Verbal Descriptions

Tarsila do Amaral. The Moon. 1928 83

Oil on canvas, 43 5/16 × 43 5/16" (110 × 110 cm). Gift of Joan H. Tisch (by exchange). © Tarsila do Amaral

Narrator: The artist Tarsila do Amaral painted The Moon, A lua in Portuguese, in 1928, using oil on canvas. The canvas is square, approximately three-and-a-half feet, or 110 centimeters, in height and width.

The painting depicts a deserted, moonlit landscape. Tarsila do Amaral painted it in the 1920s when she frequently traveled between São Paulo and Paris, and it reflects a blending of European abstraction and the landscapes of her native Brazil.

The largely blue and green composition is equal parts sky and land, divided by a curved horizon line. Let’s begin with the sky. A yellow crescent moon lies on its back against a field of navy blue. The moon is nestled between cloud-like forms, which appear as undulating waves of softly blended paint progressing from navy to white.

The lower half of the painting is dark green. Its color grows lighter as it nears the curved horizon line, giving the ground a spherical dimension. Cutting through the green is a semi-circular band of light blue, which represents a river. It arcs from the bottom left to the bottom right corner of the canvas. The area below the river forms a green semi-circular island.

A lone cactus resembling a human figure stands upright in the foreground along the river bank. Rendered in dark green, the body of the cactus is shaped like an upside down pear. It has two egg-shaped appendages, one on top, evoking a head, and another on the right side, outstretched like a hand. The top of the cactus rises slightly above the horizon line.

The cactus, ground, and clouds appear three-dimensional with gradations color defining their forms. In contrast, the river and moon appear flat as they are each painted with one, solid color. While the moon does not appear to emanate light, the clouds, cactus and horizon below look softly illuminated.

Now let's explore this work further with a curator.

Curator, Ann Temkin: Tarsila do Amaral is a very good example of the way that we are still learning and rediscovering the history of Modern art.

The painting takes its name from the moon, which is very prominent at the upper center. The surrounding landscape is clearly abstracted but there is definitely a sense of green earth, blue sky, and probably a river with that blue semi-circle. And maybe a mountain range behind the moon.

But I think most intriguing perhaps is the figure, which looks like a cactus. So there's that sense of ourselves in the painting as we identify with that figure standing there before the moon. There's a real sense of mystery, a real sense of wonder.

One of the things that I think is very special about this painting is that there's an infinity of space and time that invites us, the viewers, to retreat into our own thoughts, our own imaginings.