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About the Author

Georgia Soares is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at Harvard University specializing in 19th- and 20th-century American, Brazilian, French and Norwegian literatures and cultures. She holds an M.Phil. in Comparative and International Education from the University of Oslo, Norway. LinkedIn.

A Norwegian-Brazilian Transcultural Encounter

by | Nov 11, 2021

In 1886, the Norwegian-born artist Alfred Emil Andersen exhibited his paintings alongside Edvard Munch, whose iconic “The Scream” would subsequently gain worldwide recognition. Just a few years later in 1891, Andersen painted a portrait of Knut Hamsun, who would later be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Alfredo Andersen, Portrait of the Author Knut Hamsun, 1891. Oil on canvas. Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo, Norway.

Despite having moved in the same circles as some of Norway’s most recognized artists, Andersen’s name would remain nearly unknown in Norway and abroad, except in one peripheral region in the Southern hemisphere where he moved to: the port of Paranaguá in the newly founded state of Paraná, Brazil.

Who was Andersen and how did he come to adopt Brazil as his home?

Alfredo Andersen, Self-Portrait, 1932. Oil on canvas, 76 x 53.3 cm. Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro.

I first came across Andersen and his art when studying cultural connections between Northern Europe and South America. While my research interests clustered around trans-Atlantic patterns of migration and cultural formation, I sought to go beyond the more commonly studied colonial and post-colonial ties between Southern European and Latin American nations and instead to investigate cultural productions resulting from lesser-known migratory routes.

I wondered whether there were significant patterns of immigration from other European countries, such as Norway. As I researched possible connections between them, one artist eventually emerged: Alfredo Emílio Andersen, the “father of Paranaense painting.”

Andersen, né Alfred Emil, was born in Kristiansand, Norway in 1860. The son of a ship captain, he had opportunities from an early age to visit various countries in Europe and Latin America. These trips awakened in young Andersen an interest in visual art, leading him to choose painting as his profession. In the late 1870s and throughout the 1880s, Andersen worked in Oslo, Copenhagen and Paris, among other European cities, where he exhibited his paintings, taught in art schools and reported for newspapers on art events.

Andersen made it to Brazil for the first time in 1891, after sailing to Mexico and the Caribbean islands, and together with his father he visited the northeastern state of Paraíba, which Andersen depicted in his painting Port of Cabedelo.

Alfredo Andersen, Port of Cabedelo, 1892. Oil on canvas, 90x150cm. Dirceu Andersen Collection.

One year later, Andersen embarked on yet another trip to South America, this time with Buenos Aires as his final destination. But a mighty storm along the Brazilian coastline forced the ship to dock in Paranaguá, a coastal town that served as the main port of entry to the state of Paraná. Whereas the ship eventually left for Argentina, Andersen did not. He would never again leave Brazil, except for one visit back to Norway close to the end of his life.

Alfredo Andersen, Rocio Paranaguá, undated. Oil on canvas, 75x53cm. Juril Carnasciali Collection.

Andersen lived in Paranaguá for one decade before moving with his newly formed family to Curitiba, the state capital, to further expand his career as an artist. In the 43 years that he lived in his adopted land, Andersen produced landscape paintings that depicted key symbols of Paranaense regionalism, such as the pine tree, as well as portraits of politicians that were rooted in nationalist pride. For this reason, Andersen was identified as an eminent contributor to paranismo, a regionalist artistic movement that sought to formulate a distinct identity for the state of Paraná, and crowned as the “father of Paranaense paintings” for his particular contribution to the development of visual art in the region.

Alfredo Andersen, Pine Tree Forest, 1930. Oil on canvas, 70x58cm.

Learning about Andersen’s compelling story of migration and artistic dissemination filled me with questions: how did he, as a Norwegian immigrant at age 32, build a career that would earn him the title of “father of Paranaense painting”? How did the Norwegian Alfred become the Brazilian Alfredo? How may this particular case enrich our understanding of trans-Atlantic relations between Norway and Brazil?

To address these questions, I applied for a DRCLAS Brazil Grant for summer 2020 to visit museums in Brazil and Norway that held Andersen’s artworks and archival documents. With the unanticipated development of the coronavirus pandemic, however, it soon became evident that I would conduct my research online according to the constraints imposed by the ongoing health crisis. Like many other researchers, I had to reimagine my methodological approach to archival research and adopt a timeframe with greater flexibility.

