Fancy Ball, by Rodolpho Chambelland: The figuration of frenzy

Arthur Valle

VALLE, Arthur. Fancy Ball, by Rodolpho Chambelland: The figuration of frenzy. 19&20, Rio de Janeiro, v. III, issue 4, oct. 2008. Translation by Marcelo Hilsdorf Marotta. Acessible in: <> [Português]

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Descrição: Descrição: X:\DEZENOVEVINTE dez. 2015\obras\av_rc_baile_files\tb01.jpg


Oil on Canvas, 149 x 209 cm.

Rio de Janeiro, National Museum of Fine Arts.

                     1.            In the Modern and Contemporary Brazilian Art Gallery of Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum of Fine Arts (NMFA/RJ), it is presently in exhibition a painting with which even the less initiated art connoisseur cannot avoid to be impressed. Getting closer to such a work of remarkable dimensions (149 x 209 cm), a supposed visitor would perceive, in a first moment and with growing clearness, the figures of fancied dancers that, alone or in pairs, seem to agitate frenetically in their eternal immobility. However, when such same visitor narrow sufficiently his distance from the work, the figures would start to dissolve in front of his eyes and would frankly exhibit that with which they are built on: aspersed, sprinkled and scattered paint, thickened with bold strokes of brush and palette knife. In this proximity, our visitor could then read the painting’s tag: it is inscribed on it its title - Fancy Ball [Baile à fantasia - Figure 1] -, as also the name of its author - the painter, decorator and teacher Rodolpho Chambelland (1879-1967).

                     2.            When he painted Fancy Ball, in 1913, Rodolpho - brother of another talented artist native of Rio de Janeiro, Carlos Chambelland -, although was still considered by many critics as a ‘young’ artist, was not, anyhow, a beginner. Former free student of the National School of Fine Arts (NSFA), he conquered, in the 1905’s General Exhibition of Fine Arts, the highest reward that an artist could yearn for in the artistic milieu of Rio de Janeiro - the Voyage Prize to a Foreign Country -, which gave to him a two years stay in Europe, especially in Paris. In 1911, Rodolpho came back to the Old World, as a member of the team of decorators of the Brazilian Pavilion in the Universal Exhibition of Turin, starting, this way, a well-succeeded career as a painter of public decorations. In the General Exhibition of 1912, he won the Gold Medal, with a portrait figuring José Mariano Filho.[1] Lastly, as a corollary of his consecration in the official artistic milieus of the First Republic, Chambelland started to occupy, after a contest made in 1916, the chair of Nude Model Drawing of the NSFA. To win this last Office - in which he substituted his ancient master Zeferino da Costa and which he occupied until his retirement, in 1946 -, certainly contributed the great success that Chambelland acquired with the Fancy Ball, when the painting was exhibited in the General Exhibition of 1913.

                     3.            On the other side the painting that gave to him the refereed Voyage Prize in 1905, entitled Feasting Bacchantes [Bachantes em festa - Figure 2], had not small affinities with Fancy Ball. A work in which Gonzaga Duque, in a praising critic, saw “much talent and not a little quantity of skill,[2] Feasting Bacchantes, as the name itself tells, portrays a group of worshippers of the Greek god Dionysius, called Bacchus by the ancient Romans, dancing in the midst of a sunny landscape. In the time it was made, the work was linked to the already well established genre of ‘neo-Pompeianpaintings and, simultaneously, seems to dialogue with a perceptible tendency in the panorama of Brazilian letters that was defined by the reference to ancient Greece and to paganism as a privileged field for the exhibition of the ideals of moral liberality, perceptible in the writings of authors like Martins Fontes, Raul de Leoni and Alvaro Moreyra.[3] Feasting Bacchantes was anticipating then, eight years before, some of the traces that can be verified in Fancy Ball, either in terms of content, as in terms of composition: it is, for instance, in the characters of Feasting Bacchantes that we shall seek for the precedents of the young girl with the tambourine, which is figured in the extreme left of the Ball.

                     4.            Based on my investigations, it seems that Fancy Ball was not exhibited before the referred General Exhibition of 1913; besides that, the painting does not seem to be the result of any commission. It is probable, therefore, that it was thought of, since the beginning, as a piece that would figurate with distinction in the environment of the ‘Salon’. The Exhibition of 1913’s vernissage occurred in August 30, and it was open to the public in the first of September, with great pomposity, including the presence of the then President of the Republic, the Marshal Hermes da Fonseca. Besides the Fancy Ball, which figured under the number 56 in the exhibition’s catalog, Chambelland exhibited there more two other works, the Portrait of the Doctor A. P. [Retrato do doutor A. P.] (n.57) and the Portrait of the Doctor A. B. [Retrato da doutora A. B.] (n.58). From the beginning, these works, especially the Ball, have mobilized the critic’s attention, as one can easily realize by consulting the periodicals of the time.

