The Portinari Project: From t...

The Portinari Project: From the Coffee Plantation to the United Nations

This tale could be told as a demonstration  of Liév Tosltoi’s theorem: “if you want to be universal,  begin by painting your little village”. In fact, it unfolds into  two intertwined stories: the fulgurant trajectory of the Brazilian painter  Candido Portinari (1903-1962) which starts in a humble tiny village lost  in the vast coffee plantations of the State of São Paulo, and attains  its apex with the huge (14-meter high each) “War” and “Peace”  murals, which were installed in 1957 in the main entrance hall of the  United Nations Assembly-General Room as a gift from Brazil to the UN;  and the 30-year effort of the Portinari Project, always busy assembling  the far-flung pieces of Portinari’s oeuvre, life and times: more  than 5 thousand murals, paintings, drawings and prints, and 30 thousand  documents: letters, periodical clippings, oral history recordings, historical  photographs, books, monographs and varied memorabilia, found all over  Brazil and in countries as wide ranging as Argentina and Finland, Haiti  and Bulgaria. All exhaustively researched, crossed and catalogued into  a multimedia database which offers a privileged itinerary to the main  aesthetical, artistic, cultural, social and political concerns of Portinari’s  generation. This research included the first publication south of the  Equator of a Catalogue Raisonné of a painter’s complete work  (5 volumes, 2,406 pages, more than 5 thousand illustrations, accompanied  by a CD-ROM with its entire content plus a search engine allowing queries  by many different research keys).

The Portinari Project’s own trajectory visits many interdisciplinary  routes, in its permanent interaction with colleagues from Mathematics,  Physics, Computer Science and Engineering, as for example in the “Brush  Stroke Project”, a new approach to the old problem of art forgery,  adding to the physico-chemical and the “eye-of-the-expert”  traditional ways. We presented it at the International Cultural Heritage  Informatics Meeting - ICHIM 1993, University of Cambridge, UK. Only a  few months ago, Prof. Arne Jensen (Dept. of Mathematics, Aalborg University,  Denmark), wrote us: “the brush stroke analysis project is going  very well. Our PhD student has programmed the algorithm in Matlab, and  the results are amazing. Based on 8 genuine and a few false scans, the  genuine ones are clearly distinguisable from the forgeries. So the assumption  that the brush strokes characterises the painter is confirmed”.

The tale comes back to Tolstoi when the United Nations headquarters in  New York go through an historic renovation (2 billion USD in the period  2009-2013) which implies the removal of all its artworks and this opens  up the first opportunity (in 52) years to take the “War” and  “Peace” murals for exhibition in Brazil and in Europe.

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Corresponding Author: 
João Candido Portinari
Presenting Author: 
João Candido Portinari