The time of Victor Meirelles and the city of Florianópolis

Sandra Makowiecky

MAKOWIECKY, Sandra. The time of Victor Meirelles and the city of Florianópolis. 19&20, Rio de Janeiro, v. III, issue 4, October 2008. Available at: <>. [Português]

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What did happen in Europe in the time of Victor Meirelles?

The transition of the 19th century to the 20th century was a time of profound contrasts in Europe: the technique rapidly progressed, but the industrial development was seen with reservation, especially by artists who did not gladly accepted the new possibilities of  expressions offered by the industrial revolution. The nostalgia for the past, awakened by the Industrial Revolution, given origin to many styles - the “neos” -, was nothing else but the reflex of indecision and insecurity of the European society in front of the watched transition. The European artists, unsatisfied, tried new ways to art, so the creation could be inserted in all forms of the modern life. This search was seen in all fields. The art nouveau was a movement of this time that received many denominations, according to the region where tried to reconcile art and technique, trying to create original forms that could be adapted to the materials of the time, like iron, for instance. In effect, people lived with:

1 - Neoclassicism and its return to classic antiquity.

2 - Naturalism: the expression d’après nature designates all work of art inspired or even copied directly from nature. By extension, the naturalism may be defined as the aesthetic doctrine that searches direct inspiration from nature and reproduces it with fidelity. It does not imply, however, in accurate copy of nature, but its interpretation through the artist’s sensibility. It must not, either, confuse it with realism. This opposes such to naturalism as neoclassicism, been the artistic representation of nature things as they presents themselves in reality, in opposition to idealism which efforts are to present them as conceives the spirit or the imagination. In Brazil, the main naturalists reunited around Georg Grimm, who was, however, more of a realist.

3 - Realism - the painting, essentially objective art, consists in the representation of real existing things. The beauty is not in the characteristic, but in truth, affirmed Gustave Courbet, who publishes, in 1855, the Realist Manifest. Almost in the same time, the first photographs are exposed in international fairs. The photography puts in question the unique character of the work of art, in the same way realism put in question the nobility of themes of the official art. In fact, between 1848 and 1855, Courbet exposed in the Salon paintings that were a scandal to the public, the critics and the official means, because there were workers, peasants, everyday life and popular scenes, habits scenes painted in them. Realism in Brazil differs a lot from its European matrix, characterizing itself, truthfully, as a thoughtful observation of the real (especially in the landscape), been frequently confused by naturalism and, in last instance, academicism[1]

4 - Impressionism: still seized by nature and the feelings awakened by it, the impressionists try to capture in their canvas the fugitive, the ephemeral and the fleeting of outdoor life. They express the water’s movement, the lights reflex, the image’s dissolution, the smoke of an arriving train at the station, the fog over the river, the indefinition in outlining the figures that move themselves in the stage, in the ball, in the grass or in the race track. This is about painting what is not repeated, the instant. Against the social rhetorical of the realists, they replaced the subject by the motif.

5 - Eclecticism: the eclectic artist is the one that affiliates simultaneously too many schools, or that, not affiliating to none of them, searches for inspiration in many diverse fountains relating to style. The eclecticism is not necessarily a pejorative expression and the behavior entailed to it blossoms mainly in times of transition or artistic indefinition. In the absence of new aesthetic styles, the eclecticism resurrects styles from the past. In Brazil, the academic eclecticism with elements of naturalism invigorated between 1870 and 1922, this means, between the exhaustion of the proposals started with the installation of the Imperial Academy and the modernism.

What was happening in Brazil in the time of Victor Meirelles?

The beginning of the 20th century is marked by the arrival of the Portuguese royal family and Rio de Janeiro is technologically (cleaning measures, electrification) and aesthetically (urban reformulation, landscaping) organized. This way Brazil goes from a mere colonial emporium to the provisory headquarters of a belated mercantile empire. Therefore, there was the need of reorganization of the new metropolitan headquarter, which took to measures as the hiring of a French artists mission, who brought to a catholic, monarchic and tropical, the French aesthetic doctrines of the neoclassic. The mission arrived in Brazil in 1816 and, from that on, Brazil received strong European culture influence, which started to assimilate and imitate. In 1826 was founded the Arts Imperial Academy and School[2].

The aesthetics, fruit of nationalists ideals, will search a didactic sense, patriot, heroic and political themes. The artists return to classical antiquity, searching in the Greek and Roman models the balance that suited a non religious society, free from the ideals of the Counter-Reform’s church and wishing the European magnificence, searching by all means. The influence of the academicism in Brazilian art is still visible today, especially in its strongest intuitions: education, official mecenate and art market.

