Maria Helena Vieira da Silva Portugal, 1908-1992


Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (b. 1908, Lisbon, Portugal; d. 1992, Paris, France) enrolled at the Academia Nacional de Belas Artes, Lisbon, in 1919 to study drawing with Emilia Santos Braga. She moved to Paris from Lisbon in 1928 to study sculpture under Antoine Bourdelle and Charles Despiau at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. There she met her future husband, Hungarian painter Árpád Szenes, and in 1929 gave up sculpture for painting. Living in Paris, she absorbed a variety of influences, from the geometric abstraction of the group Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square, 1929-33) and Joaquín Torres-García, to avant-garde Cubism. Vieira da Silva began to paint rectangular patches of color to recall the Hispano-Arabic Azulejo tiles, undulating cobbled pavements and tiered architecture of Lisbon. In 1933, Vieira da Silva had her first solo exhibition at Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris; the gallery remained her main dealer throughout her career.


After the war, Vieira da Silva's paintings echoed the realities of post-war Europe. Works from this period reflect the flooded and razed cities, claustrophobic corridors and altered landscapes after the unprecedented violence. Vieira da Silva became a French citizen in 1956 and was awarded the Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1962. In 1966, she was the first woman to receive the French Grand Prix Nationale des Arts.


Throughout Vieira da Silva's career, major institutions have recognized her as an important figure within the modernist canon. In 1937, Hilla Rebay acquired Composition (1936) for the collection of the future Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 1954, Dance (1938) entered the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, following its inclusion in the museum's group show XXVth Anniversary. The French State acquired several of her paintings during the course of her career, three of which hang in the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris. Vieira da Silva's work is held in other distinguished collections throughout the world, including San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, Tate, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Retrospectives of Vieira da Silva's work have been mounted at Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover, in 1958, traveling to Kunsthalle Bremen, and the Kunst- und Museumsverein Wuppertal; Musée de Grenoble, France, in 1964; Museo Civico, Turin, in 1964; Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, in 1969-70; Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France, in 1971; Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, in 1977; Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, in 1988, traveling to Grand Palais, Paris; and Fundación Juan March, Madrid, in 1991. Important exhibitions were presented at Fundação Árpád Szenes - Vieira da Silva, Lisbon in 2015, and at Musée d'Art moderne de Céret, in 2016. In 1994, Guy Weelen and Jean-François Jaeger's two volume catalogue raisonné and monograph of Vieira da Silva's work was published by Skira.