A talented artist who caused a scandal in her bourgeois society by becoming the lover of her art teacher, a married man, and then becoming pregnant by him… twice. Another on presenting to the jury of an important sculpture contest a positive opinion by Rodin about her work, who would then lose the competition. Stories such as these could easily have been confused with the situations lived through by Camille Claudel or another Parisian artist of her time. However, they make up part of an agitated artistic scenario situated well away from Paris but during the same period: in Rio de Janeiro. These stories happened to Abigail de Andrade and Julieta de França, two of the women whose trajectories are narrated in the doctorate thesis Profession Artist: Brazilian painting and sculpture between 1884 and 1922, defended by Ana Paula Simioni, by way of research financed through FAPESP. The question was taken up at the university benches of the University of São Paulo (USP) at the beginning of August, a few days before the São Paulo State Art Museum (Pinacoteca) inaugurated the exhibition of Women Painters – the house and the world, in which works of some of the women cited in the thesis could be seen.
The stories of Abigail and Julieta came to light after intense research carried out through Brazilian artistic archives and on catalogues and documents pertaining to the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, which, with the advent of the Republic, transformed itself into the National School of Fine Arts. “My curiosity on the subject was aroused on observing that, despite the two greatest names of the fine arts of Modernism having been women (Tarsila do Amaral and Anita Malfatti), one does not hear word concerning women painters before them”, explains Ana Paula. “I began to question if these Modernists had come from nowhere”, she continues.
In preliminary research into the principal artistic archives, Ana Paula found 91 names of women who had performed in the fine arts between 1840 and 1922. When she went on to study the catalogues of exhibitions at the Imperial Academy, on her intuition to focus her work on the on the most important artistic institution of the Empire, the number rose to 212, just between the years of 1844 and 1922. In fact, the Modernists had not just come out of nowhere. As well, what the new figures show is that many women were excluded from the historic registers (or dictionaries). From that point of view, possibly little or nothing had been heard of other female names before Tarsila and Anita.
“In the way that the focus of the research became the Academy, a series of cutouts imposed itself on the question”, says Ana Paula. For example, knowledge of the work of these artists had to limit itself to the modalities accepted by the institution – painting and sculpture. As well, a geographical cutout was established, since the majority of the artists who exposed their work at the Imperial Academy came from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
As the research advanced, Ana Paula realized that it would be impossible to dissociate the history of female Brazilian artists at the end of the Empire and the start of the Republic from the history of female education. If on the one hand young ladies were trained for the domestic tasks of the home in the institutions of formal education, on the other they were prohibited, up until the proclamation of the Republic, from joining the fine arts schools – which did not preventing them from registering their works into annual exhibitions, hence such a large number of participants in the female sector dating back to 1844.
The prohibition occurred because of the use of the live model in the disciplines of the fine arts, a heritage from the French tradition, the same that would bequeath the very constitution of the Imperial Academy. Essential for learning the academic arts, the live model was considered abusive for the education and the moral of young ladies. Therefore, what led so many women to expose their work at the Imperial Academy, if this was debarring them up until the end of the Empire? Ana Paula shows that various other spaces allowed women the opportunity to learn the fine arts, in spite of so many factors working against their creative development – domestic attributions, official distancing of their studies.
“An important opening was the Lyceum of Arts and Professions of Rio de Janeiro”, the researcher observes. “Since 1881 women could join at the Lyceum where there was not the use of live models”, she explains. “The profile of the institution, therefore, was less linked to the fine arts and more directed towards artisan activities – they learned to date things, for example.” Also, the private studios became very successful in Rio de Janeiro. The most famous, that of the brothers Rodolfo and Henrique Bernardelli, brought in a good crop of artists for the owners, also multiplying their notoriety, principally that of Rodolfo, who was the director of the Imperial Academy.