The academicism was a closed, authoritarian and powerful system, which involved all art circuit. The neoclassicism brought to Brazil by the French Artistic Mission served as basis to the implementation of the art’s system. With this system, education’s rules and laws were created, ranking genders and themes, imposing Europeans models and hindering the most the contact with Brazilian reality.

Through the travel to Europe prizes, given initially by the Academy, in internal concourses, and next in the General Exhibitions, this bond with the colonial artistic homeland was reinforced. The scholarship owners received precise instructions about what to see and what to do, the academic masters who should be their teachers, the museums masterpieces that should be copied, etc. Back to Brazil, proved their good use, they were nominated teachers. It was kept this way, without ruptures, the functioning of the academic system. It is in this context that the work of Pedro Américo and Victor Meirelles de Lima(1832-1903) is situated, Brazilian painters who studied in the Art National Academy.

Many attempts to change this situation were made. Araújo Porto Alegre, the first Brazilian to assume the Imperial Academy direction, in 1854, sketched a reform with nationalists’ colors[3]. The academicals controlled also the Crafts and Arts Space, the Pinacotheque of the State of São Paulo, the National Museum of Art and influent institutions as the Arts Brazilian Society. They controlled, until recently, the National Salon, hindering the access of young artists to the prize of a foreign travel. The academic power had its agents in the art critic (see thee famous polemics between the defenders of Pedro Américo and Victor Meirelles when of the public presentation of the giant canvases about the battles of the Avaí and the Guararapes), mecenate, as the own Emperor D. Pedro II, and gallerists.  And there was also audience. Still today is amazing the number of visitors of the General Exhibitions, which reached in its 22a edition (1871) 63.59 people. This explains equally the popular success of artists as Antônio Parreiras, who flooded the country with his historical works, elected in 1925, in national concourse, as the greater Brazilian painter.

But there is another academic art, which has nothing to do with neoclassicism, the eclecticism and other isms, that existed in Brazil still in the past century. This other academicism, the one of today, is only a thematic art, technically and formally belated. Although has prestige in some kind of parallel circuit, which involves artists, market, critics, exposition places, a loyal and resourceful audience, but not very much educated about contemporary art, all this discharging strong underground strength over the Brazilian cultural field. This subject deserves more profound studies.

In Brazil, in the end of the last century, with the ascension of the wealth represented by the Amazon rubber, by the coffee in São Paulo a by the agriculture in the fields of Minas Gerais, the travels to Europe multiply. Collectors with eclectic taste appear, stimulated by mundane habits and practices of the Parisian Belle Époque. They begin to be interested in Rodin, in the symbolists, realists, impressionists, post-impressionists, rejecting the academic painting, of hard interpretation.

The Belle Époque is, in reality, a state of mind that came out in some moment of the life of determined country. In Brazil, it was set between 1889 (Republic’s Proclamation) and 1922 (Modern Art Week). The artist of this time, in participating of shows in Europe, studying or just looking at catalogs, was in contact with the mixing of styles and, pressed by the demands of the market or by free will, chose eclecticism. In this sense is said that the Belle Époque is about a specific social class, bourgeoisie, and only at this it makes sense.

As consequence of the installing of the Portuguese Court and the academical education, we may point out: the formalism started to dominate education in the patterns of the neoclassical spirit; Rio de Janeiro went through great modifications which changed the urban landscape and came to influence many regions of Brazil; there was a true cut in the colonial tradition of baroque roots; our artistic field stays in contact with European art; there was a change of clients in art, which changed from religious themes and began to interest civilians and the State, among others.

Florianópolis and Victor Meirelles

Who knows how many of these infantile visitors will keep such a profound impression of what they observed, that still will come, someday, attracted by it to make part f our national communion?

Victor Meirelles[4]

Victor Meirelles de Lima, one of the biggest exponents of this time and considered by many as the greatest Brazilian painter of the 19th century, was born in the small town of Nossa Senhora do Desterro, today named Florianópolis, in August 18th, 1832, son of Portuguese immigrants, whom still in childhood spent his time drawing figures and landscapes of his idyllic island. He died in Rio de Janeiro in 1903, February 22nd.

The vocation precociously revealed was stimulated by his parents and supported by official authorities of the time: when he was fourteen years old he won a scholarship to attend the Imperial Academy of Art classes, in Rio de Janeiro, and when he was twenty years old, with the painting São João Batista no Cárcere - 1852, when he won the Special Prize Tavel to Europe. Back in Brazil was favored with the title Cavaleiro da Ordem da Rosa and nominated professor of painting at the Academy.