My collaboration with the Vest-Agder and Sørlandet art museums, located in Kristiansand, kickstarted the search for documents that would shed more light on Andersen’s trajectory. Since the pandemic impeded my visit to local archives, I relied on the collections of these two museums which preserved a small number of paintings, books, documents and recordings related to Andersen.

This led me to explore an unexpected angle: I found documents about the organization of a 2001 binational art exhibit entitled “Andersen Returns to Norway” which placed Brazil as the epicenter of artistic production and Norway as the recipient of a novel artistic development. Newspaper articles introduced the “Brazilian Alfredo” to Kristiansand locals; a public-broadcast documentary recounted the story of his transformation into “Senhor Alfredo”; and the exhibits imported dozens of paintings produced in Brazil that had never been introduced to the Norwegian public before. The product of Norwegian emigration to Brazil a century prior, this cultural venture reflected a reverse motion of artistic export from Brazil back to Northern Europe, indicating a trans-Atlantic loop of cultural production, reception, and cooperation between these two fairly unassociated regions.

Alfredo Andersen Museum Exhibition Catalogue.

Yet the Norwegian museum collections paled in comparison to the richness of primary documents and paintings preserved at the Casa Alfredo Andersen Museum in Curitiba, dedicated entirely to his legacy. Once again, the Andersen Museum archives drew my attention to a question that I had not previously considered: the relationship between migration and educational institutions.

From the beginning of his settlement in Brazil, Andersen had the chance to insert himself in the field of art education. In Curitiba, for instance, he taught at several established institutions, including the German School, the Paranaense School and the School of Fine Arts and Trades.

He also founded his own institution, a private atelier in his house where he held art classes, exhibits and community events. Andersen sought financial support from the government throughout his life to turn the atelier into an official public institution, although without success. Instead, his atelier functioned as a private art school, where he offered sessions on live model drawing and oil painting lessons, in addition to outdoor excursions.

The students, many of which would become professional artists and be identified as the artist’s disciples, also participated in art exhibits held at the atelier, events that became a tradition in Curitiba for their frequent occurrence and that, in turn, drew greater attention to Andersen’s art and his social role as an institution builder. In this way, the atelier became a noteworthy site of cultural production. After Andersen’s death, the atelier was transformed into the privately funded Casa Alfredo Andersen Museum and Art School, and in 1979 it became a public museum.

Alfredo Andersen, Inside the Atelier, undated. Oil on canvas, 60.5x77cm. Museu Alfredo Andersen, Curitiba.

Andersen’s political advocacy for the expansion of state-funded art schools further deepened his influence in the educational and cultural fields. Andersen was an adamant proponent of expanding access to art education to the working-class population. In addition to teaching evening classes that were promoted to blue-collar workers, he also politically advocated for the creation of art schools that would specifically serve this population, sending budget proposals to the city and state governments for the implementation of such educational projects.

The state governor at the time promised Andersen to fund the creation of an official fine arts school to be run by him, as a way to further strengthen Andersen’s commitment to living there. Even though this plan never came to fruition, Andersen remained devoted to his educational enterprise in Curitiba; when he visited Norway in 1927 for the first and only time, he was offered to run the newly founded Oslo School of Fine Arts, an opportunity that he declined, intent on returning home to Brazil.

Based on the sources I found in the three museums, I concluded that Andersen became known as the “father of Paranaense painting” not simply because of the weight of his artistic production, but also because of the impact that his pedagogy and political advocacy had on the expansion of artistic production in the region.

He and his school served as catalysts for the development of Paranaense art, preparing a robust new generation of artists who would carry the state’s artistic production forward – not only to the Brazilian metropoles, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, but also all the way to Norway.

There is much left to be studied about Andersen’s art, his personal migrant story, and the larger patterns that contributed to his arrival in Brazil. Visiting the Casa Alfredo Andersen Museum in person, when possible, will help me expand the scope of this project and draw further connections.

Yet, in a way, it was thanks to the pandemic that I was drawn to investigating documents that might otherwise not have taken front stage in my research. In having to work with what I had, I ended up with so much more than I expected.

Andersen’s case points to the broader potential of educational and cultural institutions to function as a hybrid arena for transcultural exchange, a space in which migrants make social, political, and cultural contributions to their new community. It also sheds light on how notions of citizenship and belonging are negotiated through art and built through such transcultural encounters.

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