Born: 10/9/1900 (Brasil, Pará, Belém)
Died: 4/6/1934 (Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro)
Ismael Nery (Belém do Pará, 1900 - Rio de Janeiro, 1934). Painter, draughtsman, poet. While still a child, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, where, in 1917, he enrolled at the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes - Enba [National School of Fine Arts. He went to France in 1920, where he attended the Académie Julian. Returning to Rio de Janeiro in the following year, he worked as a draughtsman in the Architecture and Topography section of the National Heritage Directorate, a body linked to the Finance Ministry. There he met the poet, Murilo Mendes (1901 - 1975), who became a great friend and promoter of his work. In 1922, he married the poetess, Adalgisa Nery (1905 - 1980). Ismael Nery applied the principles of Essentialism to his work, a philosophical system of his own creation. According to Murilo Mendes, this system relates to the artist's conceptions of the abstraction of time and space. Returning to France in 1927, he met Marc Chagall (1887 - 1985), André Breton (1896 - 1966) and Marcel Noll. His return to Brazil heralded the Surrealist phase of his work, due, in principle, to the influence of Chagall. In 1930, he contracted tuberculosis. His works began to reflect the personal drama and bodily fragility caused by his illness, with Nery dying at the age of 33. In 1948, a series of articles by Murilo Mendes in the newspapers, O Estado de S. Paulo and Letras e Artes sought to resurrect the artistic, literary and philosophical work of the artist, but Ismael Nery was forgotten and only began to be appreciated in the mid-1960s due to exhibitions in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Ismael Nery is one of the most restless personalities of Brazilian modernism, who dedicated himself to painting and drawing without ever limiting his field of action. In this way, he also wrote poetry and produced theoretical reflections. During his life, he did not describe himself as an artist. Mário Pedrosa (1900 - 1981), an art critic and friend of Nery, recalls that he "never wanted to be a professional artist".1 His painting appears as a niche in which he formulated a part of his metaphysical reflections: a materialisation of his ideas on the universal needs of men, regardless of time and place.
Ismael Nery was born in Belém do Pará, moving to Rio de Janeiro while still a child. There is every indication that he was attracted to the arts as a young man, and probably attended the National School of Fine Arts (Enba) in 1915-1916. It is known that he was enrolled in the institution in 1918. During this period, he devoted his efforts to making plaster copies of classical sculptures, and through these, developed an interest in the human figure, a theme that would form the major part of his artistic concerns. At Enba, he took courses with Henrique Bernardelli (1858 - 1936), whose encouragement and praise persuaded him to continue with his artistic studies.
In 1920, Nery went to Paris to study, spending three months at the Académie Julien. While in Europe, he came into contact with modernism, examining the paintings of cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Georges Braque (1882 - 1963), André Lhote (1885 - 1962), Fernand Léger (1881 - 1955) and Jean Metzinger (1883 - 1956). During his stay, he also succeeded in becoming familiar with a large part of the European artistic tradition. In addition to the School of Paris, he became very interested in German expressionism. In Italy, he became familiar with the works of Renaissance masters, becoming an admirer of painting of that period and devoting himself, above all, to Titian (c.1488 - 1576), Tintoretto (1519 - 1594), Paolo Veronese (1528 - 1588), Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 - 1564) and Raphael (1483 - 1520). He also showed an interest in modern Italian artists such as Giorgio de Chirico (1888 - 1978).
Returning to Brazil, in 1921, he was appointed draughtsman in the Architecture and Topography section of the Directorate of National Heritage, an institution linked to the Finance Ministry. There he made friends with the poet, Murilo Mendes (1901 - 1975), one of his great champions. A year later, he married the poetess, Adalgisa Nery (1905 - 1980), the muse of his principal paintings. Although he was already working with modern forms, his subject matter distinguished him from the Brazilian modernism of Semana de Arte Moderna [Modern Art Week] of 1922. Nery had no taste for nationalist themes, with his figures appearing in imaginary scenes, contrary to any recognisable reference, which basically deal with the idealised human figure placed at the service of a symbolic figuration. During this period he executed portraits, such as the works Retrato de Murilo Mendes [Portrait of Murilo Mendes] (1922) and A Espanhola [The Spanishwoman] (1923). The relationship between the light and dark parts is highly accentuated.
Nery subsequently gave a more geometric treatment to his figures. Around 1924, he composes his figures out of cylinders and oval forms. His men and women become more elongated and structured, giving the impression of ideal forms outside space and time. To his expressionism he adds a cubist influence. At this time, his house became a meeting place for Rio artists and intellectuals, frequented by Mário Pedrosa, Murilo Mendes, Guignard (1896 - 1962) and Antonio Bento (1902 - 1988) among others.
Around 1926, he expounded his doctrine of essentialism to a number of these friends: a set of principles linked to his Christian humanism, which would represent the synthesis of his reflections. In 1927, Nery left for Europe with his wife and mother, where he frequented Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887 - 1959) and met André Breton (1896 - 1966), Marc Noll and Marc Chagall (1887 - 1985). This voyage had a profound influence on his painting, with him remaining particularly impressed with the work of Chagall. From this point onwards, Nery's own themes and characters would draw closer to those of the Russian artist.
His figures are now painted in more vivid colours and show a greater lightness. The action of his paintings occurs on a dreamlike plain, although this treatment is based on relations that Murilo Mendes calls "absolute, definitive and eternal",2 deriving from Nery's essentialism. From 1930 onwards, he was confirmed as suffering from tuberculosis, which began to be reflected in his work. His figures become frayed and appear with viscera showing, being placed in empty settings that are clearly influenced by Italian metaphysical painting and are now flagellated and wounded, his work incorporating the theme of death.
From now on, the artist worked less, although his work received greater acclaim. Before this, in 1929, Nery had held his only individual exhibitions, the first in Belém and the second in Rio de Janeiro. While these met with little response, he did succeed in showing his work in a collective exhibition of Brazilian painting in New York and in taking part in important salons, such as the Revolutionary Salon in Rio de Janeiro, in 1931, and the SPAM Exhibition of Modern Art in São Paulo, in 1933.
Now ill, despite a rapid recovery in 1933, Nery succumbed to his tuberculosis and died in 1934 in a Franciscan monastery. His work received posthumous recognition after its participation in the 1965 and 1969 Bienais and a retrospective in 1966 in Rio de Janeiro at the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo - MAM/SP [São Paulo Museum of Modern Art] and the Petite Galerie.
1 PEDROSA, Mário. Semana de arte moderna. In: ______. Acadêmicos e modernos: textos escolhidos III. São Paulo: Edusp, 1998. p.152.
2 MENDES, Murilo. Recordações de Ismael Nery. São Paulo: Edusp. p.27.
Palace Hotel (Rio de Janeiro, RJ)
Studio Nicolas (Rio de Janeiro, RJ)
Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (MAM/RJ)
Parque Ferial Juan Carlos I (Madri, Espanha)
Fundação Bienal (São Paulo, SP)
Fundação Bienal (São Paulo, SP)
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