From then on his name would be transformed in one of the biggest expressions of Visual Arts in Brazil, in the 19th century. Author of the most popular Brazilian painting the First Mass in Brazil [Primeira Missa no Brasil] - reproduced in school copybooks, stamps, bills, art books, catalogs and magazines, Victor Meirelles left an extraordinary collection, meticulous sketches, studies in paper and oil on canvas. To Aguillar (2000), this work was also the main responsible for the unmatchable prestige that reached the Brazilian visual arts in the second half of the 19th century. It is possible to say that this scenario started the brilliant period of the easel painting in Brazil.

He began his artistic studies around 1845, with the geometrical drawing teacher, the Argentinean engineer Marciano Moreno. Jerônimo Coelho, Empire advisor at the time, was impressed with his drawings and showed them to the director of the Art Academy of the time, Félix Émile Taunay, who approved them right away. It is from this period a landscape he made from Desterro (in watercolor) and that is in the current collection of the Victor Meirelles museum (Figure IV - 13). In 1847, fifteen uncompleted years old, he was transferred to Rio de Janeiro, enters in the Imperial Academy of Arts, where attends drawing and historical painting classes. In the next year, in 1848, he wins the great medal and brings it to his parents, visiting Florianópolis, when was painting a panorama of the Desterro, seen in the Nossa Senhora do Rosário Church’s atrium, restored in 1986, and that is now in the collection of the museum that has his name. Between 1853 and 1856, due the prize Travel to Europe, he studies in Rome and then continues his improvement in the Pariss Art School. The Ticiano, Paolo Veronese, Giorgione, Tiepolo’s paintings from the Venetian school snatched Victor, with their variety and intensity in the chromatic range. During this time out of the country he keeps in touch with the painter Manuel Araújo Porto Alegre, who became his friend and advisor. For Porto Alegres advice he went to the portrait field wishing to make money, for he always loved landscapes.

Porto Alegre wrote to him:

As a practical man and as particular, I strongly recommend the portrait’s study, because it is from it you will have the most gain in your life: our land is not ready for your great painting yet. The artist here must be a duality: painting for himself, for his glory and make portraits to the man who needs to make a living (apud SALGUEIRO, 1980, p.39).

In portrait he revealed unmatchable qualities, been one of the greatest portrait makers in Brazil, reaching some pictorial humanization. His portraits live, speak, move. However, the acknowledgement of his work is not unanimous. The most frequent critics to him is that he was as academic painter, serving the court, and been academic did not bring stylistic contributions, though he lived in a time when many innovations started to appear, as the own paradigmatical rupture done by Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin. I stand out in the artist his sensitive and humanist vision and above all, exceptional drawer, having been also a reporter of his time.

As a good accomplisher of his duties, he always remits to the Academy, famous works copies and also original compositions, as an obligation of all scholarship owners outside the country. Devoted and exemplary student, he was always complimented for the rigidity he fulfilled his duties. He returns to Brazil in 1861, 29 years old. His education is complete within the neoclassicism model and with romantic interferences. He was able to execute his grandiose work. In the next year he is nominated landscape and historical painting professor at the Imperial Academy of Art, job where he remained until 1890[5].

He does historical paintings about the Paraguay War. In 1879 his painting Batalha dos Guararapes is presented in the General Exhibition of Art, besides Pedro Américo’s Batalha do Avaí. Pedro Américo and Victor Meirelles are, without a doubt, the two greatest names in the visual arts in Brazil at this time. The comparison between the two paintings raises polemic in the audience and the press. In 1889 he receives the gold medal for his Panorama do Rio de Janeiro in the Pariss Universal Exposition. Some dates are representative to stand the artist’s importance.

In 1952, in Florianópolis, occurs the foundation of the Victor Meirelles Museum in the residence where the artist was born. This museum already received a study in the master’s graduation dissertation of Teresinha Sueli Franz (1996), named “Revealing the Victor Meirelles museum towards the discovery of its pedagogical potential and the visual arts education in Florianópolis”[6].

In 1982, on the occasion of the artist’s 150th birthday is launched the book Victor Meirelles de Lima (1832-1903), by Angelo de Proença Rosa and others. In 1992 is created the Victor Meirelles Salon, at the Santa Catarina Art Museum and in 1996 is launched the video Victor Meirelles Quadros da História (Victor Meirelles History Pictures), by Alberto Pena Filho.

We may say that Victor Meirelles participated of the neoclassicism, academicism and romanticism and his tendency was in the Historical, Landscape, Portrait, Nude, Marine, Figure, Sacred, Gender and Mythological paintings.

It is worthy citing some critical sayings, which are a synthetic reading of his work.