                     5.            On the next day after the vernissage, an anonymous commentator of the newspaper The Press [A Imprensa] highlighted the Ball among the paintings of the competition most “worthy of attention.[4] In September 5, the columnist of the section “Art Notes” of the Business Newspaper [Jornal do Commercio] - much probably Carlos Américo do Santos - called the attention, right in the beginning of his series of reviews dedicated to the exhibition of 1913, to Chambellands painting, focusing on his technical bravery and the essential Brazilian character of his subject:

                     6.                                                  Undoubtedly, the painting that more readily strikes and thrills the attention is the so-called “Fancy Ball”, by the young artist Rodolpho Chambelland. It is a powerful note of color, a magnificent specimen of colorist technique made with singular taste and ability.

                     7.                                                  The subject of this painting has great local character, and adapts completely to the treatment that the artist gave to it, who knew how to interpret with so much happiness its popular spirit. It even does not lack the lovely expression and the somewhat erotic feeling of dance.[5]

                     8.            The notorious critic Gonçalo Alves also initiated his series of notes about the ‘Salon’ of 1913 by the paintings of Rodolpho Chambelland. Specifically in relation to the Ball, he wrote the following lines:

                     9.                                                  The third painting (56) is a tumultuous [...] Fancy Ball. It seems that the artist, tired of the tranquility of his models, suffered the impetus of an intimate revolt, and guided himself his brushes’ rebellion. It is a hallucinating canvas. Serpentines, velvets, ermines and confetti, agitate and whirl about. The maxixe drag the pairs to the stage. There is a kind of [unreadable] to the front ground that brings the face triumphantly nude. The rest are under the cares of the precautions of style...

                  10.                                                  [...] Rod. Chambelland gave another interesting document of his great progress. I confess that he pleases me less than any one of the portraits, despite of recognizing the flagrant with which the artist reached the movement of some of the characters of his composition.

                  11.                                                  Rod. Chambelland conquered evidently the empathy of the public with the works exhibited in the present “Salon”. It would be proper, then, par droite de conquête”, to make the first reference in these columns to the works now exhibited.[6]

                  12.            Almost two weeks after the opening of the General Exhibition, the enthusiasm in relation to the Fancy Ball seemed not to have ended. The columnist G. de O., from The Daily Mail [O Correio da Manhã], who saw in Rodolpho and in his brother Carlos, as well as in other painters of his generation, like Arthur Timótheo, Alvim Menge or Luiz Cristophe, “the overall vitality that projects them above the dispute, gave prominence to the victorious reception of the painting:

                  13.                                                  Rodolpho is already throwing himself onto the great jobs where the difficulties are piling up in order that, not seldom, they, conquered, testify his talents of a conscious artist.

                  14.                                                  His Ball has considerable qualities and it would even provoke a page of judicious criticism praising its merits, in the subtle background of some rare defects. He has for this reason the copious and abundant consecration in the admiration and in the applause.[7]

                  15.            But, that ‘consecrationof the Fancy Ball was not limited to the admiration and the applause, equally perceptible in the other critics published at the time. In the September 14, 1913, edition, the same Daily Mail was advertising that the list of works to be purchased by the NSFA, proposed by the General Exhibition’s Directing Commission, had been approved and that the Fancy Ball would be bought for 5:000$000 (five million réis [contos de réis]). Among the paintings purchased on that year - which, being part of the NSFA’s pinacotheca, today are held in the NMFA/RJ -, such quotation was the highest: neither works of renowned masters as Baptista da Costa or Gustavo Dall'Ara had reached such an equal price.[8] Since then the work have being copied and commented with prominence in all the major NMFA’s catalogues, as well as in the most meaningful works of references about Brazilian painting that appeared in the last decades.[9]

                  16.            Much of the immediate appeal that Fancy Ball keeps still today, having passed almost one hundred years of its accomplishment is due to the subject figured in it. Undoubtedly, we can see represented in the painting some particularities of the ancient Carnival that today had fallen into oblivion, both in relation to the fancies (cf. the ‘Dominos’, turned backwards), as well as in relation to the dance steps of the carnival revelers (they dance, as was pointed out by Gonçalo Alves, the maxixe, a rhythm that, in the beginning of the years 1910’s, was still considered polemic due to the nimble and sensual fashion in which it was danced). However, I believe that the frenzy evolution of the figures inside a closed room, studded with confetti and serpentines, can, even then, be easily identified by the majority of today’s connoisseurs.

