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Oswaldo Goeldi


Goeldi was a romantic with an intense inner life who succeeded in infusing his woodcuts with his own emotional states of being. These are genuine masterpieces that span the totality of Goeldi's thematic repertoire: abandoned manors, solitary, anonymous figures, building storms, in short, everything that emerged from his precise and poetic visions of various aspects of human existence.

The Exhibition

The Goeldi exhibition, held in 2019, presented a collection of 62 original works by the artist, including woodcuts, drawings and watercolors that reveal the themes typical of his poetic—fishermen, storms, wastelands—, and works from the series A Morte (Death) and A Guerra (War). The collection was put together by Günther and Lygia Pape, and, given their close personal relationship with Goeldi, the choice of works comes layered with meanings and feelings which we can only intuit. In recent decades, many pieces from the collection have been exhibited at museums and biennials, including the “Brazil 500 Years” exhibition. Some of the woodcuts are one-off prints, so there are no other copies of them out there. One such piece is the engraving for which Goeldi won the International Print Prize at the 2nd International Biennial of Mexico. The Oswaldo Goeldi originals acquired by his good friend while the ink was still wet on the Japanese paper, or the India ink on the cotton sheet, reflect the near-miraculous result of the artist’s absolute constancy and dedication to his art.  

An Intruder

Paulo Venâncio Filho


Long before geometric abstraction emerged in Brazil, Goeldi had crafted a lucid, accurate and concise poetics that es- chewed verbosity, cliché and commonplace. His woodcuts and drawings never show consummated facts; rather, they interrogate, they speculate what may happen. The immediate effect—of the woodcuts, especially—is as startling as a camera’s flash. In his pieces, deserted streets are anonymously populated by mansions, lone passers-by, fishermen and vultures inhabiting an uncertain, inquisitive space in parentheses. Although seemingly distant, this space is still here, in close proximity. Individuals wander around somewhat disoriented, beset by everybody’s eventual contingency: life or death. There is no solidarity among human beings, only between them and a few animals.

Nature still intimidates Brazil’s forlorn cities, including Rio de Janeiro, once a natural habitat par excellence. Like all expressionists, Goeldi was an urban artist and he settled in a boundary region, on a border no less fantastical because it was real—a reality bereft of anything imagination usually conceives as fantasy and, consequently, even more fanciful. Unyielding, he admitted no alternative, the whole world is there in the lines of his drawings or scored into his woodcuts. An ordinary empty lot may be more fantastical than a whole legion of whimsical beings. Figurative space is a half-dead, unfinished region lacking significant appeal and now abandoned, in which nature insinuates threat. The setting is the city itself: Rio de Janeiro’s major transformations had been slow to materialize or were still underway on the cusp of the 20th century. Its imperial shine — Rio was the Americas only tropical extravaganza — gradually faded and vanished. Nevertheless, it was the city that had drawn his father from Switzerland and then become Goeldi’s birthplace, to which he grew very close. Goeldi was close to Rio to the point of seeing and revealing its disjointed voids, into which he settled. The “age of townhouses” gave way to a modern city of stores, offices and apartment buildings. Uninhabited and desolate, neglected or abandoned, the old lordly houses were like ghosts struck dumb in silent agony, their doors and windows like gaping mouths, gardens left untended, stray cats and dogs here and there, as lost and helpless as the individuals. There the artist watched intermittences, that which was and is no longer, that which will never be. He saw a silent world of incommunicability; people going across spaces in multiple directions, everything mutually repelling, a storm brewing, unrelenting wind biting. Lonely individuals roam- ing streets wrapped up in non-supportive, protective silence. Rarely offering a frontal view, Goeldi’s figures do not have faces as such, they try to hide. As it seems, the viewer’s gaze threatens and drives them into the ‘innards’ of drawings or prints; they turn their backs on the viewer and flee.


