Lasar Segall (1889, Lithuania – 1957, São Paulo, Brazil) was born in 1889, in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. From 1906 to 1923 he lived in Germany, where he completed his academic studies. After breaking from the classical precepts, he became familiar with impressionism and the constructive aspect of Paul Cézanne’s brushwork. Having known social misery since his childhood, Segall joined the expressionist movement in 1914, allying formal experimentation with his humanistic aim to portray subjects directly impacted by the war, poverty and exile. These two commitments remained as constants in his work throughout his career, despite changes of context and aesthetic approach. Having presented, in 1913, the first exhibition of a modernist vein ever held in the city of São Paulo, Segall moved definitively to Brazil in 1923. After having been practically ignored on his first visit, he was received with greater interest and commentary upon his return, as the anti-academic modernist movement linked to the Week of ’22 was then in full sway. On tropical soil, he took up the challenge of relating his production with the local flora, fauna, society and lighting: his palette was modified with the addition of reds, earth-tone ochers and yellowish greens. Years later, during the Holocaust, he took up the ethical imperative of reflecting the barbarity through paintings with somber hues.
His last works very notably include the Florestas [Forests] series, obtained by the dense juxtaposition of rhythmic vertical bands. They rarely contain any indication of the sky, leaves or ground. The pictorial framing is on the level of the schematized tree trunks, and the naturalist air of each scene is conveyed through the color palette. Unlike the work he did soon after his arrival in Brazil, the paintings of that series lack any explicit indication of a tropical character; rather, they seem to combine the dense and impenetrable aspect of the tropical jungle with chromatic temperatures and atmospheres reminiscent of the European forests that Segall depicted in his youth, perhaps reactivated by the landscape of the cooler mountainous region of Campos de Jordão, where he went into the forests to draw and paint.
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).