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How Brazilian art helped the British war effort in 1944

An almost forgotten collection of Brazilian paintings that helped Britain to victory in World War II has been brought together for the first time in over 70 years by King’s College London’s Brazil Institute and the Embassy of Brazil.

The collection and story behind the extraordinary wartime collaboration illustrates a significant, yet little known, part of the Brazilian contributions to the war effort.

During World War II, Brazil was a close ally of Britain and sent 25,000 troops to Europe to support the allied forces. It is less widely known, however, that 70 of the most prominent Brazilian artists of the time also donated paintings in order to raise money and support British forces.

In 1944, 168 Brazilian artworks crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 7 creates, collectively weighing over half a ton. In a journey that took three months, the cargo of paintings managed to avoided swarms of Nazi submarines and heavy V2 bombing to reach the UK safely.

When they arrived in London, the artworks were put in to an exhibition that was visited by over 100,000 members of the public and important people, including King George VI’s wife, Queen Elizabeth. Many of the paintings were subsequently sold raising around £1200 (around £17,000 today) for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund to help British military efforts.

Tracing the works of art, and recovering the full story behind them, took three years of extensive research by Hayle Gadelha of King’s Brazil Institute and the Brazilian Embassy in London. Paintings were discovered in private collections from as far away as New Zealand, as well as in public collections across the UK.

Hayle Gadelha says: ‘Brazilian art was an unknown entity in the UK before 1944 and so the novelty of this exhibition attracted a lot of high profile attention and contributed to a change in perception about the country as a whole among the British public.

‘It may be thought that the artists sent the pictures for their own creative gain but the feeling is that they genuinely wanted to be seen as playing their part in the war effort.’

The paintings, alongside the valuable troops sent over to Europe, led to King George VI saying on VE Day that, “Brazil may claim to a worthy share in victory of United Nations”.

The artwork, which has been loaned from public collections across the UK, is on display at Sala Brasil Arts Centre until 22 June 2018.