One might say that Goeldi does not capture immediate reality but rather situations that exude a “spiritual standing” of things. He was Edvard Munch’s “brother”, Alfred Kubin’s pal and pen friend, and Dostoevsky’s outstanding illustrator. Although out of place, Goeldi was artistically and existentially an authentic expressionist—an obvious overstatement, as all expressionists are authentic. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda’s words are highly apt for Goeldi’s oeuvre: “The transition from the harmony with nature to the more regular and abstract existence of the cities must have stimulated a voracious and subterranean crisis in our people.”1 The artist’s entire oeuvre speaks to this “voracious crisis” that is still palpable affecting our everyday life. Goeldi never let himself be fascinated or deceived by land- scape as a substitute or offset for societal poverty. Rarely do his engraving or drawing render an envisaged panorama; often his isolated scenes uncover and reveal a unique world that other artists shun while his distinctive gaze captures and makes visible. Scenes that are noticed by him alone and in which he detects the appeal of desolation. The tropics have been morphed; the sun gone down, the night falls weary and wet. Vultures prowling on land and in the air are a constant, dismal and routine presence. Perhaps Goeldi identified with the workaday world of fishermen. In this last vestige of a crafts complex in an urban setting, there is a life-force hanging on and holding out in primitive contact

and confrontation with the forces of nature — now the fish figures are rendered in gigantic, frightening scale — producing a physical clash like that in carving. At times, within woodcut’s meager resources, or its “poverty”, an invasive, violent color bursts out to stress the aggressive impact of scoring wood. The direct immediate image blocks out any sentimentalism. From just a few elements, Goeldi lends modern potential to wood- cut’s age-old technique. Anyone looking at a work by Goeldi is promptly enveloped by a particular “atmosphere”. His pieces exude the same existential density as Munch’s. Like Munch, Goeldi was a fur- tive individual constantly lighting on something unexpected that had gone unnoticed and getting a precise image from it. He revealed the existence of a “something” not clearly delineated, which is concealed in shadow, showing its face in the city’s desolate mansions. How could the artist express him- self other than through oblique and enigmatic clarity?

Goeldi has been neglected because of his uncomfortably gloomy and nearly desperate poetics. Because of his lucid vi- sion of a precociously wrecked social system; a tropical paradise wrenched inside out, now agonizing, oppressive and unfair. Goeldi was the “underground man,” the intruder in our optimistic Eden of sunlit modernism that has so dominated and (why not say it?) warped our mindsets. The world he glimpsed has been gradually expanded and banalized by complacent injustice. It is visible to us on the streets of Brazil’s major cities every day. Goeldi was the great poet of this urban space that remains as a utopian notion here in Brazil; he was able to populate it with his anonymous, elusive, solitary figures. He lent substance and dimension to a place where there was neither matter nor space, just “the atmosphere of its haunted avenues.”


About Günther and Lygia Pape's collection

Noemi Ribeiro


For seventeen years, at the MNBA/RJ Department of Engraving, I worked on the conservation, study and exhibition of a collection of Brazilian and foreign engravings. Many items in the collection were in need of more specific treatment, such as template restoration. As I am an engraver in metal and wood, I was put in charge of handling this collection, which includes various metal engravings by Carlos Oswald, donated by his estate; Axel Leskoschek, produced on tiny wood blocks; over 200 wooden cut-outs by Oswaldo Goeldi; Adir Botelho; Farnese de Andrade; Portinari; Poty and var- ious others. In all, an especially rich collection. Over the course of my work there, and thanks to a CAPES/ Fulbright scholarship, I was able to specialize in restoring metal and wood templates at The Arts Students League, New York, in 1986.

