable, I always will remember everyone’s joy that night. Cícero was as much a great friend of mine, who I “inherited” from my grandparents, as he was of Jean.

In his home in inland Rio, “Eu vi o mundo…” remains “protected from light and humidity” and it is “constantly visited by a conservationist”. For Clarissa Diniz, a curator of a showing at the MAR who already took it to Recife in 2012, the painting is the “creation myth of the Northeast”. Under a tropical light, one can find the sugar cane mills (the painter himself grew up in one), the architecture of the Pernambucan capital, regional handmade items, the mulatos and whites that permeated texts by Gilberto Freyre.

In his autobiography (“Eu vi o mundo“, launched by Cosac Naify in 2011), Cícero wrote: “What lived inside me was a dream. Contradictions that nature created: the invisible and the visible”. And that’s how the critic Frederico Morais sees the artist’s masterpiece too:

— The world that the canvas allows one to see is oneiric and nostalgic, a world that’s dreamy and memoralist, at the same time. It’s a reinvented world.” – Source (PT)

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There’s also a short documentary w/ Cícero’s participation which I was unable to find (though there is a new feature length film about him), as well as a infographic / analysis of the painting done by Globo which seems to be no longer available. If you’re interested in what is represented in the painting, read about it here (PT, starting on page 147). You can see the real-life size of the painting in this short video.

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