Meireles had studied in the Rio de Janeiros Art Academy, which was marked by French teachers who had come in 1816, of good neoclassical branch. But the years he passed in Rome […] made him to get in touch with the so called “purist” painting - art in which the drawing is more fragile, tenuous and delicate than the one from the David’s inaugurated tradition, art that softens the neoclassical anatomical vigor in benefit of simplified bodies, art whose color are softened and where an internal geometry presides the composition - , geometry of tranquil balance. [...] In the Pio 9th’s Rome, the neoclassical formation attenuated, spiritualized itself, acquiring a definitive way of being that his Parisian’s period did not know to erase. All these principles appear clearly in the First Mass, whose project was of establishing a harmonical and spiritual moment, where opposite worlds were concentrated (COLI, 1998, p.107-121).

Victor Meirelles was saluted by the most conservative critic - Araújo Vianna, for instance, proclaimed him “a culminant and immortal individuality in the national painting” - and denied by the modern art followers. In fact he did not assimilate the new tendencies of the 19th century: progressed over the academicism of the French Mission for having searched inspiration in the land and in the race and having been motivated by the heathen, whether in the First Mass in Brazil, whether in other paintings - presence of the Indianism, which was one of the literary romanticism’s characteristic in Brazil. Accurate in the observation, he flees the conventional rules to build his own laws. He did not stay prisoner of the Academy, because the feeling and the poetry hover in his paintings, above conventions. More of an emotional than cerebral, he constituted the replica to Pedro Américo (KELLY, 1979, p.553).

For the first time since Debret, the State ordered artists big dimensions paintings, seeking create a set of images from the events of war to be left to the next generations. The paper of the historical painting in education and creation of the national conscience finally had become the institution’s patrimony. Victor Meirelles and Pedro Américo were the protagonists of this change […] With the fall of the monarchic regimen and the Republic’s Proclamation, in 1889, appear the cultural renewal expectations. […] Victor Meirelles was the only artist to be left aside by the regimen, which identified him as the official painter of monarchy. Although he was surrounded by the admiration that he knew how to earn from students and what made of him a reference point to the more sensitive artists of the younger generation. Imitating the example of Gerveaux in Paris, Meirelles created in 1885 a Panoramas Company of Rio de Janeiro City, recruiting contributor partners and improvising himself as a manager. The panorama painting, showing not only the beauty, but the urban and industrials development degree of the capital, it had to serve as Brazils propaganda along the future Europeans emigrates, which should satisfy the free labors demand provoked by the already imminent abolition of slavery. The first Rio de Janeiros panorama, from which rest only six studies in the MNBA, was executed by the artist in Brussels and exposed in the Belgium capital and in Paris, in the occasion of the Universal Exposition of 1889. Meirelles also, therefore, searched an alternative to historical painting and to the official demands, that soon the Republic would deny (MIGLIACCIO, 2000, p.109-110,150).

Victor Meirelles’ favorite themes were the historical, biblical and landscapes. His production was kept faithful to the neoclassical principles. He was an extraordinary drawer and had huge skills to paint landscapes. He preferred colored drawings and today has been recognized as one of the greatest drawers we already had. His work values more the line, the trace. In formal aspects, his work presents ecstatic composition, clear and defined colors, valorization of the drawing, symmetry and balance. We may also say that he had a careful and agile drawing, vigorous brushstrokes, color intuition and the science of composition.

But Victor Meirelles also did formidable panoramas. The panorama is constituted by a great landscape disposed in a rotative circle in which the spectator is situated in the middle of the circle, in a small platform. In this position he would have the global vision of the exhibited panorama.

About the relation of Victor Meirelles with panoramas, Carlos Rubens, his biographer, writes:

Victor Meirelles had the emotional fascination of the panoramas. He liked the city’s immense scenarios, the vision of the metropolis like asleep in the turmoil of the architectonical irregularity, the diverse colors of the houses, the big masses that the perspective puts in distance and the paints set in its exact values (RUBENS, 1945, p.133).

From a total of three panoramas, little remained. They are: the one of Rio de Janeiro itself, the one from the ruins of the Villegaigon fortress and the one of the First Mass in Brazil. The one from Rio de Janeiro, with big proportions and which was exhibited in Europe and Rio de Janeiro was entirely destroyed; we have only six studies of it. One study remains for the one of the Villegaigon fortress and a sketch of the First Mass in Brazil. The panoramas remained without shelter and rapidly deteriorated.

Victor Meirelles was in the apex of his career when decided to dedicate to the Rio de Janeiros panorama. This gender of painting was constant in his work, because the first works he did were two views from his homeland, Desterro. The first [Figura 1], was one of the artist’s work, then fourteen years old, enchanted the Court’s advisor Jerônimo Coelho, and was his passport to the Imperial Academy of Art, in Rio de Janeiro.

