Portinari's War and Peace are shown for the first time in São Paulo | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Exposition presents the last and largest murals painted by the Brazilian artist following detailed restoration work. The works will return to the entrance hall of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2013

Portinari's War and Peace are shown for the first time in São Paulo

March 07, 2012

By Elton Alisson

Agência FAPESP – The exposition of Portinari’s Guerra and Paz [War and Peace] opened to the public on February 7 at the Memorial da América Latina in São Paulo. The exposition presents, for the first time in São Paulo, the last and largest murals painted by Candido Portinari (1903-1962), titled Guerra and Paz, which underwent a detailed restoration process between February and May 2011. The works are presented in a studio open to the public at the Palácio Gustavo Capanema in Rio de Janeiro.

Commissioned by the Brazilian government as a gift for the United Nations headquarters in New York, the panels were originally placed in the entrance hall of the General Assembly and were viewable only by delegates to the assembly. Because of security issues, the paintings were not visible even to visitors on guided tours of the UN.

The UN headquarters building has been undergoing a significant remodel, which is due to be completed in 2013, and the Portinari Project, which maintains the legacy of the artist, obtained possession of the panels for restoration and exposition in Brazil and abroad during this period.

To commemorate the panels’ return to the country, they were shown at the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theater in December 2010, 54 years after the first and only time the Brazilian public—and Portinari himself—had the opportunity to see them before they were shipped to the United States.

At the time, the United States did not allow Portinari to travel to the inauguration of the murals because of his connections with the Communist Party.

The Italian-Brazilian businessman and patron of the arts Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho (1898-1977), better known as Ciccillo Matarazzo, wanted to bring the murals to São Paulo, Portinari’s native city, so they could be seen by the public before they were sent to the United States. His wish never became a reality, however.

“I don’t know how to express the joy I feel in being able to present Guerra and Paz to the public of São Paulo for the first time after their restoration, and also in being able to take them to other nations where there are great ambassadors of Brazil, of our love for the arts, of our vocation for peace, for brotherhood and respect for differences,” said João Candido Portinari, son of the painter and director of Projeto Portinari, at the private opening of the exposition held on February 6.

Guerra and Paz are the synthesis of an entire life committed to human beings. His painting, like his militant political views, spoke out against injustice, violence and misery in the world,” said João Candido Portinari.

Each mural is 14 meters high and 10 meters wide. The murals consist of 28 sheets of outdoor plywood, each 2.2 meters high and 5 meters wide and weighing 75 kilograms. The total painted area, a surface covering 280 square meters, is larger than Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, in the Sistine Chapel in Italy.

Painted between 1952 and 1956, the murals are Portinari’s final works. Suffering from lead poisoning from the paint that he used and restricted from working by his doctors, the artist accepted the commission to create Guerra and Paz from the Brazilian government. He became ill and died on February 6, 1962—exactly 50 years ago.

In the work, war is represented in vibrant, shocking colors through the image of mothers who have lost their children—an allusion to Michelangelo’s Pietà. In contrast, peace is represented in pastel tones by, among other figures, children on seesaws and swings, suspended in the air like angels, as the artist intended.

Guerra and Paz represent the supreme and final synthesis of Portinari’s work, which is marked by the counterpoint between drama and poetry, the tragic and the lyric, fury and tenderness, between war and peace,” emphasized João Candido Portinari. “He was not only a tragic artist. He was also a painter of tenderness, lyricism, poetry and childhood.”


The exposition is being held in three spaces at the Memorial da América Latina. The panels are hung in the Salão de Atos Tiradentes in a setting reminiscent of a cathedral. They can be viewed by groups of up to 150 people, given the limited space. A 9-minute audiovisual presentation is projected each hour onto a monumental screen placed between the panels.

In the Memorial’s Galeria Marta Traba, some 100 of the 180 original preparatory studies for Guerra and Paz, compiled by the Portinari Project, are exhibited together with historical documents such as letters, testimonies and photos that detail the story of the creation of the murals.

Works from collections in London and Milan, such as Feras [Beasts] from the Museo del Novecento in Milan and Mulher Ajoelhada [Kneeling Woman] from a private collection, are also on display.

The exposition concludes in the Victor Civita Library in the Biblioteca Latino-Americana, which is presenting digital images of Portinari’s complete works in chronological order.

The collection, which is part of the Portinari Project, is the result of the study and cataloguing of nearly 5,000 works and some 30,000 documents related to the work, life and times of the painter, who was born in Brodowski, a small town in upstate São Paulo.

“It is a pleasure to host a work like this and keep the memory of Portinari alive. The State of São Paulo maintains the Casa de Portinari [Portinari House] in Brodowski, which is one of the most visited museums in our state,” said Andrea Matarazzo, São Paulo State Secretary of Culture.

Following their stay in São Paulo, the works are expected to be shown in other nations, such as Japan and Norway, where they will be shown in December at the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. The works will follow a national and international itinerary until their return to the UN in 2013.

Guerra and Paz appeared on the cover of FAPESP’s 2009 Relatório de Atividades [Activities Report] and were part of a showing of reproductions of 25 of Portinari’s works held from October 20 to November 30, 2010, at the FAPESP headquarters in São Paulo. More information on the panels is available at www.guerraepaz.org.br.

Guerra and Paz, by Portinari February 7-April 21, Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 6pm No admission charge Memorial da América Latina Av. Auro Soares de Moura Andrade, nº 664.

More information: www.memorial.sp.gov.br 



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