Having been tasked with tending to Oswaldo Goeldi’s important wood- en template collection, I started with the mechanical cleaning of the blocks, as some of them were being attacked by termites, followed by cataloguing, proper storage and, as a continuation of the project, the classification of the woods used, which included Peroba Rosa (Aspidosperma polyneuron), various cedars (Cedrus libani), and ivory wood (Balfourodendron riedelianum), a typical Brazilian hardwood that is excellent for engraving. While handling these works, I came across a range of annotations made on the wood itself. Among these notes were references to the oil paints applied to certain areas of the cut-outs, as well as instructions on how details were to be printed. After more detailed immersion, and based on analysis of the less legible traces, I was able to draw up a possible chronology that was published, in summary form, in Revista Gávea, PUC/RJ no. 8. As a natural consequence of my direct involvement with the artist’s work, I began to track down the artist’s correspondence with Alfred Kubin. Using only an Olivetti typewriter and writing paper, I posted letters to a number of scholars of Expressionism in the hope of finding the correspondence Goeldi had ex- changed with the Austrian artist. In response to these overtures, I received a letter from an Expressionism gallery in New York redirecting me to the State Gallery of Munich, the Lenbachhaus. Through letters sent by Jane Kalir, a former curator of the Kubin Archive, I located some correspondence with Goeldi that had been all but forgotten by the archive’s curators. Goeldi was a friend of Kubin’s and the letters were well stored, but he was someone about whom there was no reference. When she received the in- formation about Goeldi, Jane Kalir replied to my letter and sent me photocopies of his letters. The newfound context on Kubin’s Brazilian friend earned me an invitation to visit the Kubin Archive, which is part of the wider Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Horseman) Archive. The discovery enabled me to receive a scientific interchange scholarship from the German Consulate (DAAD/ Deutscher Akademischer Austrauschdienst). At the Kubin Archive, in 1991, at the Staditsche Galerie im Lenbachhaus, in Munich, and, that same year, in Austria, I identified 46 works which Goeldi had sent to Kubin. These drawings are in the Kubin Archive at the National Gallery of Linz (Österreisches Landesgalerie). Pressing ahead with my research I located the Jacqueline Zalka Collection in Switzerland, featuring works which the artist had sent to his friend Hermann Kümmerly. The result of this arduous study was made public and documented through the exhibition Oswaldo Goeldi—um auto-retrato (Oswaldo Goeldi—A Self-portrait) at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in 1995. Only ten years later did I finally manage to publish the studies and documents on these drawings and woodcuts in the volume Oswaldo Goeldi na Coleção Hermann Kümmerly (Oswaldo Goeldi in the Hermann Kümmerly Collection). The present collection, made up of drawings and woodcuts from the former Günter Pape Collection, is of inestimable value. Günter and Goeldi were friends, a fact reflected in the choices covered over with various merely intuitable layers of meaning and feeling. Oswaldo Goeldi’s originals, acquired by his friend before the paint had even dried on the Japanese paper, or the India ink had seeped into the cotton sheet, reflect the near-miraculous result of Goeldi’s absolute constancy and dedication to his art.  After Goeldi’s death, Günter Pape incorporated into his collection new drawings and woodcuts purchased directly from the artist’s heirs, his life-long friends Beatrix Reynal and José Maria dos Reis Jr., the owners of the blocks, drawings and woodcuts.  In his book A gravura brasileira contemporânea1 (Contemporary Brazilian Engraving), José Roberto Teixeira defines a term that indubitably applies here. The extraordinary aspect and unquestionable provenance of the collection mean it has a genuine “pedigree”.


Goeldi made a point of using imported, high-quality, properly sized cot- ton paper. “Sizing” is an industry term that refers to the treatment given to a sheet’s surface to ensure the absorption of the delicate pigments of watercolors or quilled India-ink. In the drawings intended as illustrations for the literary supplements of the A Manhã newspaper, Goeldi used Canson or Strathmore pads of low-grammage (75gm2) paper. The paper quality here was select- ed for purposes of mechanical reproduction (zincography) and so did not require a refined visual presentation. The collection contains var- ious samples of this paper, as in, for example, the drawings from the series A Morte (Death), created especially for the A Manhã newspaper. These originals were drawn on thin sheets with none of the presentation concerns of, say, the Casarios (Farmsteads) or Sinaleiros (Signalmen), which were of a higher order. Among the main cotton sheets used for India ink, watercolor or char- coal drawings were the following brands: Lavis Industriel Montgolfier a St. Marc, and Canson Montgolfier; Canson ArchesRaphael; Fabriano Cotton; Somerset vellum for engravings; Strathmore for charcoal and Ingres for pastel, among others. All semi-craft cotton-fiber papers, of varying grammage and texture, with excellent sizing, to en- sure a durable and stable artwork and longevity for the artist’s oeuvre. According to Teixeira Leira, the analysis of paper watermarks is a key instrument in fraud detection . As such, it is an important area of art-related study.