Every year, Victor Meirelles returned from Rio de Janeiro to his homeland and at these times he did its portrait [Figura 2, Figura 3, Figura 4 e Figura 5].

The painting of Figura 3 was done when Victor Meirelles was fifteen years old, in 1847, showing his technical improvement reached already in his first year in Rio de Janeiro.

Later, before going to Europe, in 1851, he painted the picture named A street from Desterro [Figura 5], João Pinto Street, and old Augusta Street; after that he dedicated more to the figure and historical painting. Although this gender also suited the landscape, he only returned to the panoramas in the last two decades of his life.

On the foreword of the book “Victor Meirelles de Lima 1832-1903”[7], Alcídio Mafra de Souza refers him as: “The painter of a street from Destero”. He says:

He met success and neglect. He lived days of glory and days of pain and anguish - what in reality was not his privilege, but fruit of the own human condition. He did not spread happiness anymore when he passed away, in 1903. He was as poor then as when he left Nossa Senhora do Destero - what is a paradox - he, who had enriched the nation with the so celebrated works of art (SOUZA in ROSA, 1982, p.13-4) .

Victor Meirelle may be the most popular painter in Brazil, thanks to the painting The First Mass in Brazil, mainly, which made his name familiar. We believe that in the landscapes and the panorama studies, his pictorial science is used to set the immanent poetry to the nature’s spectacles. However there are only studies left from the panoramas, everything makes believe that he tried to surpass the increasing sophistication of the photographical art, such his determination and dedication. This may explain the meticulous preparation, the rigorous naturalist technique in the recollection of the visual data and his acknowledged academic competence. “Enchantment by what he sees and fidelity to what he sees. This will be his swan’s chant” (SOUZA, 1982, p.15).

According to Elza Ramos Peixoto (1982), Victor Meirelles was a predecessor of art as way to divulging and education, because when he mounted the Empresa de Panoramas da cidade do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro city’s Panoramas Company), his intention was that these paintings, while presented in Europe, showed not only the Empire’s capital beauty as also the urban, commercial and industrial development degree and which should serve as emigrant’s propaganda in the time that Brazil started the slavery abolition. He wanted foreigners to know the capital and admire not only our nature’s unequal beauty as the advancement degree that the Empire’s capital had already reached, considering the great number of beautiful edifications represented in the paintings.

He lead his works thinking about doing our land properly known and appreciated in the old world, because as Peixoto says: “He was hurt when realizing the complete ignorance that Europeans had then towards Brazil(1982, p.109). He argued that United States could improve its colonization through a big painting exhibited in London. With these goals he started the panoramas and completed the work publishing three meticulous folders, in which he explains, in a diffuse and detailed manner, these entire panoramass history, as well as the detailed description of big part of the geographical accidents in the ones represented. “Who knows how many of these child visitors will keep such profound impression of what they saw there, that someday will come to make part of our national communion attracted by them?” (MEIRELLES apud PEIXOTO, 1982, p.109).

For Peixoto (1982), it seems not to have any doubts that Victor Meirelles used art then as auxiliary of education, trying to attract to his exhibition students and young people so to acquire new knowledge. That is what he did in one exhibition in Brussels, in 1888, in presence of kings and diplomats, being that the exhibition remained open to the public and received more than 50.000 visitors. To the numerous students from public and private schools he defended the concession of advantages reducing the price of the exhibition’s tickets, so they would get to know and love the Brazilian land and could see a little of the art that was done here. In fact, this is what is done modernly in museums and the vision of Victor Meirelles was beyond his time. In contrary of the exotic travelers, who saw this country with their eyes, and wanted to show outside the exotic and beautiful that existed here, Victor Meirelles had social and economical worries and altruistic and patriotic goals. At this time the panoramas had entered in the sphere of publicity of the great International Exhibitions. Other writers, as Franz (1996), also agreed about this artist been a predecessor of the use of art as educational factor between us.

About the panoramas destiny, we have to say that they reached success in Europe[8]. In Brazil, he shows the panorama of the Baía e cidade do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro city and bay) in 1890, but this happening did not have the favorable repercussion that would be wished for, whether in artistic fields, whether in officials. Peixoto (1982) also informs that this a 115m length rotative panorama, showed in a rotund of the Praça Quinze and then transferred to Santa Luzia Street. 

The picturesque and panoramic Brazil was then, finally, the open country to all nationalities, understanding seductive images spread outside the country to the immigration and historical formation of all nations. 

