Francisco Brennand: Sculptor of Sensual, Natural and Mythological Art
Written by Paul Barnett
Francisco Brennand is one of the most important and celebrated artists in Brazil. He was born on June 11th 1927, the son of a wealthy industrialist, Ricardo Monteiro Brennand, whose Irish family had arrived in Brazil in 1823 to work as peasant farmers. The unmarried daughter of a sugar magnate took a liking to Brennand’s father, who was employed by her father. She later inherited her father’s property, and when she died, willed her entire estate and immense wealth to Ricardo Brennand.
From an early age, he worked at the São João Pottery his father had founded in 1917, and he was an informal pupil of potter Abelardo da Hora. He also developed drawing skills, made caricatures, and illustrated the poems of his contemporary, Ariano Suassuna. His talent for painting was helped when his father invited several artists to paint landscapes surrounding the São João Engenho (sugar mill), including Álvaro Amorim, Balthazar de Cãmara, Mário Nunes and Murillo La Greca. Brennand later became a student of La Greca, whose work can be seen at the gallery named after him in Recife.
It was with La Greca that Brennand created his first sculpture A Cabeça de Deborah (Deborah´s Head). In 1947, he received his first prize for painting from the Art Salon of the State Museum of Pernambuco. Two years later he travelled to Europe to study ceramics, visiting France, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain and Italy. During his travels he was influenced by Picasso, Miró, Léger and Gaudi. When he came back to Recife, he revisited the São João Pottery, which had been idle since 1945 and lay in ruins. Then, in 1971, he set about restoring the site, situated close to the Capibaribe River in the midst of Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest). The project, his volume of work and his reputation, all grew. Today he is known internationally and his work has been exhibited, and won prizes, in many cities.
At 82, Brennand still works on the site and has completed many projects in the past few years. Two of the oldest and most spectacular features of the complex are the water and sculpture garden that were landscaped by Brazil´s most famous landscaper, Brule Marx. Between temples, ponds and fountains are many of Brennands works including murals and sculptures inspired by flora, fauna, mythological, historic and literary figures. Many are also vey sexual and erotic, based on Brenand´s main focus of study, the female body.
Inside the large warehouse style buildings are yet more surprises. There are over two thousand sculptures of many forms, ornate rooms and a sunken pit theatre. Close to the garden and warehouse buildings is the Accademia building which was opened in 2003. It houses houses over 200 of his paintings and drawings.
In addition to Oficina Brennand, his work can be seen in other parts of Recife, and all over Brazil. The most famous of his other work in Recife is the Parque das Esculturas (Sculpture Park) on the reef that can be seen from Marco Zero Square in Recife Antigo. Centerpiece of the park is the 32meter column of concrete, clay, ceramic and bronze. It was inspired by a flower discovered by Brule Marx. The 90 exhibits can be viewed up close by taking a boat crossing from the quayside in Marco Zero.
For information about visiting Oficina Brennand see our section on Art Galleries
The Sculpture Park can be visited as part of the Walking Tour 4: Recife Antigo.
The author gratefully acknowledges the many sources that were consulted in the writing of this article. While they provide the foundation, the interpretation and opinion are entirely those of the author.
Paul Barnett is Founder of Recife Guide.