The woodcuts, on Japanese paper, “kozo fiber paper”3, were all hand-printed by Goeldi himself. I use the term “Japanese paper” because it was the descriptor used in the catalogue to the First São Paulo International Bienal, in 1951, when the artist won the Grand Prize for Engraving for a selection of 46 woodcuts. At the end of the listed works, the catalogue reads: (...) I printed manually from the cut-outs on legitimate Japanese paper”. Here we shall briefly comment on the paper the artist used for his woodcuts. At the time, such paper was imported directly from Japan and used almost exclusively by airplane model-making hobbyists. These sheets are readily identifiable for being ultra-fine with parallel lines visible on the rear surface. All of the engravings in the Paulo Kuczynski Art Studio Collection are consistent with these details, not only in terms of the artist’s signature, but also of the dorsal parallels that are clearly visible in enlargements of the kozo sheets.


Priority consideration was given to comparing images (templates), titles, serial numbering and signatures. The artist did not follow the usual procedures adopted by the engraving metier. In relation to series runs, his treatment was anarchic and experimental. Each print included information on details, colors and/or colored sheets on which Goeldi mounted his black prints. It is quite common to find woodcut prints signed on the back, so as not to interfere with the positive imprint on the front. Each woodcut in the collection was examined for the above mentioned features. The signatures, titles and serial numbers were photographically enlarged (in high resolution) and placed alongside the woodcut reproduction so as to better identify the original. I can hereby affirm that various woodcuts from the Paulo Kuczynski Art Studio Collection are single proofs. When he was satisfied with the test result, Goeldi printed the final proof, which he signed and titled, though left unnumbered. These artist’s proofs or single proofs, as I referred to them, were acquired by Günter Pape directly from Goeldi and I con- sider them very rare indeed. That done, Goeldi returned to the tem- plate, engraved a detail, applied a second color, mounted the print on a back-sheet and, adopting this procedure for subsequent prints, began numbering the series. The ideal number of copies the artist could print, but rarely did, for reasons too innumerable to list here, was almost always x/12. Another detail worth observing in this study is the fact that Goeldi used some woodcuts as illustrations in the A Manhã newspaper. A case in point was the engraving Lagoa (Lagoon), which was published in the “Letras e Artes” supplement in 1947. Other drawings from the collection were produced for newspaper publication, as referenced here along with date of publication. In this manner, the artist was able to promote his art and keep his studio open through hard times. Goeldi’s printing process was extremely heavy-going. Studying the characteristics of the Single Proofs reveals that Goeldi was something of a master conjurer. In various engravings, the colors were isolated per area on the same wood block, while on others a second template was used. What makes these works so rare is how sophisticated and unique Goeldi was in the act of printing. He used the palms of his hands, handmade special rolling pins, cleaned the blocks with rags, and blotted out unwanted areas with paper cut-outs, and it is the combined effect of all of these techniques that make these engravings the Single Proofs that they are.


When it comes to identifying the original titles and possible dates of the works, I have considered the publications on Goeldi by José Maria dos Reis Jr. and Anibal Machado, which are reference works of unrivaled value. When Minister of Culture in 1954, Anibal Machado invited Goeldi to join the “Brazilian Artists” collection directed by Simeão Leal. Goeldi passed away in 1961, which means that we can safely assume he accompanied the publication process personally. We can also reliably assert that the titles attributed to reproductions in the book were the artist’s own, and, in my opinion, should be used to reference the works when on show or included in catalogues. The catalogues for the exhibitions held at MAM/SP and MAM/RJ in 1956, during the artist’s lifetime, also provide an important source of reliable data, despite the fact that some of the information is incomplete and imprecise. The FAAP/SP Museu de Arte Brasileira, which, for a brief period, housed a collection intended to be the seed stock of a Goeldi Museum, which never came to pass, left a catalogue in folder format that corroborates some of the titles found on drawings and engravings and so, by association, lends further credence to the published data, as they were attributed in the immediate aftermath of the artist’s death, at a time when the information would have still been fresh in his friends’ minds. The concise nature of Goeldi’s titles elucidates the content of the im- ages and facilitates their identification in the mentioned catalogues. The Bienal catalogues, especially that for the fist edition of the São Paulo Bienal, when the artist received an award for a selection of 46 engravings, are another reliable source of dates. Some of the titles found on the engravings belonging to the Günter Pape Collection featured in the 1951 exhibition (when Goeldi was still alive) and were maintained for the 1961 show (after the artist’s death in February). The fact that these were prizewinning works further adds to their value. I researched the references to the series the artist worked on under the titles Ciclo da Morte (Cycle of Death)—not “Serie A Morte”—, Ciclo das Pessoas na Cidade (Cycle of Cityfolk), which included the engravings Vagabundo e o cão (The Tramp and the Dog), and, furthermore, those associated with Ciclo das Cenas de Rua (Cycle of Street Scenes), such as Briga (Fight), Ventania (Gale), Despidida (Farewell), etc. These references all ran in the A Manhã newspaper, in an article by Múcio Leão, in which he spoke about an album the artist was about to publish. I can safely say that the engraving “Pescador Perdido” (Lost Fisherman), dedicated to Múcio Leão, is a Single Proof, testament to the admiration and affection the artist felt for those who supported him.


