A pioneer of Brazilian modernism, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti’s ideal had always been to capture the essence of his country without the influence of European art. It was, foremost, an issue of national pride, magnified by the fact that Latin Americans everywhere were searching for their own voice.
This conviction was certainly strengthened by his years spent in Paris. First between 1923 and 1925, when he met Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Fernand Léger and the second time between 1937 and 1940, when he was forced to leave by the outbreak of World War II. While the years spent in Paris fueled Di Cavalcanti’s nationalism and determination to depict Brazil in all its beauty and glory, these experiences also meant that the Brazilian artist, despite his long held wish, could never truly escape the influence of European modernism.
Woman with a Bird is a representative painting for Di Cavalcanti, blending national pride with European art influences. The artwork depicts a naked, mixed-race woman set against the luxurious Brazilian flora, gently holding a bird in her hand. A parrot is also behind her. The artist was quite consumed with the female form and he saw mulatto women as emblems of Brazilian identity and bearers of the utmost femininity:
“For me, the mulatto woman is the symbol of Brazil. She is neither black nor white, neither rich nor poor. She likes dance, music, football… like all our people. I imagine her lying down on a bed, just like I imagine the country lying down in a splendid cradle. The mulatto is femininity and Brazil is the most feminine country in the world.”
The woman is rendered in bold, geometric lines, reminiscent of Cubism. Her breasts are conical, her feet and hands are clearly oversized. She is voluptuous, exuding strength and resilience, but also harmony, as she blends in easily with the lush setting. Behind her, the green and yellow hues remind us of the national flag of Brazil. As Di Cavalcanti envisioned it, the woman captures Brazil’s strong femininity.