Many artists of that time learned their trade in a family environment, from fathers, other family members, husbands and lovers. Abigail de Andrade, the first protagonist in this story, was one of them. Because of her, the study developed by Ana Paula has its initial starting date as 1884 and not in the 1840’s, the era about which the researcher already had had some evidence. “In 1884 the last Imperial exhibition was realized – in the years that followed, due to the crisis that the regime was living through, there was no money for setting up art saloons”, the researcher says.
Indeed, during that time Abigail de Andrade, who came from the town of Vassouras, in the interior of Rio de Janeiro, was the only woman to receive a gold medal for four paintings displayed in the Imperial Saloon, alongside three other painters. Among the paintings, Meu ateliê [My Studio] and Um cesto de compra [A Shopping Basket]. Her participation in the Imperial Saloon was commemorated by Gonzaga Duque, an important art critic of that period, who did not spare his eulogies: “She really is an artist, I would say a great artist in the making”. Gonzaga, pertaining to the group who considered women artists in general as amateurs, saw in Abigail a true professional: “She has made painting her profession, not like others, who, surrounded by the same paternal care, only learn to a school girl level”.
Consequently, a scandal for that period meant that Abigail’s rise to fame was put down by her very own family. The artist became the lover of Angelo Agostini, an important artist and illustrator, her art teacher. The romance, with a married man, resulted in a daughter Angelina Agostini. The couple went on to flee to Paris, where a second pregnancy occurred. However, the baby died a little before the mother herself also succumbed. “The story caused such a scandal in Rio de Janeiro that her family themselves dealt with not leaving Abigail’s marks for posterity”, Ana Paula commented. Another alternative for learning the skills of art was to journey to Paris and frequent the Julien Academy, one of the main art centers, which received innumerable students from abroad. It was there that Julieta de França studied, as well as at the Rodin Institute. Her story also fell into being forgotten, this time not for an amorous reason but for a political one.
After having lived for five years in Paris, Julieta returned to Rio de Janeiro in 1907, and inscribed in a contest for a Republic monument. She did not win, but as well did not convince people about the non validity of her work. She returned to Paris and presented the work to various artists and obtained positive appraisal from a number of them including Auguste Rodin. With these testimonies in hand, she again knocked on the doors of the Fine Arts Academy, then headed by Rodolfo Bernardelli, the same person who had rejected her work. Curiously, Julieta disappeared from the Rio de Janeiro artistic circles, probably for having challenged with her Parisian rubber stamp, one of the most powerful artists in the Republic.
Another interesting case was that of Georgina Albuquerque, a woman who marked the end of the period chosen by Ana Paula. In 1922, she was the first artist to present a painting in the historical painting style, the most noble of the academy followers, even when that period style was already antiquated. Not just the style, but also the content caught people’s attention. It dealt with a scene in which Princess Leopoldina was heading a meeting of the State Council, in homage to the centenary of Independence. “Though this work was presented during a period of the decline of Academicism, even then Georgina gained notoriety for producing a historic scene”, Ana Paula commented.
The analysis of various educational circumstances and the tales concerning some artists – it is worth noting as well those of Berthe Worms and Nicolina Vaz de Assis – makes Ana Paula’s thesis a curious path towards an understanding of how artistic women, considered amateurs by the Imperial Academy, came to be accepted through their professional activities over time.
“Many of them supported themselves and their family by way of art, principally in Rio de Janeiro”, the researcher says. “With this thesis, I hope to have demonstrated that, within the writings of Félix Ferreira, seated in tradition, via an international sign, to stereotype female production as typically amateurish, and since the publication of Paranóia e mistificação [Paranoia and mystification], in which Monteiro Lobato had scrutinized the work of Anita Malfatti as that of a professional, many things have changed in the artistic field of play”, she wraps up.
Profession Artist: Brazilian female painters and sculptors between 1884 and 1922 (nº 06/52580-7); Modality Doctorate Grant (FAPESP); Coordinator Sérgio Miceli – FFLCH/USP; Grant holder Ana Paula Simioni – FFLCH / USP