Gustavo Dall’Ara

Gustavo Giovanni Dall’Ara (Dec 22, 1865 – Oct 17, 1937) was an Italian painter and draftsman who immigrated to Brazil, having settled in Rio de Janeiro. Gustavo Dall’Ara came to Brazil in 1890, debuting in the general exhibition of 1889.

Gustavo Giovanni Dall’Ara (Rovigo, Italy 1865 – Vargem Alegre RJ 1923). Painter, illustrator, decorator. In 1881, he is accepted in the preparatory course to Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, Italy, that frequents regularly until 1883, and is student of Franco Dall’Andrea. In Venice, he met painters Luigi Nono, Ettore Tito and Beppe Ciardi, and worked as a draftsman and cartoonist for the Sior Tonin Bonagrazia newspaper in 1889. The following year he traveled to Brazil and settled in Rio de Janeiro. He is invited to hold the position of artistic director, draftsman and caricaturist of the weekly Vida Fluminense. Between 1893 and 1895, he joined the study commission headed by engineer Aarão Reis, who was in charge of the Minas Gerais state government to plan and build the new provincial capital in Arraial do Curral d’El Rei, now Belo Horizonte. He made decorative paintings in one of the rooms of Vila Itararé, in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, in 1904. The historian Laudelino Freire dedicates a fascicle to the biography of Dall’Ara in the work Historical Gallery of the Painters, bringing information for the most part reported by the artist himself. In 1986, the book Gustavo Dall’Ara, by Ronaldo do Valle Simões, Sandra Quintella and Umberto Cosentino, was published by Winston.

Critical comment
Gustavo Dall’Ara is known as the “painter of the city of Rio de Janeiro”. In fact, the most significant part of his work is composed of portraits of the city, its landscapes, its inhabitants and, above all, the transformations for which Rio de Janeiro passes at the beginning of the 20th century. His painting alternates the realism of strong colors – there is no shortage of blue skies, laundresses carrying loads of colorful clothes, inhabitants wearing brightly colored clothes and tropical scenographic landscapes, elements that Dall’Ara portrays with great verisimilitude – and Impressionist influence, When the artist gives up the more defined forms to show, for example, the optical effect of the rain or of a situation of low luminosity. In many cases, it shows a certain foreign look on Brazil, and its interest is not that of historical record, as if the intention was to carry out the pictographic chronicle of an era, but rather the record of the unusual: the arrival of the Car to a late society, the last one to circulate in the streets, etc. As the effect expected by Dall’Ara, one imagines, is that of exaltation to the country and its virtues (both natural and those of progress), an interesting double game is created, in which the will to show the natural beauty of its Second country – the artist naturalized Brazilian in 1910 -, ends up revealing the eternal taste of the foreigner to portray the contrasts of the archaic society that is faced with modernity. Paradoxically, it is just from this contrast that comes the strength of his painting.

What distinguishes Dall’Ara’s work is the creation of a Rio de Janeiro itself. Although most of the portraits are from public scenes, the Carioca universe is shown by a particular clipping, which favors a kind of chronicle of the insertion of the individual and of society in a new stage of progress. This is the case, for example, of the painting Automobile and Tram, painted in the decade of 1910. The scene is in the broad San Francisco, and shows a car parked (with the driver leaning on the door) and, in the background, a streetcar. It is worth remembering that the wide São Francisco is the traditional departure point of the Turibus. The women in the picture wear luxurious clothes and hats and the boy next to one of them, a sailor’s uniform. It is Rio de Janeiro becoming a metropolis, adhering en masse to European standards and customs – which explains why it is the car so naturally viewed by passersby. In fact, if the scenery and the architecture are not so characteristic, one can imagine that the work portrays Paris, not Rio de Janeiro. The same movement of drawing a parallel between the past and the future occurs in the painting The Last Tilbury of 1918. The picture shows a tilbury, one of the few still in circulation, standing in the street, the horse showing signs of weariness and even defeat. Despite the nostalgia of a more provincial Rio de Janeiro, the scene is more a historical-affective record than a criticism of the effects of modernity.

In an almost ethnographic work, the artist records the types that make up the city – madames, washerwomen, gentlemen, street vendors – as well as their architecture, streets, squares and vegetation. In Casario in Santa Teresa, 1907, for example, in the hillside of the hill there are agglomeration of typical houses of the time and, in the background, a tropical forest. The attention to detail gives to the work of Dall’Ara stature of important document of the visual panorama and of customs of the beginning of century XX. From the portrait of a washerwoman carrying a pile of clothes to the arches of the Lapa, passing through harbors, parks and scenes of the interior, Dall’Ara knows how to capture the snapshots of the city that welcomes him, and knows how to engrave them almost as if frozen them in movement. In spite of its little innovative technique, is the record of a time and a place.