The evening of June 20th 1923 was the night of the meetings in Villa Kyrial. Gathered together in the residence of Senator Freitas Valle in the district of Vila Mariana in the town of Sao Paulo, was an animated group of artists and intellectuals once more discussing the cultural ways in the country. Suddenly, during the talk by the writer Mário de Andrade, Senator Freitas Valle got up from his chair, which he used like a throne to command the debates, and in a grand dramatic gesture, walked in the direction of the painter Anita Malfatti. He stated that she would embark for Europe with a grant from the “Pensionato Artístico”. Anita, at that moment, knew nothing. Less than two months later the artist would embark on a ship that would take her on a long sojourn in Europe.
During close to twenty years, between 1912 and 1931, the “Pensionato Artístico” of the State of São Paulo helped fine arts students and musicians to develop their abilities in the major studios and conservatories of Europe. Anita Malfatti, the sculptor Victor Brecheret, the painter Túlio Mugnaini, the maestro Francisco Mignone or the maestro João de Souza Lima set off on stays that would last for many years away from their country and that were decisive for their careers.
To map out the contribution of the “Pensionato” for the cultural and artistic history of São Paulo is the objective of the post doctorate work of the researcher Marcia Carmargos, from the Brazilian Studies Institute of Sao Paulo (IEB/USP). “I wanted to search for answers to the questions about this period that was decisive in the formation of the São Paulo intellectual circle”, says Marcia. “Not withstanding, I also wanted to show how the “Pensionato”, in the figure of Freitas Valle, restricted and imposed esthetical parameters upon those receiving grants.”
In order to carry out the study, she had access to unveiled documentation to the moment the archive of Freitas Valle himself, which is now at her command.”Unfortunately, a large part of the archive disappeared after he died”, the researcher explains. The Senator kept letters, first drafts, photos and pictures in a tower at Villa Kyrial. Marcia Camargos is the author of Villa Kyrial, crônica da Belle Époque paulistana [Villa Kyrial: Chronicle of the São Paulo Beautiful Era] (Senac, 2000), the result of her doctorate thesis in social history through USP.
In the book, she analyzes the role that Senator Freitas Valle’s residence played as the irradiating center for the city’s culture. The Villa Kyrial functioned in the same molds as the French Salons. Therein conferences, musical recitals, formal lunches and dinners, took place, as well as wine tasting or even animated games of table tennis in which there was a mix of artists of different tendencies, journalists, pianists, maestros and politicians.
“It was the only organized salon, a unique oasis to which people gathered weekly, freeing themselves of our daily lives and routines”, the writer Mário de Andrade said at that time about the country location of Vila Mariana. “In truth, this new project is a natural unfolding of the book Villa Kyrial “, Marcia says. “I received many requests for help on the part of other researchers interested in better knowing how the system of the “Pensionato Artístico” in Sao Paulo worked.” She has just had published by the publisher Companhia das Letras the book Em que ano estamos? [In what year are we?] (192 pages, R$ 29), concerning the growth of São Paulo.
The “Pensionato Artístico” of the State of Sao Paulo was formalized by way of the Decree Nº 2.234, of 1912. Its creation was defended in a report by Altino Arantes, the then Secretary of the Interior and responsible for the grants, as essential for the development of artistic production in the country, since São Paulo did not possess an institute of higher education, nor one of the fine arts or music.
The chosen artists received a first class ticket to Europe and a grant to the value of 500 Francs per month to remain in Rome or Paris for five years, which could be extended for a further two. If the cost of living in Europe increased a lot, as happened during the First World War, the allowance was readjusted. The government also picked up the bill for sending back to Brazil the work completed in Europe. “In the case of the sculptor Brecheret, for example, this transportation involved an enormous sum of money”, Marcia explains.
On the other hand, the artists had to promise to send back to Brazil first drafts, original works, concert programs of the music presented by them there in the official art salons, as well as journals with feedback on their studies. “Many of them sent the material directly to the Villa Kyrial”, Marcia observes. “And Senator Freitas Valle accumulated this material in the tower of his house.”
It was not easy to gain a grant from the “Pensionato”. In reality, in spite of the decree establishing that there must be rotation of appointment among the members of the Fiscal Commission of the Pensionato among the participants were Ramos de Azevedo, Oscar Rodrigues Filho, Olívia Guedes Penteado, João Múrcio Sampaio Viana, the decision to send or not to send a candidate remained in the hands of Freitas Valle. Contrary to what normally happens today, the stay in Europe depended on a personal favor from a member of the government. If Senator Freitas Valle was not friendly or did not know the candidate, the doors would be closed.
Marcia Camargos recovered an article published in the Artistic Gazeta of Sao Paulo, in January of 1912, in which the system of distribution of grants by the government was highly criticized: “The Government, in order to serve parliamentarian X, in collusion with secretary F, both assisted by a member of the commission, destines the grant to which the beggar of art or the thirsty for light would have a right, to the son of a family that has its own resources and that shamelessly begs for charity, or to a youngster from a good institute and with will power, but who was empty, incapable”, said the editorial writer.
