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Alice Brill (1920-2013), humanist immigrant artist in São Paulo/Brazil


Alice Brill Czapski was a photographer, engraver and draftswoman. She was born in Hamburg, where she lived with her family. After traveling to several countries in Europe, fleeing Nazism, she immigrated with her father to São Paulo in 1934. In the course of the 1940’s, she attends the Santa Helena Group, striking friendships with artists Mario Zanini, Paulo Rossi Osir, Alfredo Volpi, among others. She got a scholarship for the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque (USA). Later, she advanced in her studies at the Art Students League, in New York, between 1946/1947, where she further studied drawing, painting and photography. Still in the United states, the photographer bought a Roleiflex camera and, later, was given the smaller and more dynamic Ikonta 35 mm. The two cameras accompanied her professionally as a photojournalist and documentary photographer in the course of her career.

On returning to Brazil, she worked at Habitat magazine, taking pictures of architecture and works of art. Invited by Pietro Maria Bardi, director of the São Paulo Art Museum (Museu de Arte de São Paulo – MASP), she recorded São Paulo’s daily life in the period between 1953 and 1954 with a sensitive and critical gaze. She also portrayed aspects of the universe of labor and of childhood, being a pioneer of the spontaneous record of infancy.

She worked as a photographer between 1948 and 1960. She is considered a precursor of modern and humanist photography in Brazil. She also painted cityscapes and, later in time, advanced towards to abstraction. She graduated in the Philosophy at the Catholic Pontifical University (Pontifícia Universidade Católica – PUC) in 1976, and completed her Masters (1982) and Ph.D. studies (1984) at the University of São Paulo (Universidade de São Paulo – USP). She published the books Mario Zanini and his time (Mario Zanini e seu tempo – 1984) and Samson Flexor – from figurativism to abstractionism (Samson Flexordo figurativismo ao abstracionismo – 1990), among others. In 2000, Instituto Moreira Salles housed her 14 thousand photographs collection, and, later, carried out the retrospective show The World of Alice Brill (O Mundo de Alice Brill – 2005).

Yara Schreiber Dines



“Art was everything for me: haven and hope, the dream of a freedom precociously lost in face of fate’s adversity”. Excerpt from Alice Brill’s testimonial (ALARCON, Daniela Fernandes. Diário Íntimo. São Paulo nas fotografias de Alice Brill. 2008, p.119)

“You don’t see the things you photograph, you simply feel them”. Sentence by André Kertész, regarding Alice Brill’s work. (O Mundo de Alice Brill, IMS, 2005).



Alice Brill Alicerces da Forma – retrospective show. Curator: Carla Ogawa. São Paulo: FAAP, 2007.

CZAPSKI, Alice Brill. Alice Brill Czapski. In: Morris, Katherine. Odyssey of Exile: Jewish women flee the Nazis for Brazil. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996. p. 146-162

DINES, Yara Schreiber. The Substance of Images Brazilian Women Photographers. São Paulo: Editora Grifo, 2021.

Hildegard Rosenthal e Alice Brill, fotógrafas de além-mar – cosmopolitismo e modernidade nos olhares sobre São Paulo. São Paulo: Editora Intermeios, 2020.

O Mundo de Alice Brill. São Paulo: Instituto Moreira Salles, 2005.

OS GRUPOS: a década de 40. São Paulo: Museu Lasar Segall, 1977. (Contemporary Brazilian Painting Exhibition Cycle de Pintura Brasileira Contemporânea).

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