The Half-Wit

The Scarecrow (The Half-Wit), 1940
Oil on canvas
99 x 83 cm
The Mercer Art Gallery

About the artist


CANDIDO PORTINARI (1903 in Brodowski, São Paulo - 1962 in Rio de Janeiro) was a notable Brazilian artist, ceramicist, engraver, illustrator and painter, who achieved international acclaim. In the mid-1910s, he began helping with paintings at the Brodowski Parish Church and moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1918. There, he attended the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios (School of Arts and Crafts) and the ENBA, where he studied figure drawing under the artists Lucílio de Albuquerque (1885-1962), Rodolfo Amoedo (1857-1941) and Rodolfo Chambelland (1879-1967). Having been awarded a scholarship abroad, he set out to Europe in 1928 spending two years travelling in France, England, Italy and Spain. In 1935, his painting Café was awarded the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh Prize, the first Brazilian modernist painter to win a foreign prize. In the same year, he was invited to lecture on mural and easel painting at the Art Institute of the University of the Federal District. Among his students were Burle Marx (1909-1994) and Edith Behring (1916-1996), who also participated in the Exhibition. His first mural was produced for the Rio-São Paulo Motorway Monument in 1936. The Minister of Education and Health, Gustavo Capanema (1902-1998) invited Portinari to paint some of the murals for the new modernist ministry building (1936-8). In 1940, another successful solo exhibition of his paintings toured the US, and the University of Chicago published a book on his work, Portinari: his life and art, with an introduction by the US artist Rockwell Kent (1882-1971). In 1941, he was invited to paint four murals for the vestibule walls of the Hispanic Reading Room of the Library of Congress, in Washington DC on topics of the history of Brazil and Latin America - Discovery of the Land,  Entry into the Forest, Teaching of the Indians and  Discovery of Gold. He failed to be elected as national deputy in 1945 and as senator in 1947, as member of the Communist Party of Brazil. His murals War and Peace at the United Nations Headquarters in New York were awarded the Guggenheim Prize. He illustrated various books including Machado de Assis’s (1839-1908) Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas and O Alienista. In 1958, he published a book of poetry published by José Olympio (1964) with forewords by Antônio Callado (1917-1997) and Manuel Bandeira (1886-1968). In 1979, his son, João Candido Portinari, launched the Projeto Portinari, a vast archive, hosted at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. He contributed two oil paintings to the Exhibition. Group (Mulher e crianças) was originally acquired by the Brazilian diplomat Hugo Gouthier for £180. It has been displayed in several museums across the US and is currently part of the Edson Queiroz Foundation’s collection. The Half-Wit (A boba) was given to the Mercer Art Gallery, in Harrogate.

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