Art History, Art Nouveau, Artists, Painters

Abaporu by Tarsila do Amaral

Abaporu is an oil painting on canvas by Brazilian painter Tarsila do Amaral. The word “abaporu” comes from the Tupi language (the language from most important indigenous people of Brazil) that means “the man that eats people” = abá (man) + poro (people) + ‘u (to eat).

The subject of the painting was described by the artist as “a monstrous solitary figure, enormous feet, sitting on a green plain, the hand supporting the featherweight minuscule head. In front of a cactus exploding in an absurd flower.”

Abaporu (Photo credit: MALBA)

This “monstrous” figure is, in fact, a human being. A human whose anatomy has been distorted, a figure ageless, sexless, undressed, completely unadorned. This human with a huge foot and hand at the bottom of the canvas slowly shrinks to a very tiny head at the top.

The background of the painting is a natural setting. The earth is depicted as a small green mound where the subject sits. The vegetation is represented only by a cactus. To complete the scenery there is a golden sun crowning the composition. The sky is depicted as a plain pale blue.

Its composition (one man, the sun and a cactus) inspired Brazilian writer Oswald de Andrade to write the Anthropophagic Manifesto and consequently create Anthropophagic Movement, that intended to “swallow” European culture and turn it into something culturally very Brazilian.

Its style has influences from French modernists painters as Fernand Léger who was Tarsilas’ master in Paris. However, is evident that the closest resemblance is found in surrealist painter as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.

Figura tirando piedra a un pájaro b Joan Miró (Photo credit: Pinterest)

The painting is currently at the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA – Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.


    • Tarsila executed this painting in 1928 as a birthday present to her husband, the Brazilian writer Oswald de Andrade.
    • The Abaporu have reached the value of $1.4 millon paid by the Argentine collector Eduardo Constantini in an auction in 1995. Since then, this painting is considered the most valuable painting by a Brazilian artist.
    • Tarsila said that to create this strange figure she was inspired by the stories she had heard during her childhood on a farm.