I carefully researched the extensive bibliography, including Bienal catalogues and book indexes. It is clear that a subject this vast cannot be exhausted in one go, but it does strike me that the questions were posed explicitly. In terms of the drawings, there really is nothing further to discuss. They were either ceded and reproduced, or not exhibited at all—one way or another, they are unique originals. The woodcuts, on the other hand, are multiple. As such, I opted to identify the various reproductions of a single template. I highlighted such details as numbering, signature and title, and reverse printing. These indications settle the issue concerning exhibition, as they identify the quality of the proofs and highlight the Single Proofs in the collection. All of the collection’s woodcuts, without exception, are originals signed and numbered by the artist himself.


In Leblon, on the Atlantic shore, near a fishing village that existed at the time, living frugally in a small room in the house of some friends, Goeldi’s career gathered momentum and rose to the heights for which he is recognized and admired. Günter Pape accompanied his friend’s silent labors and bought them up in the warmth of their discussions. These works represent what is perhaps the most refined archive of Oswaldo Goeldi. I can say, without doubt, that it will be exceedingly difficult for any other collection to narrate so sensitively and so representatively the history of the artist’s output.


1895 - Born in Rio de Janeiro on October 31 to Adelina Meyer and Emílio Augusto Goeldi (var. de Émil Auguste Göeldi), a Swiss-German naturalist and zoologist


1896 - Moves with the family to Belém, Pará, where his father will direct the Museu Paraense de História Natural e Etnografia (Pará Natural History and Ethnography Museum), transforming it into an important research center on the Amazon region. The institution now bears his name

1901 - The family moves to Bern, Switzerland 


1915 - He enrolls at the Polytechnic School in Zurich and starts drawing


1917 - His father dies and he abandons the Polytechnic. He spends six months studying at the École des Arts et Métiers, in Geneva. In Bern, he frequents the studios of Serge Pehnke and Henri Van Muyden and holds his first exhibition. He is introduced to the work of the man who will become his artistic mentor, the Austrian expressionist Alfred Kubin, from Der Blaue Reiter. He produces his first woodcuts with the Swiss artist Hermann Kümmerly, with whom he forms a friendship


1919 - Returns to Brazil and starts working as an illustrator for Álvaro Moreyra's Para Todos magazine

1921 - He holds his first Brazilian exhibition, at the  Liceu de Artes e Ofícios in Rio de Janeiro. Though he receives the support of the French poet Beatrix Reynal and her circle of intellectuals, he is misunderstood by the press and withdraws from the artistic milieu, opting for a bohemian life instead


1922 - He takes part in the São Paulo Modern Art Week, but is packed off back to Europe after falling out with his family. His intellectual friends club together to buy him a ticket back to Brazil


1924 - He starts studying woodcut engraving under the sculptor and engraver Ricardo Bampi. Álvaro Moreyra commissions illustrations for O Malho magazine


1926 - He sends some of his drawings to Alfred Kubin, asking for guidance; the painter tells him he should be exhibiting in Europe

1928 - He illustrates Graça Aranha’s novel Canaã


1930 - With a preface by Manuel Bandeira, he publishes an album of ten woodcuts in a print run of two hundred signed and numbered copies. He uses the proceeds from the album to travel to Europe. He exhibits at Kümmerly’s  studio in Muri, a town near Bern; at the Kunst-Klipstein in Bern; and at the Werthein Gallery in Berlin, alongside Matisse, Leon Lang and Utrillo


