Most of the prostitutes portrayed by the painter Lasar Segall in his album Mangue are of African descent. According to Manuel Bandeira, these women are not seductresses; their sadness and exhaustion can be seen in their faces. In their essays, the writers Jorge de Lima, Mário de Andrade, and Bandeira focus on the human side of the subject matter as well as certain formal aspects of Segall’s drawings, but pay scant attention to the prostitute’s ethnic features. Bandeira is the only one to make any mention of Segall’s artistic interest in documenting the social condition of blacks and Jews in this environment in Brazil. In his album Mangue, Segall shows the poverty-stricken lifestyle of these black women. Earlier in his career, Segall had been a member of the German expressionist movement, where he concentrated on exploring the Jewish racial experience and diaspora. After he had settled in Brazil, in 1923, he concentrated on similar subjects, such as social marginalization, loneliness, and poverty. According to Jorge Schwartz, once Segall was in Brazil he focused on the black experience until it became the core subject of his art.
Lasar Segall (1891–1957) was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, where his family was part of the Jewish community. He enrolled in the School of Applied Arts in Berlin and, in the early years of the century, spent time at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1912 he travelled to Brazil, where his brothers were already living. The Centro de Ciências e Artes de Campinas (São Paulo) bought one of his paintings: Cabeça de menina russa (1908). He returned to Europe during the First World War. Joining forces with a group of German painters (such as Otto Dix) he co-founded the Dresdner Sezession – Gruppe 1919. After an exhibition of Russian art in Hanover in 1921 he established a relationship with Kandinsky. In 1923 he returned to Brazil. He painted a mural at the Pavilhão de Arte Moderna, a meeting place for artists and intellectuals at the home of the great promoter of the Semana de Arte Moderna of 1922, Mrs. Olivia Guedes Penteado. The mural was reviewed by Mário de Andrade, who identified his “Brazilian phase” (1924–28). Segall took part in SPAM’s Primeira Exposição de Arte Moderno and the Spamolândia project in 1934. Three of his paintings and seven prints were featured in the Entartete Kunst Ausstellungsführer [Exhibition of Degenerate Art] organized by the Nazis in Munich in 1937 to discredit modern art. In the 1940s Segall traveled, painted stage sets, and illustrated books and magazines. His major work, Navio de emigrantes (1939–41), was highly praised by George Grosz.
The noted critic, poet, musicologist, and cultural promoter Mário de Andrade (1893–1945) closely followed Segall’s career in Brazil, writing several articles outlining what he described as the painter’s “visual art biography” during the time he lived in Brazil. See the essay included, in 1943, in the Catálogo da exposição promovida pelo Ministério da Educação . Regarding the project promoted by the Sociedade Pró-Arte Moderna de São Paulo (SPAM, 1934), which Segall cofounded, see the statute written by Mário de Andrade [doc. no 783393].
Several months after Segall’s first visit to Brazil, Abílio Miller wrote about one of his exhibitions in Campinas, São Paulo (1913), in an article entitled “Um pintor de almas: a propósito de Lasar Segall” . The Revista Acadêmica also published a tribute to Segall: “Número de homenagem a Lasar Segall” (82 pp.) in the mid-1940s .