About the panoramas destruction, there is a large mail between competent authorities in the sense of preserving and keeping them in proper place, but nothing effective was done. The panoramas dismounted occupied an enormous area and it was impossible to keep them in any place. Besides, they needed maintenance and special care.

Before departing, soon after finishing the last panorama, neglected and forgotten, Meirelles gave the government the panoramas, which proposed to install them in the old Imperial state. They were left, rolled up as they were, in a flooded area in a swamp. Over the rolls they put used zinc tiles. Then, along time, they disappeared (GUIMARÃES, 1977, p.129).

Salgueiro (1980) also says that with time passing, the panoramas were slowly and mysteriously disappearing, because they were forgotten in the Quinta. We know that, in 1910, João José da Silva, the conservative of the Art School, went to inspect the place; he verified that they were precariously kept in enormous 18 meters boxes. They were removed, rolled up in sailcloth and abandoned outdoors. It was considered to make a fire with them. Others believe they were cut into pieces to serve as furniture and other transported materials covers. It is believed even that part of them was thrown in the sea.

When Peixoto (1982) studied this subject profoundly, he heard from contemporary artists that “the paintings that constituted the great Rio de Janeiros panorama ended deteriorating completely, been later retaliated and used by carriers of the so called “swallows” to cover the merchandise they carried” (PEIXOTO, 1982, p.112).

In this sad and melancholic way, we saw one of the greatest plastic works already produced in Brazil and by a Brazilian and catarinense to get loose in disregard and ignorance.

Today, only by imagination and recurring to the studies that remained, we can dare to come close of what intended Victor Meirelles with his mastery and ingeniousness. The drawing, the color, the light, the symphony of colors, finally, the dream of one of the biggest artists of this country got lost, as many others.  

So we can have a slight notion, the reproduction of one of the studies to the Rio de Janeiro city’s panorama (figure 6). Only six studies left, which are monumental and allow seeing how the final result became.

To this work, what matters most is the city of Florianópolis, in Victor Meirelles vision. He did not write a lot about this land. But there are records of what he thought and felt by other authors, especially Alcídio Mafra de Souza, great studious of his work. E for such we may also speak of the Victor Meirelles times Florianópolis, descript by Sara Regina Silveira de Souza (in ROSA, 1982).

The Victor Meirelles’s city

Nossa Senhora do Desterro presented a normal development to a city of its size, already around the 19th century. It developed connected to the fountains of water and along the harbor, squeezed between the Antão Hill and the sea, with its two bays: the North one and the South one. The urban center developed along the South Bay. The streets left from the plaza, known as “Largo da Matriz, in this space was located the Government House, the Chamber and Jail house, besides one or two store buildings, the Market and the Customhouse, these by the beach.

Until 1837, the city did not have lightning and later appeared the lamps, sustained with whale oil. The city’s architecture did not differ from the others in Brazil. Comparing the Brazilian cities construction, we may perceive the same constructive outline. However, because it is a poor region, its constructions were simple, coming from the traditional “door and window” to the townhouse, more refined and that prevailed along the harbor.

The first floor of the townhouse was destined to commerce and the above to living. In the middle of the 19th century began to appear the platibandas and balustrades and tiled houses are rare, but present.  

The streets were not paved nor had name indication. They were known by oral tradition. In the side of the city that was turned to the North Bay, beyond forts, there were only some small farms, usually the second house, to where they transferred for resting purposes.

Equally, this habit spread and is perpetuated to this day. First they went to the continent, with houses in Coqueiros and Itaguaçú and today are beach houses, distributes around the whole island.

Navigation was facilitated by the harbor and commerce was reasonable. “We used to eat and drink well at Desterro, once importation was normal and foreign articles were sold in any store or small shop” (SOUZA in ROSA, 1982, p.23). In the arts, the city also projected. Desterro had some piano and chant schools, musical societies, the São Pedro de Alcântara Theater. The public library was created in 1854 and we had poets like Virgílio Várzea, Luiz Delfino and Cruz e Souza. The ones that were born and grew up at this time, were raised between white walls, glass windows and ocher tiles, says Sara Regina. In the plastic arts, only Victor Meirelles stands out.

From the townhouse of the Pedreira Street, the boy Victor visualized the small city with its no trees squares, its church on the top of a small elevation, watching, down there, the sea bringing the whaleboats of the men from far away places. In his child’s eyes, around the fourth decade of the last century, passed only people, the sea, horses trotting, the houses very gathered and very white, the roofs, the world that was yours. But his eyes also saw the green of the hill’s vegetation, The sea’s greenish blue of the two bays, the amazing golden pink of the sunset at the island-city. The little artist’s eyes began, then, to combine the people, the houses, the natures and colors and starts to show the Nossa Senhora do Desterro city in drawings and paintings […] Victor, even far away, is going to have the city in his retina, specially the colors that involve this small paradise in the South of Brazil (SOUZA in ROSA, 1982, p.25).

