Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

Lisboa, 1908 – Paris, 1992

A firm fixture on the international art circuit from a young age, Vieira da Silva was a prominent figure within the School of Paris. She settled in the city in 1928 and met people who would go on to shape the course of her life, especially gallery owner Jeanne Bucher and the Hungarian-Jewish painter Arpad Szenes, who would later become her husband and close companion in her work.

Vieira da Silva was the first woman to receive the French Grand Prix National des Arts in 1966. Yet despite being a naturalised French citizen, her work maintained an unceasing dialogue with Portugal, her country of birth, and in particular with Lisbon, where she grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment. As an adult, she would return there on numerous occasions. Her relationship with the city was evident from her work, which contains constant references to its light, topography, architecture and tilework.

Her conception of urban life is expressed in abstract paintings of great complexity, which proliferate through labyrinthine webs, three-dimensional lattices and mirrored perspectives. Adopting an array of formats, settings and themes, ranging from the intimate to the monumental, effervescent joy to anguish, portrayals of herself and depictions of the world, the work of Vieira da Silva asserts itself forcefully as a complex “theatre for the gaze”.

Lígia Afonso
[Plano Nacional das Artes and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian]
Curator, teacher and researcher born in Lisbon in 1981
Text originally written for Google Arts & Culture apropos the exhibition “All I Want, Portuguese Women Artists from 1900 to 2020”, curated by Helena de Freitas and Bruno Marchand
Courtesy FASVS/ Comité Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva © Ida Kar