This merger between the private sphere and the public power was seen as natural during that time in which the members of the economic elite of the country took turns at holding power. This environment, at the same time conservative and vanguard, was one in which both a defender of academic art, such as Freitas Valle, and one of the most well known writers of modernism, such as Mário de Andrade, would sit at the same table is what makes the researcher’s work more important. Interested in searching for the contradictions and ambiguities of the era, Marcia ended up recalling a fundamental institution in the history of São Paulo.
The “Pensionato” system, in this manner, mirrors the choices and impasses of those who had been preoccupied in transforming the city into a metropolis. For some artists who had frequented the soirées of Villa Kyrial, and had gone to Europe, this was the natural unfolding of their careers. This was the case of the maestros Francisco Mignone and João de Souza Lima. Both exclusively attributed their stays in the Old World to Senator Freitas Valle. Mignone caught the ship at the last minute in 1919, because of the premature death, due to the Spanish Flu, of Romeu Pereira. “The Senator used to say that, in this case, Godwould close a small door to open a gateway”, related Marcia Camargos.
In the case of de Souza Lima, the invitation came at the end of a reception in honor of Xavier Leroux, maestro and composition professor at the Conservatorium in Paris. On seeing the young pianist playing music to accompany a poem by Freitas Valle, the French maestro became enchanted with his abilities. “Immediately the Senator offered a scholarship to Souza Lima, who took off on a prolonged stay”, adds the researcher.
In the letters that the musicians regularly sent back to Villa Kyrial, they both recount their progress and make reference to the nights at the Villa. Souza Lima recalls the people from Lyra, that is, the group of musicians who met on a Wednesday evening in musical soirées. As to Mignone, he made reference to a new manner of playing the Hymn of Villa Kyrial, which, by the way, had various versions composed by different musicians.
For the Brazilian painters with a “Pensionato” grant who went to Europe, the most likely destiny in Paris was the Académie Julien. Founded in 1868 by Rodolph Julien, the art school was a grand glass-roofed studio in which the students painted the same model. Even Tarsila do Amaral visited the Académie Julien and brought the experience back to Brazil in 1922 when she joined up with Anita in the Group of Five, which brought together, as well as the two painters, Mário and Oswald de Andrade and Menotti del Picchia.
In the case of Victor Brecheret and Anita, things were not just so simple. The Italian sculptor had to count upon the help of the Ambassador Souza Dantas, who intervened on his behalf in 1919. “Brecheret had already been staying in Rome since 1913, where he had studied using an allowance sent by an elderly aunt”, says Marcia. After the Ambassador’s request, the grant came in 1921. “Freitas Valle conceded the grant, even when it involved going against the State President Washington Luís, who was averse to the idea.”
Brecheret, who made part of the Modernist group, had to follow the rules of the “Pensionato” in order to remain in Europe. Nevertheless, he made use of a peculiar strategy. Just before asking for a renovation or an increase in the grant, he inscribed himself in one of the academic art salons of Paris, one favored by Freitas Valle. For the rest of the time, the sculptor exhibited at the side of his friends in the Salon d’Automne, in the Salon des Tuleries or in the Salon des Indépendents. In this way the sculptor managed simultaneously to maintain the grant for his studies and to have good relations with Freitas Valle and, as well as this, he continued producing modern art.
Anita followed another path. After her exhibition of 1917, in which the painter shocked the city with her modernist painting, little by little she sought out her own path. “Expressionism, tragic and desperate, strong, bruising, even “masculine”, as Mário de Andrade insisted, could never be the spontaneous word of such a fragile nature, so feminine, as that of Anita”, wrote the critic and writer Paulo Mendes de Almeida (De Anita ao museu – Of Anita to the museum, Perspective, 1976), who knew first hand all of the personalities of this history. “And it is for this, I think, exactly for this, that she withdrew”, he concludes.
And thus it was that at 34 years of age, Anita Malfatti left for Europe with a grant from the “Pensionato” in1923. Her worries were no longer the same as those that had shocked the city in 1917. Critics are accustomed to making a brutal difference between the two periods of the painting of Anita. Many blame the “Pensionato”, with its rigid rules of study in academic studios, for the changes in the art of Anita. Others speak of her return to academic painting after the raptures of youth.
The interesting thing, therefore, is to think that Anita had represented the anxieties of her time. The first moments of Modernism were confused and contradictory, involving both courageous and impertinent youths, in the figures of Mário and Oswald de Andrade, and a conservative protector, author of symbolic poetry, Senator Freitas Valle. When Anita finally returned to Brazil, times were different. The “Pensionato Artístico” was dissolved on the 11th of April 1931, shortly after the Revolution of 1930. Freitas Valle went out of the scene. And Modernism would enter into a radical phase, mixing art and politics. In the end they were to be the crazy years of the 30’s.
The “PensionatoArtístico” (1912-1931) in the Construction of Paulista Cultural History (nº 03/05493-3); Modality Post Doctorate Grant; Coordinator Marta Rossetti Batista Brazilian Studies Institute/USP; Grant Holder Marcia Camargos Brazilian Studies Institute/USP