                  17.            The fact is that the essence of the balls in closed clubs seems to have changed little since the moment in which Chambelland painted his canvas: these balls represented then an already well established tradition, initiated still in the middle of the nineteenth-century, as a kind of reaction by the elite and the middle class to the feasts of the streets, characterized by the little refined play of the oldtime carnival [entrudo]. The contrast between an ‘external’ Carnival, popular and rude, and another ‘internal’, more elitist and refined, was perpetuated through the decades that followed, and it was this later version of the feast that Chambelland choose to fix in his canvas.

                  18.            Beyond its intrinsic qualities, Fancy Ball represents, no doubt, one of the highest points in the relationship between visual arts and Carnival, a relationship that, since the end of the nineteenth-century until the present, has questioned the distinction between erudite and popular art, whose history, I believe, was not completely studied. It is even possible to claim that, at least in the Rio de Janeiro, no other popular feast is so intensely related to the visual arts like Momo’s festivities. More precisely, as Mário Barata well anticipated in a text written almost fifty years ago,[10] that relationship presents two main sides: the first is related to the effective participation of artists in the elaboration of the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro; the second is related to the representation of the Carnival in works of drawing and painting. Here, albeit quickly, I would like to dwell on the two sides of the question.

                  19.            We know that it is from the final years of the Second Regency that start to appear the news of famed artists being hired by clubs, carnival societies or ‘cordõesto decorate the salons, to prepare allegorical vehicles and/or to paint standards. This last activity is the one from which there are more extant records. In the last Imperial Carnival, in 1889, for instance, Rodolpho Amoêdo and Décio Villares made the paintings of standards for two of the most traditional rival carnival societies - respectively, the Devil’s Lieutenants [Tenentes do Diabo] and the Fenians [Fenianos];[11] by doing it, we can say, they were quite anticipating theduelthat they would fight, in the field of ideas, in the occasion of the Reform in the Rio de Janeiros Academy of Arts in 1890. But Amoêdo and Villares were not the only artists of renown who have made standards. As it is listed by the writer Luiz Edmundo, recalling the festivities of the Momo in his youth, “Henrique Bernaredelli, for instance, has painted in his youth several standards like this. Belmiro de Almeida had garb in saying that he painted them. We know, still, many standards being painted by artists as Helios Seelinger, the Timóteo brothers, Chambelland and Fiúza Guimarães.”[12]

                  20.            Besides that, several ‘erudite’ artists had worked, since the first decade of the Republic, as ‘technicians’, the term by which were known, in the epoch, the professionals that were dedicated to the creation and the accomplishment of the processions of carnivals.[13] It was the case of the scenographers of Italian descent Gaetano Carrancini and Oreste Coliva; of the already mentioned Fiúza Guimarães, tireless collaborator for the Fenians; of Púbio Marroig, organizer of the procession of the Democrats [Democráticos];[14] of Modestino Kanto, the Devil’s Lieutenants sculptor and scenographer, who was already much renowned even before of wining the Voyage Prize to a Foreign Country, in the General Exhibition of 1918.[15] André Vento, Manoel Faria, and the inveterate bohemian Calixto (K. Lixto) Cordeiro also acted out as ‘technicians’, among many others.

                  21.            The other side of the relationship between the erudite artists and the feast of Momo referred above, the representation of Carnival in drawings and paintings, is here the matter of my interests more directly. In the field of graphical arts and caricature, for instance, it is well known the long tradition of images that, say, beginning with Jean-Baptiste Debret, crosses the entire nineteenth-century and has one of its high points in the illustrations of Angelo Agostini, an artist born in Italy whom was one of the most prominent figures of Rio de Janeiros press in the ending decades of the nineteenth-century; in several opportunities, Agostini portrayed the Carnival or used it as an instrument to transmit his acid criticisms to the Brazilian political situation. In that same field, it is necessary to remember still the exceptional work of an overall constellation of caricaturists and drawers that, having appeared during the First Republic, dedicated themselves with huge interest to the festivities of Momo. It is worth remembering, in this sense, names as those of Raul Pederneiras, of the referred K. Lixto, J. Carlos, Nono, J. B., Julião Machado and the modernist Di Cavalcanti; Rodolpho Chambelland himself also produced nice illustrations inspired in motives from the Carnival.[16]

