Brazilian Virgin Forest by Johann Moritz Rugendas

The two paintings called “Brazilian Virgin Forest” (1830) by Johann Moritz Rugendas are among the works created by the so-called “traveling artists” in the 19th century. Following the example of Alexander von Humboldt, these artists visited Latin America for study purposes. Rugendas made two journeys, exploring the continent for nearly 20 years. Artistically, he recorded his impressions in the form of landscapes, portraits, as well as genre portrayals of the Black, indigenous and European population.

The focus of the painting is his rendering of Brazil’s lush, tropical landscape. Only upon looking more closely do we discover the indigenous people. They appear rather incidentally as staffage figures. In this, they are portrayed stereotypically as naked, “noble savages” living in harmony with nature.

On location, Rugendas had the possibility to become acquainted with the living conditions of the native population. In doing this, it is not clear under which conditions his observations were made, or what his relationships were to the persons there. Contemporary experts questioned the authenticity of the figural scenes with the indigenous population. By contrast, his landscapes were highly praised for their accuracy.


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