For this author, the artist’s world was a beauty and enchantment world. The nest citation is about the islander, and is related to Victor Meirelles’s connection with his city and with the isolation that characterizes it.

The islander has to be inventive, fulfill his provisions; son of geographical solitude for a large virtuality that endows everything… then, the isolation conserves pure forms and lost or changed in other places traditions. They evolve, undoubtedly, but remain down deep the same, no mixing of strange elements (RIBEIRO apud SOUZA in ROSA, 1982, p.25).

Some studious in Brazil dedicated to exclusively study Victor Meirelles’s work, like Alcídio Mafra de Souza, Ângelo de Proença Rosa, Elza Ramos Peixoto, Donato Mello Júnior, Argeu Guimarães, Teodoro Braga, Carlos Rubens, among others. This is not the intention here, despite the text being long. We are mainly pointing out the landscapes subject and the artist’s connection with the city, but are inevitable to highlight his life’s aspects, due the relevance.

In Alcídio Mafra de Souza we found a text that speaks about his connection with the city:

He have to live a lot away from it by career and artistic life’s imposition,. However, he always loved it and, although directly, very little he had registered it in his work, indirectly he showed it in the majority of his compositions. He brought it, always alive in his memory - remembrance that points out in almost all his work - recreated in other scenarios and that only the same born in the island and familiar with its beautiful aspects realize. They are beauty chants never seen in other places: beach pieces licked by the sea or sky’s pieces, where birds fly (SOUZA in ROSA, 1982, p.14).

We clearly remember a speech watched when still art student, done by Alcídio Mafra de Souza, when he was the National Museum of Art director and while speaking about Victor Meirelles’s work, he did an analysis of the life and works of the artist. When approaching the famous painting First Mass in Brazil, he showed, in the slide, that one of the hills that appear in the back has the same morphological formation as our Antão hill. We were very impressed and now, reading again his work, the analysis and the way Gombrich approaches representation, we see how this makes sense. “The artist does not paint what he sees, but what he knows”.

Besides been an applied student, the determined artist who dominated technique like a few others, he was the one who idealized of an icon in the Brazilian nationality construction. His painting First Mass In Brazil, so many times misunderstood, precisely for the lack of knowledge in art and times context, not always had the right analysis. The ignorance in art prevents people from realizing that a thought’s construction system happens less through history visible objects, than by vestiges left by this object. And this painting left much more - we may say he is a portrait of Brazils birth. Jorge Coli says:

The Discovery of Brazil was an invention of the 19th century. I was a result of the solicitations done by the increasing romanticism and by the project of national construction that was then been talked. Art and science, in an intricate process, manufactured mythological “realities” that had, and still have, long and persistent life. Victor Meirelles painting, portraying the first mass in Brazil, as well as was described by Pero Vaz de Caminha, is a very expressive episode in these processes.  He mostly made that the discovery became concrete and was definitely installed in our culture’s interior (1998, p.107).

For Coli, the responsible ones for these ideas were the historians, who with their work, scientifically fundament a wished “truth”, and, by the other side, the artist’s activity, generator of beliefs that would incarnate in a body of collective conventions.

In relation to the critics he received, for been conservative, for not follow the impressionist influences, for going on loyal to the academy, we have to think that in a general way, the critic done this way is searching paradigms. The Brazilian “lookof this time did not know impressionism neither the avant-garde movements that were appearing in Europe. This man had to paint thinking about the eye that will see that painting in Brazil and not the eye that is watching European movement. So that is that impressionism only comes to Brazil around 1900. How would they want for this artist, in 1860, to establish breakings? He did a lot already in changing the central axis of the composition. It is demanded from him things that he did not want to do. This was not in his desire, neither in his perception of the world. The prejudice look over historical painting is also a cultural look impregnated by modernism culture, which installed the rupture as supreme principle, devaluating history and searching originality by all means.

What we intend to point out in this study is that Victor Meirelles grows with the fact of been also one of the first ones, if not the first Brazilian artist to elect the city as theme to his work and treat it as a theme.

Landscape is always present in the historical paintings he made, nevertheless his spontaneous vocation was for panoramas, it means, the urban landscape with detailed study of houses, buildings. The structuralism of his composition’s forms is always inside a context of space-landscape, and from very early the surrounding environment fascinated him. The streets and houses occupied his attention and a descriptive historical character is found in his indefatigable research.

