This article examines the development of discourses on Brazilian art and national identity over the period from 1850 to 1930. It begins with the nineteenth-century idea that the art produced in Brazil was lacking in a character distinct from its European origins and traces this to the
strident nationalist stance of the 1920s, charting the implications of this debate for issues of race and culture, politics and social organisation. The main writings addressed are those of Manuel de Araújo Porto-Alegre, Gonzaga Duque, Alberto Torres, Graça Aranha, Monteiro Lobato,
Oswald de Andrade and Mário de Andrade, key figures in fleshing out the ideal of brasilidade that came to prevail from the 1930s onwards.