                  22.            However, it is more difficult to reconstruct the genealogy of Brazilian paintings which versed about Carnival subjects, once are rare the written references and - still more - the iconographical records of paintings of that genre. Even then, the most probable is that the Fancy Ball was not, in the time it was made, something without precedents. In 1908, for instance, Helios Seelinger exhibited, in an individual show held by the Commercial Museum, a composition entitled Carnival’s Frieze [Frisa carnavalesca], which was commented by Gonzaga Duque in an article of the Kósmos magazine, in which two fragments of the work were reproduced.[17] The choice of the subject by Seelinger was very comprehensible for the Carnival was being adapted itself, almost naturally, to that ‘Pantheistvein which the painter developed in the ateliers that he frequented in Munich since the middle of the years 1890s. On formal grounds, however, the markedly decorative conception of the Carnival’s Frieze by Seelinger stands back from the more ‘realist’ record of Chambellands canvas.

                  23.            Significantly, in the same 1913 ‘Salon’, Arthur Timotheo da Costa exhibited another painting that versed about the Carnival, entitled The Next Day [O Dia Seguinte - Figure 3]. We could say that this work constitutes a true pendant to the Fancy Ball, showing what was continually interpreted as a melancholic moment that happened after the frenzy of Chambellands painting[18] - one of the characters, the Pierrot in white, even seems to be repeated in the two works. It is difficult to say what kind of agreement happened between Chambelland and Timótheo - acquainted since long - to the exhibition of the two so interrelated paintings, in the same dispute; the fact is that the critics of the time realized the obvious connection, and, sometimes, the two works were commented together - with clear disadvantage to the painting of Arthur Timótheo, which suffered criticism due to its esquisse nature and its more shadowy aspect.

                  24.            That simultaneous exhibition of the Fancy Ball and The Next Day in the ‘Salon’ of 1913 seems, in itself, the sign of the interest to the subjects of Carnival that existed lively among the Brazilian artists of the epoch. I can list here some of the possible reasons behind this: on one side, without looking too provincial, the Carnival incarnated an essential Brazilian nature and a ‘local character’ eagerly sought after and esteemed in an artistic milieu as that of the First Republic, which constantly questioned itself about its distinctive identity. On the other side, was not the Carnival, equally, an aspect of that dynamic and ephemeral modernity praised already in the writings of Baudelaire, a true icon of that bohemian ‘heroism’ that marked all the generation of Chambelland?

                  25.            Still in this sense of the images of modernity, it is worth remembering that an entire thematic vein, which versed about new ways of sociability, imposed itself and started to be widely explored by the artists in Europe, since the middle of the nineteenth-century - in special by the so-called independents, some of which with whom Chambelland had declared affinities.[19] Not by chance, in the production of such artists, we can find works that establish great affinity with the Fancy Ball of Chambelland. I will limit myself to some relatively known French examples: in 1873/74, for instance, Edouard Manet painted a Bal masqué à l'Opéra [Figure 4], which, in relation to the subject, is much like the Fancy Ball - although it is considerably divergent in its formal conception, marked by the singular inflexibility of the majority of the figures. A painter like Pierre-Auguste Renoir has approached sometimes the agitation of the dance scenes, as in his triptych La danse à Bougival, La danse à la campagne and La danse à la ville, painted between 1882 and 1883; but it is the famous Le Moulin de la Galette (1876) [Figure 5], in its iridescent fabric and in the attitude of the couples of dancers represented in the left, that his painting most resembles, in spirit, the Fancy Ball. Other artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, in La danse au “Moulin Rouge” (1899/90) [Figure 6] and perhaps even more Marius-Joseph Avy, in his amazing Bal Blanc (1903) [Figure 7], produced works in which it is plausible that Chambelland, during his stay in the Light City, has seized direct suggestions of composition and of treatment that, years later, would reemerge in the occasion of the production of his Fancy Ball.

                  26.            The relationship of Chambellands painting with the French works referred above becomes much more evident when we analyze the compositional methods of the Brazilian painter. A closer look enables us to perceive how the vertiginous scene that is presented before our eyes - at first sight so informal, as if it was an instantaneous photographic - is based on one of the most calculated composition. Delineating the heads of all the characters, we can evidence that the sinuous line that results [in blue, in Scheme 1] is organized around an explicit and quite stable horizontal direction [in red, in the same Scheme 1]. Another line [diagonal in red, below, in Scheme 1] links the feet of the dancers, since the couple of Pierrot and Columbine in the first stage, to the right, going through another couple in half distance, and arriving, finally, to the girl that holds a tambourine, in the background, to the extreme left.

                  27.            This founding structure, as well as a series of other compositional parallelisms that relate the characters of the Fancy Ball one with the others [Scheme 2 and Scheme 3], evidences how the frenzy aspect that comes from the work does not find echo in a merely random grouping of figures: much on the contrary, the frenzy comes, paradoxically, from a pictorial conception extremely calculated. A very similar founding structure can be seen in the works of Renoir, Lautrec and Avy referred above [Figure 8], which suggests that a truly compositional type,[20] associated to representations of dance scenes - but not limited to them[21] -, was deeply diffused in western painting, in the ends of the nineteenth-century. By way of this type, the artists could offer a precisely composed representation of an important subject underlying their paintings, that is, the absence of a common purpose by the characters, a symptom of the atomization of modern society, marked by individualism.

                  28.            The diagonal lines of Scheme 1, Scheme 2 and Scheme 3, which suggests special recessions, are equally responsible, in an elementary compositional level, by the strong effect of dynamism that emanates from all the main figures of the Fancy Ball: centripetally displaced from their vertical axis, they ‘equilibrate’ precariously over their unstable foundations [Scheme 4]. I hold great importance to this linear play, somewhat arid if compared to the work that it synthesizes, for judging that, in the context of Brazilian art from the First Republic, it is overwhelmed with semantic implications. In order to demonstrate that, however, I shall make a reference - necessarily brief - to the new concepts of artistic expression that were gaining grounds in the painting of the epoch.

                  29.            In this sense, what one can see among the painters of the First Republic is a truly ‘eclectic’ acquaintanceship between, on one side, already secular conceptions, like those purported by the theoreticians of the Renaissance and systematized by Charles le Brun, still in the seventeenth-century, which professed an idea of expression founded essentially upon the human figure, above all upon their physiognomic play, and, on the other side, more ‘modern’ conceptions of expression, which thought artistic expression as being transmitted even by the purely visual characteristics of the elements that constitute the image (line, color, texture, etc.).

                  30.            In this last case, it is noteworthy the diffusion of the ideas of the artist and Dutch theoretician David Pierre Giottino Humbert de Superville, especially those expressed in his book Essai sur les signes inconditionnels dans l'art (Leiden, 1827-1832). On that work, Superville’s schemes - which would become much famous - are sketched for the first time in relation to three fundamental expressions, calmness, sadness and joy. The author makes correspond, to each of these emotions, a specific linear arrangement [Figure 9]: the central image, ruled by horizontal lines, would characterize calmness; the left one, with its expansive diagonals, would express the feeling of joy; the right one, with its convergent diagonals, would correspond to the feeling of sadness.

                  31.            The schemes of Superville have notable analogies with some drawings made still in the seventeenth-century by Le Brun. But, in the writings of the Dutch, the realm of what is expressive is not anymore restricted to what is merely anthropocentric and is expanded up to the point of including abstract elements. To conclude, for Superville, the faces of his schemes transmit their specific expressions because the lines with which they are made are already full of meaning. That conception, which keeps analogies with those put forward by an author like Johann Kaspar Lavater[22], imply a singular generalization of the schemes’ application: according to it, every phenomenon, be it animated or unanimated, becomes, therefore, potentially expressive[23].

                  32.            In order to exemplify that, I will concentrate here on the quick consideration of the scheme of the expansive diagonals, for its analogy with the scheme of the Fancy Ball, highlighted in Scheme 4. By one side, along the Essai, this scheme is associated, beyond joy, with an extensive series of expressive and even moral values, which have an analogous dynamic: vivid passions, movement, vacillation, agitation, dispersion, voluptuousness, unstableness, etc [Figure 10]. By the other side, it is related not only to human figures (some of them bearers of precise iconographical meanings, as the goddess Venus or a Bacchant), but, equally, to non-human motives (animal and vegetal) and to unanimated motives, as architectonic elements [Figure 11].

                  33.            The idea that the abstract structures that are subjacent to what is seen are already loaded with signification stands back from the more known conceptions of artistic expression, according to which the later is derived from psychological processes centered on the observing subject, as the sympathetic association or projection. Superville puts forward, then, some theories that only would be properly formulated in the twentieth-century, as the Gestalt theory of expression.[24] For us it seems that in Chambellands Fancy Ball, in which the abstract scheme of expansive diagonals is used as structural skeleton for the composition, it is condensed one of the most interesting possibilities contained in the Essai, that of impregnating not only the face of a figure, but an entire painting - or even an overall style - with a determinate set of expressive values.

                  34.            The hypothesis that Chambelland could have used the ideas of expression formulated by Humbert de Superville wins support when one considers the latter’s referred diffusion in the Brazilian artistic milieu. Since the end of the years 1910s, for instance, references to them can be found in class syllabus, texts, and theses of artists that graduated in the NSFA during the First Republic.[25] Certainly, Supervilles ideas were known here before that. Much probably, the Brazilians must have ‘read’ the Essai in an indirect fashion, filtered by its diffusion in the artistic context of the IIIe Republique in France. Very important, in this sense, was the appropriation made by Charles Blanc, which, in the introduction of his famous Grammaire des arts du dessin (Paris, 1867), he cited directly the thoughts of Superville. By its turn, it is notorious the influence of Blanc’s Grammaire - whose third edition, dated of 1876, the library of the NSFA has exemplars - in the production of famous French artists, which the most famous proved case, probably, was that of Georges Seurat.[26]

                  35.            The reflex of Supervilles ideas, through France, can be perceived equally in some details of Chambellands Fancy Ball. An example is the face of Pierrot on the foreground of the painting, which seems to derive from the experiences made by the Physiologist Guillaume B. A. Duchenne de Boulogne, revealed in his album Mecánisme de la physionomie humaine ..., of 1862.[27] Associating electrophysiology and photography, Duchenne was producing and registering physiognomic expressions while stimulating, with electric shocks, the facial muscles of patients assaulted by facial paralysis - insensible, therefore, to pain. Such photographs where cited and reproduced in other famous works, as those of Charles Darwin[28] or of Mathias Duval,[29] teacher of Anatomy at the École des Beaux Arts in France. A comparison between illustrations taken from these works with the referred Pierrot of Chambelland [Figure 12] reveals flagrant analogies and it is the sign of an intense circulation of figurative references, whose study waits for its due deepening.

                  36.            I let deliberately for the end another aspect of the Fancy Ball that, although somewhat distinct from those that were presented here, contributes in the same decisive fashion to the frenzy character of the work: the vibration of the fabric of its surface.

                  37.            The pictorial fabric of Chambellands painting is, in reality, very diversified. Areas with vigorous impasto, where the strokes are frankly juxtaposed, are alternated with others where the paint, more dilutedly applied, insinuate the background, or still other areas in which the use of overpaintings serves as a unifying element to the contrasts of values or color. Again, the seemingly improvised aspect of Chambellands technique is, in reality, the result of a calculated and intentional effort, involving several independent stages of accomplishment.[30] His technique makes evident, still, a high degree of virtuosity: in a relatively small area, like that which represents the frill of the cloak of the ‘Domino, in the center of the painting, it is possible to see no less than a dozen of different tones.

                  38.            But it is in the superior strip of the painting that the work of fabric acquires its highest autonomy [Figure 1, detail].  In it, with the exception of the subtle pattern formed by some paralleled verticals, all the structural constrictions are absent: the strip vibrates as a pure texture. Chambelland uses there, predominantly, a divisionist treatment similar to those of his decorative paintings, which marvelously translates the atmosphere of the ball’s room, sprinkled with confetti. But it is also possible to see, especially in the irregular lines that recall the serpentines, a very similar procedure to that which the painters linked to the so-called Abstract Expressionism, as the North-Americans Jackson Pollock or Mark Tobey, would employ decades later.

                  39.            Elucidative of that unusual convergence would be a comparison between the superior strip of Fancy Ball and another work that also is held at the NMFA/RJ, the painting of Antônio Bandeira called The Big Illuminated City [A grande cidade iluminada], of 1953 [Figure 13]. The formal convergences found among the two paintings, whose creations are separated by a hiatus of forty years, serve certainly as a sign of - this time formal - modernity of Rodolpho Chambelland, a painter that certainly deserves more than the timid celebration that he received until today in our historiography of art. Certainly, we should not forget the differences of intention that existed between Chambelland and the so-called informal painters: in the Fancy Ball, as i tried to put forward, the fabric is not simply abstract, but refers to very well defined semantic elements, as the confetti and the serpentines, which literally vibrate the air of the salon. However, the exaltation of the painter’s gestures - at a great measure the reason of being itself of a work as that of Bandeira - is equally important in the Fancy Ball, where it is placed as an ultimate translation, this time on the pictorial fabric itself, of the Carnival’s frenzy, evoked so convincingly by the work.

English version by Marcelo Hilsdorf Marotta


[1] O Salão de 1912, Correio da Manhã, September 17, 1912 [see Image].

[2] DUQUE ESTRADA, Luiz Gonzaga. Salão de 1905. In: Contemporâneos - Pintores e esculptores. Rio de Janeiro: Typ. Benedicto de Souza, 1929, pg. 122.

[3] Cf. MACÁRIO, Paula Gomes. Neo-gregos da Belle Époque brasileira. Campinas, SP: [s.n.], 2005 (M.A. Dissertation).

[4] Escola Nacional de Bellas Artes - O vernissage do 'Salon' de 1913, A Imprensa, August 31, 1913.

[5] Notas de Arte, Jornal do Commercio, September 5, 1913, pg. 6. Author

[6] Notas do 'Salon', A Noite, September 8, 1913, pg. 2. Author: Gonçalo Alves.

[7] Artes e Theatros - Salão de 1913, Correio da Manhã, September 13, 1913, pg. 4

[8] Artes, Theatros & Sports - O Salão de 1913, Correio da Manhã, September 14, 1913; among other important works that the NSFA acquired in the General Exhibition of 1913, there are the Corral’s Pathway [Caminho do Curral], by Baptista da Costa (4:000$000), Heavy Duty [Tarefa pesada], by Gustavo Dall'Ara (2:000$000), Study of Reflexes and Supreme Effort [Estudo de reflexos e Supremo esforço], both by Carlos Oswald, and Bianca, by Eugenio Latour.

[9] I believe that the following partial list of publications that exhibit and comment the Fancy Ball serves as an indication of the truly paradigmatic character of the work in the context of Brazilian art: ACQUARONE, F.; VIEIRA, A. Q. Primores da Pintura no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro, 1941, n.p.; REIS JÚNIOR, J. M. História da pintura no Brasil. São Paulo: Editora Leia, 1944, il.219; MUSEU Nacional de Belas Artes. Colorama, s/d, pgs. 98-99; CAMPOFIORITO, Quirino. História da Pintura Brasileira no Século XIX. Rio de Janeiro: Pinakotheke, 1983, n.p.; Arte brasileira, século XX: Catálogo da galeria Eliseu Visconti: pinturas e esculturas. Rio de Janeiro: MNBA/CNEC, 1984, pg. 31; LEITE, José R. T. Dicionário Crítico da Pintura no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Artlivre Ltda., 1988, pg. 51; ACERVO Museu Nacional de Belas Artes - National Museum of Fine Arts Collection. (Coordinated by H. A. Lustosa; texts by Amândio M. Santos [et al.]). São Paulo: Banco Santos, 2002, pg. 132; CARDOSO, Rafael. A arte brasileira em 25 quadros (1790-1930). Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2008, pg. 160-171.

[10] BARATA, Mário. Desenhos de Carnaval e Angelo Agostini, Diário de Notícias, February 28, 1954.

[11] A quatrain published in the newspaper The Country [O Paiz] did reference to the carnival’s strike between the artists: Two superb standards / Works of brave artists / The Fenians’s were painted by Decio / The Lieutenant’s by Amoedo(cited in ENEIDA. História do Carnaval. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Civilização Brasileira S. A., 1958, pg. 275).

[12] EDMUNDO, Luís.  O Rio de Janeiro de meu tempo. Brasília: Edições do Senado Federal, 2003, pg. 499.

[13] In this respect, see the work by Helenise Guimarães, A Escola de Belas Artes no Carnaval Carioca: Uma relação secular e a revolução  nas Escolas de Samba. In: TERRA, Carlos G. (org.). Arquivos da Escola de Belas Artes n. 16, Rio de Janeiro: EBA/UFRJ, 2003, in special pgs. 73-76.

[14] With his usual ironic verve, Agrippino Grieco referred in this fashion to the works for the carnival of these two last artists: [Fiúza Guimarães] Prepared, during many years, the Fenianscarnival procession, by the way with absolute popular failure, with all the admiration turning to the Democraticsprocession, prepared by Púbio Marroig, who was not a Voyage Prize nor was teacher of the School of Fine Arts(GRIECO, Agrippino. Memórias - Rio de Janeiro I. Rio de Janeiro: Conquista, 1972, pg. 75).

[15]Before that reward [the Voyage Prize], with which erudite persons of painting and sculpture consecrated him, the people in the streets, in the expansion that the carnival propitiated, had already glorified him(EFEGE, J. Figuras e coisas do carnaval carioca.  Rio de Janeiro: FUNARTE, 1982, cited in GUIMARÃES, Helenise. Op. cit., pg. 75).

[16] As can be proved by his drawings of the Devil and of the Old Men, reproduced in the pages 484 and 486 of Luiz Edmundo’s book referred in the note 12.