1937 - He makes his first use of color in the woodcuts he produces for Raul Bopp’s Cobra Norato, a semi-craft publication in a print run of 150 copies


1938 - He exhibits in Belém, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro; features in a collective exhibition curated by Di Cavalcanti, Aníbal Machado and Santa Rosa

1941 - He is invited by Múcio Leão to illustrate the literary supplement Autores & Livros published in the Sunday edition of A Manhã. In 1945, the supplement changes its name to Letras e Artes. The José Olympio publishing house commissions woodcut illustrations for its edition of Dostoyevski’s Humiliated and Insulted, also printed in a 200-copy special edition exclusively for bibliophiles. Over the years, Goeldi will illustrate other works by Dostoyevsky for the same publisher. He draws the war-inspired series As luzes se apagam, agitam-se os monstros (The lights go out, the monsters stir)


1944 - He produces a series of woodcuts under the title Balada da morte (The Ballad of Death), published in Clima magazine. He takes part in the Modern Art Exhibition at the Belo Horizonte City Hall Art Museum. He opens his first solo show at the Brazilian Architect’s Institute, receiving wholesale critical acclaim. He also holds a solo show at the Brazil/United States Institute in Rio de Janeiro. He illustrates Carlitos, a vida, a obra de a arte do gênio do cine, a biography of Charles Chaplin by Manuel Villegas Lopes


1945 -  He produces the woodcuts for the book Martin Cererê  – o Brasil dos meninos, dos poetas e dos heróis, by Cassiano Ricardo, printed in 210 signed and numbered copies


1949 - He illustrates Cheiro de terra, by Caio de Mello Franco


1950 - He is part of the Brazilian delegation to the Venice Biennale and features in a traveling exhibition sponsored by the International Business Corporation in New York. He exhibits at the Fine Arts Salon in Bahia, winning the gold medal, and in the Brazilian Modern Art exhibition at Galeria D'Arte della Casa del Brasile in Rome


1951 - He is invited to exhibit at the 1st São Paulo Bienal, where he wins the National Engraving prize. He joins the jury at the National Fine Arts Salon, a position he holds until 1955. He opens an individual exhibition at Domus Gallery in São Paulo


1952 - He starts teaching woodcut engraving at Augusto Rodrigues' Escolinha de Arte, in Rio de Janeiro. He exhibits in Paris, Santiago, Tokyo and at Galeria Lanbenbach & Tenreiro in Rio de Janeiro. Takes part in the 26th Venice Biennale

1953 - Features at the 2nd São Paulo Bienal. Goes to Montevidéu on the invitation of the Instituto Uruguaio Brasileiro and delivers a course on engraving


1954 - His work is shown as part of an exhibition of Brazilian art in Zurich, and at another collective in Bern. He exhibits at the Oxumaré Gallery in Salvador


1955 - Takes a teaching post at the ENBA (Escola Nacional de Belas Artes). Publishes the album Goeldi, with an introduction by Aníbal Machado, sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Participates in the 3rd São Paulo Bienal and receives a tribute from the Mário de Andrade Study Group at the Pen Club do Brasil


1956 - Exhibits at the 3rd Woodcut Engravers Salon in Zurich, a traveling show that also visits Italy. He exhibits at MAM São Paulo, while MAM Rio de Janeiro holds a retrospective of his work

1957 - He features in the exhibition Grabados Brasileños, sponsored by the Instituto de Cultura Uruguaio-Brasileiro

1958 - Takes part in exhibitions in Venice and Lugano (Italy), and in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Rio de Janeiro (Galeria GEA)

1959 - Illustrates Gustavo Corção’s novel Lições de abismo. Exhibits at galleries in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, as well as in Munich and Vienna


1960 - Produces the engravings for Jorge Amado’s Mar Morto, published in1967, after the artist’s death; wins the First International Engraving Prize at the 2nd International Biennial of Mexico. Exhibits at Galeria Bonino, in Rio de Janeiro, alongside Marcelo Grassmann

1961 - He dies in Rio de Janeiro on February 16


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