Artist Spotlight: Maria Helena Vieira da Silva
Born the daughter of a Portuguese diplomat and the granddaughter of the founder of the O Século daily newspaper, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva was exposed to a wide array of avant-garde art forms early on in life. At the age of eleven, Vieira da Silva was already studying painting and drawing at Lisbon’s Academia das Belas Artes. In 1928, Vieira da Silva continued her formal training at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, where she initially studied sculpture before fully committing to abstract, geometric painting. There in the heart of the art world, she was deeply impacted by the zeitgeist of the École de Paris, the loose group of artists who produced works in various avant-garde styles, including Futurism, Cubism, and Constructivism. While Vieira da Silva would come to be regarded as Portugal’s greatest contemporary artist, she lived the vast majority of her adult life in Paris. At the Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Vieira da Silva had her first solo show in 1933 and was met with critical acclaim. At the outbreak of WWII however, the artist and her husband, Hungarian painter Árpád Szenes, fled France for Rio de Janeiro, where they remained until 1947.
Upon returning to Paris, Vieira da Silva immediately began exhibiting across the city. As a member of the burgeoning Nouvelle École de Paris, she rejected the popular emphasis that had been placed on capturing the objective or seen world by the group of artists (known as the Jeunes Peintres) who had remained in France throughout its occupation. Synthesizing years of architectural appreciation, Vieira da Silva began painting “space without dimensions.” With her dynamic application of a muted color palette, which reflected the mood of post-war Europe, the artist created dense reflections on the changed cityscape, and the ways in which Europe was being rebuilt following the destruction of the war. These compositions ambiguously figure interior rooms and city views, and delicately obscure the boundaries between abstraction and representation. What poet René Char referred to as Vieira da Silva’s “sense of labyrinth” continued to blossom throughout the decade, and by the late 1950s the painter had become internationally renowned for her unique forms. Along with a preceding multitude of high-profile exhibitions, Vieira da Silva received her first retrospective in 1958 at the Kestnergesellschaft in Hannover, Germany. Critics and fellow artists alike wrote rapturously of Vieira da Silva’s contribution to the French canon, calling her works “an irreplaceable form of art, a rare state of painting.” In 1966, Vieira da Silva became the first woman to receive the French Government’s Grand Prix Nationale des Arts, and in 1979 she was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
Adamson, Natalie. “Pierre Soulages and the Nouvelle École De Paris.” The National Gallery of Victoria, 2014, www.ngv.vic.gov.au.
Harambourg, Lydia. L’École De Paris, 1945-1965: Dictionnaire Des Peintres. Ides & Calendes, 2010.
“Maria Helena Vieira Da Silva .” Guggenheim, www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/maria-helena-vieira-da-silva.
Maria Helena Vieira da Silva
Gouache on paper
Signed and dated lower right edge of sheet
Composition/sheet: 20.5″ x 20.625″
Provenance: Private Collection, Beverly Hills, California
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction