The modernist movement in Brazil


The Brazilian modernist design was a moment of collective creation that marked the history of international design, and beyond that of Brazil.

 It was a meeting point between inspirations, ideas and phenomena of all kinds. From this tension, singular and recognizable forms were born, pursuing and applying in the particular field of design a movement and an intuition that was initially artistic. The founding cultural event was what has been  called in Brazil the "Semana de 22" or "Semana de arte moderna". The artistic event "Week of 22" took place in 1922 at the Municipal Theater of São Paulo. It brought together artists who wanted to present works that broke with the art as it was done at the time, between academicism and colonial inspiration. Having themselves influences marked by cubism, surrealism and futurism, they gave the accent to the expression of an original interpretation and anchored in the Brazilian culture.


It is therefore a movement combining modern art and particular identity that seeks new forms to say the Brazilian soul far from any past folklore.


In this will of contextualization of an international movement to the local culture, the Brazilian design imagines a creation whose innovative forms are in relation with the specific materials of a territory, and in particular the opportunity to emphasize the exceptional wood species that offer the natural resources of Brazil. But these forms and materials chosen must also adapt to the climatic conditions and be in intimate relation with the landscapes of Brazil, especially the beaches and forests marked by the omnipresence of a luxuriant Nature with varied vegetation.


A period of intense creation inscribed in its time


Brazilian modernist design really blossomed in the 1940s with the arrival of European refugees carrying in their suitcases dreams and ideals of social utopia that met the Brazilian will of the time to give shape to democracy and make modernity accessible. This vision was carried by Juscelino Kubitschek as Mayor of Belo Horizonte before becoming President of the Republic of Brazil in 1956. He first called upon Oscar Niemeyer to create and manage the Pampulha project, a vast modernist complex around a lake. Niemeyer said that his idea was to "tropicalize the style of Le Corbusier", particularly by using curves and a more marked sensuality.


At this time, Niemeyer met Joaquim Tenreiro to whom he entrusted the task of designing furniture that would suit his architecture. A relationship was born between the two artists that would last for decades.


The 1950s was the decade of the birth of industrialization in Brazil, which challenged designers about their relationship with craftsmanship, the balance to be found between intuition and rationalization of production, and the positive tension between European influence and localism. Industrialization also brought with it the large-scale production of administrative buildings or homes, which caused the demand for furniture to soar. Workshops were created to meet this demand, the most representative being Oca by Sergio Rodrigues, Moveis Artesanal (Renammed Forma in 1955) by Carlo Hauner and Martin Eisler, as well as Mobilia Contemporanea by Michel Arnoult, which popularized kit furniture in Brazil in order to be able to offer the greatest number of people quality at an affordable price.


This period is also marked by the appearance of new techniques such as the thermoforming of wood, particularly used by Jorge Zalszupin, or new materials, such as compensated wood, which José Zanine Caldas will make his favorite raw material at that time.


It was during this same period that the titanic construction site of the ex-nihilo creation of the country's capital, Brasilia, took shape. Its realization in 1000 days was shared between Oscar Niemeyer, Lucio Costa and Le Corbusier as external consultant.


The creation of the São Paulo Art Museum, completed in 1968 by Lina Bo Bardi, the only woman creator of this movement, was another symbol of the vitality of Brazilian modernism.


The period of the military dictatorship in Brazil corresponding to the 1970s momentarily slowed down the movement, which nevertheless survived, as evidenced by Oscar Niemeyer's collaboration with his daughter Ana Maria Niemeyer for the design of an exceptional series of furniture, of which the Rio chair is the masterpiece, as well as the new style of Zanine Caldas. The latter, abandoning the furniture industry to return to his region of Bahia, rediscovered the local nature, became more aware of the environmental issue, especially deforestation, and responded with the creation of the style "Moveis Denuncia", or Denunciation Furniture. This line of brutalist tendency, in order to remain as close as possible visually to the nature of the tree, uses pieces of wood considered until then as unsuitable for the realization of works and therefore rejected, such as the trunk or the roots.


The 1980s and 1990s are those of transmission, Brazilian modernism becomes a source of inspiration for a new generation of designers, some of whom choose to distinguish themselves formally, such as the Campana brothers with their neo-baroque creations calling on the imagination of recovery and aesthetic recycling of the favelas.


From the Brazilian modernist design movement, there remains an important legacy of a specific heritage, both in terms of the pieces that remain as a testimony to this era and this creativity, and in terms of the inspiration and creative paths that it offers to many contemporary designers and decorators of today, such as Hugo França or Lenny Kravitz.


What we propose with the Brazil Modernist gallery is not only exceptional furniture but above all pieces belonging to the history of Brazil and prints of the human capacity of creation. Thanks to a well-informed eye and a developed experience, we present here a collection from a unique selection of Brazilian modernist design chosen during regular stays in Brazil to discover pieces and bring back their singular stories.

    • José Zanine Caldas, Fauteuil, c. 1950
      José Zanine Caldas, Fauteuil, c. 1950
    • Joaquim Tenreiro, Paire de fauteuils, c. 1940
      Joaquim Tenreiro, Paire de fauteuils, c. 1940
    • Joaquim Tenreiro, Table de chevet, c. 1947
      Joaquim Tenreiro, Table de chevet, c. 1947
    • Michel Arnoult, Canapé deux places, c. 1960
      Michel Arnoult, Canapé deux places, c. 1960
    • Móveis Gelli, Fauteuil, c. 1960
      Móveis Gelli, Fauteuil, c. 1960
    • Sergio Rodrigues, Étagère murale et miroir, c. 1965
      Sergio Rodrigues, Étagère murale et miroir, c. 1965
    • Sergio Rodrigues, Lampe de table - "Tcheko", c. 1960
      Sergio Rodrigues, Lampe de table - "Tcheko", c. 1960
    • Giuseppe Scapinelli, Guéridon-Jardinière, c. 1950
      Giuseppe Scapinelli, Guéridon-Jardinière, c. 1950
    • Valdivino Alves da Conceição, Tapisserie , c. 1960
      Valdivino Alves da Conceição, Tapisserie , c. 1960
    • Wauja, Céramique "Serpent - Kamalu-Hai", 2020
    • Carlo Hauner, Fauteuil, c. 1950
      Carlo Hauner, Fauteuil, c. 1950
    • Carlo Hauner, Sofa, c. 1950
      Carlo Hauner, Sofa, c. 1950