November 1999


His independence of thought irritated both fascists and leftists. His private life was also a continuous provocation. Artist Flávio de Carvalho remained a bachelor, but carried a series of love affairs, and openly maintained a marital relationship with his 18-year-old daughter.

Cecília Prada

One of the outstanding personalities of this century in Brazilian arts was Flávio de Resende Carvalho (1899-1973), whose centennial we have just celebrated. Painter, sculptor, scenographer, dress designer, journalist, writer and playwright, he used his multidimensional talents to leave upon his time the mark of his eccentric, unconformist personality, always ready to shock the bourgeois. Historian Paulo Mendes de Almeida said of him that "he lived always under the sign of trouble". And well-known French architect Le Corbusier defined him as "a romantic revolutionary ".

Thirty years before happenings became famous in the States, Flávio had already staged some of his own, in São Paulo. In 1931 he defied Catholics walking through a Corpus Christi procession in the inverse sense, flirting with devotees of the Virgin Mary and keeping his hat on—a sign of lack of respect. He was almost lynched and had to take refuge in a café, where the police came to arrest him.

His most famous experiência (experiment) as he called it, was to walk in the streets of São Paulo, in 1956, with his eccentric "tropical summer outfit for men", which consisted of a yellow and green stripped blouse and a green short skirt, worn over ballerina stockings. It displayed a kind of tube of ventilation under the blouse.

Born in a very traditional family, great-grandson of the Baron of Cajuru, Flávio was educated in France and in England, where he got a degree in architecture. When he returned to Brazil, in 1924, he had absorbed the ideas of the famous Bauhaus—a group of German architects who fought for functionality in design. As an architect and a plastic artist, Flávio was one of the modernists who contributed to change the provincial values which prevailed at his time.

Although he is now considered as the true innovator of Brazilian architecture, he was considered a "born loser"—he never won a first prize in a great number of contests he entered. At the most he won a second prize or a "mention of honor". So, his revolutionary ideas, praised afterwards, remained only as projects. In his lifetime he was able to realize only two of them: the big house of the family farm in which he lived, in Valinhos (in the state of São Paulo) and a block of residences for renting, in the city of São Paulo.

As a painter, he was acclaimed not only in Brazil but in West Europe, as well as in the USSR and in the States. His renowned futurist portraits of personalities are now in many museums, like those of New York, Paris, Roma, Moscow, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. All through his life, however, every time an exhibition of his works opened it caused shock and many troubles.

In 1933, Flávio founded in São Paulo an experimental theater which was to be very short-lived. He wrote the play O Bailado do Deus Morto (Ballet of a Dead God), created the sets and costumes and directed it with Oswaldo Sampaio. The police considered that even its title was a provocation and invaded the theater taking everybody to the precinct—where, curiously enough, the show was to be continued for an audience of police officers. But all efforts made by Flávio to lift the ban imposed on his play were in vain. The theater was closed forever and even the Clube dos Artistas Modernos, founded by him in 1932, had to remain closed for several months.

The artist's first exhibition was also staged as a happening. He invited a great number of people from the best families of São Paulo, who were introduced in an entirely dark room and kept waiting. When finally the lights were on, they were confronted with something unusual: about 100 magnificent paintings and drawings of naked women and children who laughed and made acrobatics in the bellies of their mothers....

The collection was at once labeled "pornographic". The police was called and closed the exhibition, taking away some of the paintings. But the painter fought back. With a friend, the critic of art Quirino da Silva, he staged another protest: next morning all of São Paulo statues awakened wearing white nightgowns... And Flávio this time won the battle—his exhibition was reopened by legal order. The crowd that came to see it, and buy the paintings, caused a big traffic jam.

Flávio's independency of thought concerning fads and the political ideologies of his time, irritated both fascists and leftists. His motto was: "The true artist is a leader who makes his opinion prevail". His private life was also a continuous provocation—he remained a bachelor but carried a series of love affairs with outstanding women, like actress Cacilda Becker, singer Maria Kareska, and countess Inge de Beausacq, among many others. He had two daughters out of wedlock and, according to his biographers, since 1962—when he was already 63—openly maintained a marital relationship with his 18-year-old daughter, Sônia Maria.

But one of Flavio's worst provocations was to come in 1947, when he made a series of nine drawings of his own mother's agony—the Série Trágica, which provoked repulsion and labeled him forever as "pintor maldito" (accursed painter). Years later, however, when asked why he had acted so, he answered: "I didn't want to forget the great suffering she went through".

In 1957, when the Fourth Biennial of São Paulo refused his paintings, Flávio defied it by organizing an independent show of his own and other artists' works. Curiously enough, in the same year three of his paintings were bought by MoMA, the New York Museum of Modern Art. Ten years later, however, he was respected even in Brazil. The Ninth Biennial of 1967 granted him a privilege never to be given to any other artist an award in the rank of international artists. And he was to be honored, in 1963 and 1971, with special showings held in the premises of the Biennial.

Flávio de Carvalho died suddenly in 1973, leaving behind him an enormous amount of oil paintings, sculptures, drawings, books on philosophy of art, and architectonic projects. His best biographer, J. Toledo (O Comedor de Emoções, Brasiliense/Unicamp, 1994), said, of the love the great artist always showed for his "Paulicéia" (a poetical nickname for the city of São Paulo, created by Mário de Andrade in the 20's) : " The old cosmopolitan faun seemed to have established with the city an intimate relationship, as if the city and himself were maintaining a sinful love affair."

Cecília Prada is a well-known Brazilian journalist, fiction-writer and playwright. Her book O Caos na Sala de Jantar, (Chaos in the Dining-room), published in 1978, has been awarded three literary prizes. She is considered a stylist and several of her short stories have been published also in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden, in anthologies. Her career as a playwright began in the 60's, in New York City, where she worked with Joe Chaikin's The Open Theater. In 1964, her play Central Park Bench Number 33, Flight 207 was staged at the Judson Poets' Theater in New York. She is also a former diplomat. She is divorced, has two married sons and three grandchildren and lives now in São Paulo, Brazil. Her e-mail is

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