Art Brazil Through European Eyes Christie's, London

'There is a near universal desire in Europeans to go to Brazil'
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The Independent Culture
Given the choice, and before you could say Copacabana, a large number of European holiday-makers would clearly opt for a trip to Rio de Janeiro over any other destination on earth. The attraction of the (imagined) dolce far niente of the city, the exotic mystery of this part of the New World, the beauty of the land and the people of Brazil has Deauville and Disney World knocked into a cocked hat any day of the year. Most package tourists surely empathise with Rudyard Kipling as he daydreamed, "I'd like to roll down to Rio some day before I'm old."

At Christie's, the Brazilian embassy is revealing the roots of the fascination. On show are some of the images brought back by artists over three centuries that have formed a near-universal desire in Europeans to go to Brazil.

The show is a feast. It starts with those Netherlandish painters, most notably Frans Post from Leiden, who visited north-east Brazil and painted beautiful luminous landscapes during that short period in the 17th-century when the Hollanders ruled it. (One must be thankful that the Dutch got there for a few years and facilitated Post's trip, yet were thrown out by the Portuguese before their miserable Calvinism cast too much of a blight on Brazilian joie de vivre.)

Then on to the magnificent Gobelins where the craft and elegance of 18th- century France are put to work to produce tapestries of the highest sophistication, fit for a Versailles or a Sans Souci or a Queluz.

Against them, the practical British can field the careful and exquisite botanical drawings of Sydney Parkinson. Contracted by Joseph Banks, he accompanied Captain Cook as he put into Brazilian ports on his scientific circumnavigation of the world, recording a bougainvillea here and an oxypetalum there.

European artists of the 19th century, when Brazil became better known and some of the early exoticism wore off, produced nothing quite as magical.

Unfortunately, sentimentality reared its head, its sugary sensitivity often cheapening the awe felt by the previous generations.

n To 26 Jan, 8 King Street, London SW1. Information: 0171-839 9060

HUGH O'SHAUGHNESSY

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