Emiliano Augusto Cavalcanti de Albuquerque e Melo was born in Rio de Janeiro, in 1897, at the home of notorious abolitionist José do Patrocínio, who was a relative of his. Surrounded by writers and poets, he grow up with a great love of fine arts.
He began his career as a designer and caricaturist, publishing his work in local magazines. In 1918 he began to spend some time at the atelier of George Fischer Elpons, who was also the teacher of Anita Malfatti. As his artwork matured, his pieces no longer seemed amateuristic and literary, but acquired a modern, professional quality.
1922 was an important year in the career of the painter and for modern art in general. A harsh critic of traditional art, Di Cavalcanti organized the Week of Modern Art, an event that espoused new artistic ideas, striving for creative freedom unbound by reality, a renewed language and a break from the past.
In the following year, at the age of 26, Di Cavalcanti traveled to Paris, the international reference for modern art. The Revolution of 1924 made him return to Brazil and, shortly thereafter, he began to display his work in collective art exhibits and national and international salons.
He was first arrested in 1932, during the Paulista Revolution. He published the album A Realidade Brasileira (Brazilian Reality), a series of 12 drawings that were a satire on the militarism of that period. He was arrested again and returned to Paris in 1935, where he remained until 1940. By then, Di Cavalcanti had matured as an artist and at the age of 43 he had become acclaimed and respected, in Brazil and abroad.
Even during his 5-year absence from Brazil he maintained his Brazilian authenticity, preserving the rich colors, smells and memories of his country. He saw the mulata as the true symbol of Brazil, as she was neither rich nor poor, white nor black.
Mário de Andrade felt that Di Cavalcanti had achieved a unique position in Brazilian contemporary arts. Without any nationalist doctrine, “he was the most accurate painter of national matters”.
Di Cavalcanti was a very prolific artist who created approximately 5.000 works of art. He created murals in Belo Horizonte, Brasília (Câmara dos Deputados), Rio de Janeiro (Banco do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Banco Lar Brasileiro, etc.) and São Paulo (Congonhas Airport, the State of São Paulo).