Romantic Indianism in Brazilian art

Indianism was a nationalist movement in the Brazilian arts characterised by veneration for nature and the creation of the Indian as national hero. The works are set in the early years of the colony when the first settlers began to make contact with the Indians.

The artists were concerned with the creation of a national identity; the Brazilian elite regarded their own country as a cultural backwater and looked to Europe, above all to France, as the model for ‘civilisation’.

Although its origins lie further back, Indianism really flourished in the second half of the 19th century, attracting the greatest artists of the Brazilian romantic school: the painter Victor Meirelles (1832-1903), who painted his Moema, now in the Sao Paulo Art Museum (MASP), in 1866; the novelist José de Alencar (1829-1877), whose Iracema (1865) remains to this day one of the best loved novels in Brazilian literature; the poet Gonçalves Dias (1823-1864), considered by many to be the greatest of all Brazilian poets, whose poems I-Juca-Pirama (1851) and Os Timbiras (1857) vividly depict tribal life at the time of the early settlers; and the composer Carlos Gomes (1836-1896), whose best loved opera Il Guarany (1870) is based on José de Alencar’s Indianist novel of that name.

A hundred and fifty years later, the vision of Indianist romanticism of the grandeur of nature and a people who respected and lived in harmony with it has particular appeal for a generation whose overriding concern is the protection of the environment and its resources.