Contempt is still with this artist’s memory. In a report of the Diário Catarinense newspaper, named “The illustrious address that may become dust” (2002), divulged the new that the house situated at Benjamin Constant Street, number 30, in the Glória suburb, South Zone from Rio de Janeiro, where the plastic artist lived in the period of 1890 to 1903, is not tumbled by the Historical Patrimony and may be demolished at any time. The place, a little townhouse, is today property of the National Edition Company, is closed for 18 years and now was put for sale.

The report says that in one of the rooms of the house, a series of marine paintings calls attention, that at first sight they remember fishing boats. Despite suggesting that this would be the representation of homeland longing, the old Desterro city, today Florianópolis, there are no confirmations that the piece has really been done by Victor Meirelles. In fact, nothing was found about the researched material, but that is how history is done. And what if this is from Victor Meirelles, will we loose it too? The building is in abandonment, been a gorgeous work of Brazilian architecture from the Second Reign posterior period, bringing in the style traces from the buildings constructed between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

Certainly if Victor Meirelles had lived longer here, in Florianópolis, we would have from this town one of the most fascinating urban records in the history of Brazil. Despite the amount that was lost, this is irrecoverable loss; his works are still among us.


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ALVES, Uelinton Farias. O endereço ilustre que pode virar pó. Jornal Diário Catarinense. Florianópolis, caderno de cultura, 2 de dez. de 2002.

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CAMPOFIORITO, Quirino. História da pintura brasileira no século XIX. Rio de Janeiro: Pinakoteke, 1983.

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__________. Revelando o museu Victor Meirelles rumo à descoberta do seu potencial pedagógico e à educação em artes visuais em Florianópolis. 1996. 103f. Dissertação (Mestrado em Educação) - Universidade Federal do Paraná, Curitiba.

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[1] The realism of Courbet, Daumier and Millet does not have here followers, simply because there were social-economics conditions very different in our country from France. We remind that in the landscape, the realism would be showed first, though with evident limitations, almost only in a final phase in the work of Almeida Júnior, when he portraits Brazilian themes as Caipira picando fumo, from 1893, for example.

[2] Conceived from the arrival of the French Artistic Mission in 1816, the Arts Imperial Academy goes through many changes until to be consolidated under rigid neoclassical principles brought from Europe. Its state, projected by the architect Grandjean de Montigny, was inaugurated only in 1826. In the administration of Félix Taunay (1834/1851), the Academy acquires its definitive basis through the regulation of the courses, creation of the Arts General Exhibitions, the organization of the pinacotheque and institution of foreign travel prizes. The laws that ruled the pension at the foreign country determined the improvement with academicism consecrated masters, preventing the assimilation of new art tendencies. After the golden age, the direction of Porto Alegre (1854/1857), when artists like Victor Meirelles and Pedro Américo appear, it is evident in the decade of 1880 a crisis in the Academy, expressed by the conflict between “moderns” and “positivists”, which ends in the creation of the Free Atelier in 1888. With the Republic’s Proclamation, happens the Education’s Reform, in 1890, and the Imperial Academy is transformed in National School of Arts, in 1889.

[3] Georg Grimm searched bigger autonomy to the practice of the landscape painting through a direct contact with nature. The polemics between moderns and positivists lead to the creation of the Free Atelier, measure that rushed the 1890 education’s reform. But nothing really threatened the academic field structures. Grimm founded his own outdoor painting group and the transformation of the Imperial Academy into National School did not bring modifications to education. Such as, still in 1931, a students strike obliged Lucio Costa into dismissing himself from the Art National School direction, whose education he tried to renew with the hiring of non-academicals teachers and with the realization of a Revolutionary Salon.

[4] Apud PEIXOTO, 1982, p. 109.

[5] Between his students stood out Antonio Parreiras, Zeferino da Costa, Henrique Bernardelli, Rodolfo Amoedo, Belmiro de Almeida, Oscar Pereira da Silva, Almeida Júnior, Modesto Brocos and Eliseu Visconti. His competence as a professor and master was always recognized.

[6] It is already a published book.

[7] Rosa, Angelo de Proença e outros. Victor Meirelles de Lima (1832-1903). Foreword by Alcídio Mafra de Souza. Rio de Janeiro, Pinakoteke, 1982.

[8] There are transcript telegrams in the journal of commerce of March 14th, 1889, with flattering references to them, this journal commenting that if the carioca wanted to know the panorama even not going to Paris, where it was exhibited in 1889, they should climb the Santo Antônio hill and look down and around, that the illusion is so perfect as the reality of these views.