NEWS IN ENGLISH – Masterpiece by one of Brazil’s greatest artists is in São Paulo – Portinari’s "War and Peace"

14/05/2012 10:23

Elaine Patricia Cruz       Reporter Agência Brasil

São Paulo – “This is undoubtedly the greatest thing I ever did. I dedicate it to humanity,” is what Candido Portinari (1903-62) said about his twin murals entitled War and Peace. The two murals, each of them 14 meters high and 10 meters wide, weigh over a ton. But there is more than size involved.

“This is not just an art exposition. There is a grand message of ethics and humanism that addresses many of the main problems in the modern world of today: the question of violence, the problem of non-citizenship, the drama of social injustice. This is the great message of Portinari’s whole life that is summed up in these murals, one of his last great works,” declared João Candido Portinari, the artist’s son, who organized the exposition, bringing the murals to Brazil. In an Agência Brasil interview, he emphasized that although finished in 1956, the work remains relevant. As proof of that, João Candido points to a comparison made by a viewer of the similarity between a mother in the “War” mural and a recent photo of a woman in Syria. “Both are in similar positions of absolute desperation,” he said.

Portinari worked on War and Peace between 1952 and 1956. The twin murals hang at the United Nations headquarters in New York in an interior entrance hall that is not open to the public (four other murals by Portinari, completed in January 1942, are in the Hispanic Reading Room at the US Library of Congress).

In 2010, when a renovation of the United Nations building began, it was possible to remove the murals and send them around the world for expositions. In spite of their size, that was easy because the murals consist of 28 pieces of heavy wood that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. In December 2010, they arrived in Rio de Janeiro where they were seen by 44,000 visitors. In São Paulo they have already been seen by 150,000. Along with the murals themselves, the exposition also presents visitors with an opportunity to see over 100 preparatory studies by the artist and a gallery of photos and newspaper material on the work. Candido Portinari was a prolific artist whose works dealt with all the key events in Brazilian history as well as practically every aspect of daily life.

João Candido was only 13 when his father began work on War and Peace. “I saw an act of heroism. Of course, at that time I did not realize what was happening. I just saw a man paint from morning to night in an extremely ardous effort. He worked in a place that was an old recording studio, loaned by Radio Tupi, that did not have windows, but had a zinc roof with the result that temperatures of up to 45°Celius during the day were common. He drank lemonade constantly just to survive,” recalls the son. According to João Candido, his father worked for four years on preparations, making studies and drawings, and then painted the murals over a period of nine months.

War and Peace were the last and the biggest works of art made by Candido Portinari. Shortly after he began the project, doctors warned him to stop painting because he was being poisoned by the lead in the paint he was using. Portinari rejected the doctor’s advice.

“It was fatal. There was a medical prohibition, but he did not respect it. He was unable to pass up the opportunity to create the grand message of his life in favor of peace,” says his son.

On February 6, 1962, Candido Portinari died of lead poisoning.

The exposition will remain in São Paulo until May 20 and then go to Belo Horizonte. After that, there are plans to send it to Europe and then to China.

As for the public reaction in São Paulo, one person who was impressed was Crisitina Figueiredo who told Agência Brasil she was retired and liked to spend her time enjoying, studying and visiting art expositions. She said she had seen Picasso’s Guernica, calling it another work of art characterized by grandeur. “But, the Portinari has our colors, Brazilian colors. For me, that is important. And he portrays War as a part of humanity that has always been with us. He did not paint a specific war, like Guernica, that was part of the Spanish Civil War. Portinari portrayed war as presence that unfortunately continues to exist,” she said.

More information about the Portinari exhibition in São Paulo can be found at

Allen Bennett – translator/editor The News in English – content modified

Link - Guerra e Paz, grande mensagem de Portinari ao mundo, fica em exposição em SP até 20 de maio