[17] DUQUE ESTRADA, L. Gonzaga. Helios Seelinger, Kósmos, year 5, n. 3, March 1908, pg. 33-36.

[18] Cf . CARDOSO, Rafael, op. cit., pg. 169.

[19] In an interview made by Angyone Costa, in 1927, in the occasion of having been questioned about what was his pictorial genre, Chambelland answered without hesitate: “The impressionism, which is a middle term, in painting(COSTA, Angyone. A inquietação das abelhas (O que dizem nossos pintores, escultores, arquitetos e gravadores, sobre as artes plásticas no Brasil). Rio de Janeiro: Pimenta de Mello & Cia, 1927, pg. 97).

[20] A Type is here understood in the precise sense that Giulio Carlo Argan, following the indications of theoreticians like Quatrémère de Quincy, gives to it in some of his writings, in particular in the entry Tipologia, of the Enciclopedia Universale dell’Arte, and in the Léccion II, La tipología arquitetonica, of El concepto de espacio arquitetonico desde el Barroco a nuestros dias. Buenos Aires: ediciones Nueva Vision, 1977, pgs. 29 and ff.

[21] Cf., in this sense, Rudolf Arnheim’s comment about the famous Bureau du coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans, by Edgar Degas, in O Acaso e a necessidade da Arte. Para uma Psicologia da arte / Arte e Entropia. Lisboa: Dinalivro, 1997, pg. 169-170.

[22] LAVATER, Johann K. Physiognomische fragmente, zur Beförderung der Menschen-kenntniss und Menschen-Liebe von -. Leipzig & Winterthur, 1775-1778. Lavater postulated, for instance, that the silhouettes, with their characteristic reduction of the human face to its pure linear contour, were more adequate to the study of the connections between external physiognomy and inner character than the direct observation of nature, in constant transformation.

[23] STAFFORD, Barbara M. Symbol and Myth: Humbert De Superville's Essay on Absolute Signs in Art. University of Delaware Press, 1979.

[24] ARNHEIM, Rudolf. A Teoria Gestalt da Expressão, Op. cit., p.59-79

[25] For instance: PEDERNEIRAS, Raul. A máscara do riso. Ensaios de anatomo-physiologia artistica. 2. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Officinas Graphicas do “Jornal do Brasil”, 1917, pg. 13; PEDERNEIRAS, Raul. Programma da Cadeira de Anatomia e Physiologia Artísticas. Archives Collection of the Dom João VI Museum EBA/UFRJ. Notation 2024, January 20, 1923, page 2 recto; ALBUQUERQUE, Georgina de. O Desenho Como Base no Ensino das Artes Plásticas. Rio de Janeiro: NSFA, 1942, p.39; MARQUES JUNIOR, Augusto José. Plástica das expressões fisionômicas. Arquivo da Escola de Belas Artes. Rio de Janeiro: Universidade de Brasil, 1955, pg. 23 and ff.

[26] Cf. CHASTEL, Andre. Une Source oubliée de Seurat. Fables, formes, figures. Reed., Paris: Flammarion, 2000, v.2, pg. 385-393.

[27] The complete title of the first edition of Duchennes work was Mecánisme de la physionomie humaine: ou Analyse electro-physiologique de ses différents modes d’expression. Another edition, also of 1862, brought a new subtitle, which highlighted the possible artistic use of the book: Analyse electro-physiologique de d’expression des passions applicable à la pratique de arts plastiques (cited in BORDES, Juan. Historia de las teorias de la figura humana: El dibujo/ la anatomía/ la proporcíon/ la fisiognomía. Madrid: Cátedra, 2003, pg. 350).

[28] The expression of the emotions in man and animals. by Charles Darwin, M. A., F.R.S., & C. with photographic and other illustrations. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1872. In relation to Duchennes photographs, see, in special, the chapters 8 and 12.

[29] Précis de Anatomie à l'usage des artistes. Paris, n.d., pg. 314, reproduced in BOIME, Albert. The teaching of fine arts and the avant-garde in France during the second half of the nineteenth century. In: Las academias de arte (VII Coloquio Internacional de Gaunajuato). D.F.: Univesidad Autónoma do Mexico, 1985, n.p.

[30] A sophisticated technique as that of Chambellands was observed in the work of the impressionist painters that he admired, like Claude Monet. Still today, these are, frequently, praised for having a pictorial fabric reductively perceived as improvised; cf.. HERBERT, Robert. Method and meaning in Monet, Art in America, September 1979, pg. 90-108.