Anita Malfatti And Women’s Space In Art

Anita Catarina Malfatti was an artist, teacher and ilustrator born in 1889 in São Paulo, Brasil. At the age of 13 she started her studies in art, teaching the subject to children at the high point of her teen years, when she was only 17. Despite her young age, Anita’s talent pierced through: her art pieces were mesmerizing and full of energy, with clear traces of the expressionist vibe she incorporated during her trip to Germany, in 1910, where the artist met Die Brucke, a famous local group of painters at the time that didn’t fail to surprise German people with their prestigious work amidst the chaos of World War I.

Brush Painting Color Paint Daian Gan / Pexels In 1915 the illustrator earned a scholarship at the Independent School of Art, in New York City, where she got to widen her artistic point of view as well as develop more complex and innovative techniques. It was at this point that Malfatti made truly modern and contemporary paintings, demonstrating all of the knowledge she obtained when it comes to expressionism when she returned to Brasil with works such as The Yellow Man, The Lighthouse and The Russian Student, when Anita actually shocked Brazilian society with her art, in 1916.

  1. 1. Anitas's Progress in the Art World

    In February of 1922, Anita was part of the strict art community that shared their work and talent in The Week of Modern Art. Among all of the artists that participated, there were only three women: Zina Aita, Guiomar Novais and Anita herself. Even though they were the absolute minority, these young women still managed to shake society’s rock-hard structure; Guiomar played Frédéric Chopin in the piano, which was considered a bold move by many critics – all of them male – and regular citizens, including the ladies.

    But it was Anita Malfatti’s artwork exhibition that became the main factor responsible for leaving mouths agape at the event: with colorful swipes, a lot of motion and an unique painting style, Malfatti drew the attention of the public, even though she had become notorious in the previous year (1921) as a result of the comments made by Mario De Andrade, great poet and friends with Anita.

    As a matter of fact, Anita was the first Brazilian modernist artist to ever make an art exposition on her own in Brasil, premeditating even the male members of the movement, an aspect that definitely boosted her rejection around the country.

  2. 2. The Tough Path of Being an Artist Woman

    In spite of all the success, there was also a reasonable amount of negative responses to her art skills, which Monteiro Lobato didn’t miss the chance to integrate: as a columnist at O Estado de S. Paulo, the writer made tough remarks about Anita Malfatti’s work since it was ever shown to the world, back in 1917. Pointing out the flaws and criticizing her creations based on a conservative perspective, Lobato was against the modernist wave and everything that had to do with moral and principle transformations, expressing society’s enrooted chauvinism in a biased way, for he himself was a male.

  3. 3. In Spite of All, She Persevered

    Even after all of the repression, Malfatti didn’t lose her credibility nor her talent; to make matters worse for some, she even befriended Tarsila Do Amaral, another female artistic icon, creator of the popular painting “Abaporu”. But what does it all mean after all? To be a woman in the 20s art scenario means a lot of things: it means change, it means vanguard, it means evolution, it means courage. Anita has never declared herself a feminist, which is pretty understandable considering the time she lived in, but still, her boldness when challenging a patriarchal social environment did it for her.


The article above was edited by Laura Ferrazzano.

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