The Plastic Arts and Brazil – Part 1: Jean Baptiste Debret and Brazil

By befree

When we think about Brazil and Rio de Janeiro, most people think about beaches, soccer and samba… What a lot of people do not know is that Brazil is home of a huge number of very talented artists, from painters, to sculptors, actors, musicians… It is a very long list.

In this series of articles we are going to explore each week a different plastic artists that had Brazil and Rio de Janeiro as protagonists in their work, looking for to explore this very protagonism while also studying their biography and relationship with Brazil.

Our first artist, although not brazilian, has contributed a lot to the arts field in Brazil, no only through his work, but also in the legacy that he left in the brazilian’s people imaginary about their own history, just as through the institutions the he help to found and even direct.

Today, we present you, Jean Baptiste Debret

Debret was born in April 18th of 1768 in Paris, son of member of the french parliament, and has attended his family’s tradition as an engineer in the revolutionary France, but his true calling was in arts, were dedicate a good amour of his carrier to paints of Napoleon, what was very common in his days, since Bonaparte himself was a great patron of neoclassic art.

With the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the neoclassic artists lost a good amount of their ideological and financial support and for Debret was an even darker time than most, since he’s 19 years old only son had just died.. In 1816 however, was been organized in Paris an Artistic Mission towards Brazil, that had as the main objective the founding of a Royal Academy of Fine Arts

And so, Debret shipped in 1816, arriving in Rio de Janeiro still on that year, coinciding his arrival with the funeral of D. MaryI, mother of D. John VI, now king. So, it was up to him to portray both the funeral of the queen and the acclamation of the new king, what gave him a certain favor of the court.

Even after D.John VI left Brazil and the independence happened, Debret remained in Rio de Janeiro and in the period between 1826 to 1831 he became professor of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts and began traveling all over Brazil, portraying the people, their culture, traditions, the plants and animals of the land. In 1828, he became director of the academy and in 1829 Debret organized the first public open art exposition in Brazil, exposing his students work.

Debret left Brazil in 1831, due health problems. Back in France in 1834 he begins to produce and release his book “Viagem Pitoresca e Histórica ao Brasil”, a collection of his work with commentaries for each painting, all relate to the animals, landscape, plants and people of Brazil. Debret has come to pass in 1848 having 80 years old.

Although his collection had not made a lot of success back in his homeland on his days it’s thanks to him that the brazilians and international historians could recover a good amount of information about the everyday life and the relationship between the people during colonial and Imperial Brazil, the kind of information that you wont find in the classical and traditional historical documents.

Besides, there is no adult or child in Brazil that do not know the work of Debret from their history books, portraying mainly the everyday life of the tribes of natives and the slaved black people, although scenes portraying the nobility and court were not strange to him.

The legacy of Debret and his students can be seen nowadays in Rio de Janeiro in the National Fine Arts Museum

That’s all for this week. Next week, we’ll be back exploring the life and work of another very important plastic artist to the brazilian and carioca culture: Master Valentim.

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