Public Diplomacy on the Front Line
: The Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings within Brazil’s Second World War Foreign Policy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The Exhibition of Modern Brazilian Paintings, held at the Royal Academy of Arts of London and seven other major venues throughout the United Kingdom in 1944 and 1945, was the first collective display of Brazil’s art shown in the UK and the largest ever sent abroad until then. It resulted from an initiative championed by the Brazilian Foreign Ministry and envisioned by seventy Modernist painters who donated one hundred-sixty-eight artworks as a contribution to the Allied War effort. Notwithstanding its historical relevance and unmatched scale, this event had never been academically investigated. Through exploring why and how successfully the Brazilian Government devoted superlative efforts to this enterprise in the midst of WW2, this dissertation is intended to fill this gap and gain understanding of a largely neglected public aspect of a deeply studied period of Brazilian foreign policy.

The research unearthed abundant first-hand documents to reconstruct the episode, adopting the hermeneutic method and a theoretical framework from the Public Diplomacy and Cultural Diplomacy fields in order to interpret the circumstances that made possible this improbable and challenging endeavour. It contends that the Exhibition was a remarkably innovative action of Public Diplomacy avant la lettre, which aimed at engaging with British society and enhancing the image of Brazil and its culture. Its motivations must be understood within the broader foreign policy, focused on obtaining prestige and repositioning Brazil in the post-War international order, which encompassed the deployment of 25,000 troops to fight in Europe. The research further claims that the initiative was intended and managed to achieve a substantial impact on views about Brazil, by means of conveying a well-planned message of solidarity, modernisation and artistic prowess, which was consistent with the country’s diplomatic goals and attuned to Britain´s wartime mindset.

The Exhibition presented sophisticated features of Public Diplomacy throughout its conception, planning, and execution. It achieved unprecedented press coverage; high attendance that included influential figures within local society; the entrance of at least 25 Brazilian paintings into important British collections; and the sale of around eighty artworks in benefit of the Royal Air Force. Despite these resounding short-term successes, the lasting effects on Brazil’s reputation were arguably mitigated by the shift in direction of its foreign policy after the end of the War.
Date of Award1 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorVinicius De Carvalho (Supervisor)

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