Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (b. 1908, Lisbon, Portugal; d. 1992, Paris, France) painted intricate compositions, masterful in their spatial manipulation, evoking great depth and a profound sense of illusionistic space. Moving to Paris in 1928, she became an important member of the post-war expressive abstract movement, and it was here that da Silva first encountered Cubism, Surrealism and Geometric abstraction. Recalling the Hispano-Arabic Azulejo tiles, the undulating cobbled pavements and tiered architecture of Lisbon, da Silva began to use rectangular patches of colour to construct spatial ambiguities on the two-dimensional canvas. Within these geometric landscapes, da Silva gave form and countenance to abstract impressions of her memories. Her painful experience of dislocation engendered by a self-imposed exile in Brazil, escaping wartime Europe, is reflected in the shifting perspectives of her semi-abstract compositions. These spontaneous and yet studied works also communicate the instability and insecurity da Silva felt after the loss of her father at a young age, and throughout her itinerant adult life. A preference for solitude borne from her childhood, da Silva was reluctant to leave her studio, for fear of disturbing the harmony of her work. Her early confrontation with human mortality, intensified by her experience of the existentialist currents that swept through post-war Europe, lends a mystical, contemplative essence to the psychological space within her paintings.Read More
Da Silva initially moved to Paris to study sculpture under Bourdelle at the Academie de la Grande-Chaumière; there she met her future husband Árpád Szenes. Da Silva gave up sculpture for painting in 1929. In 1933, da Silva had her first solo exhibition at Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris; the gallery which would remain her main dealer throughout her career. Jeanne Bucher would go on to organise her first solo exhibition in New York at Marian Willard Gallery in 1946. After gaining French citizenship in 1956, da Silva was awarded the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1962, and was the first woman to receive the French Grand Prix Nationale des Arts (1966). Over the course of her career, the French State acquired several of her works, including 'The Chess Game' (1948), 'The Library' (1949), 'Hanging Gardens' (1955), and 'Summer or Gray Composition' (1960), the latter three hang in the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris. In 1994, Guy Weelen and Jean-François Jaeger's catalogue raisonné of da Silva's work was published by Skira. Her work is held in important museum collections throughout the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Centre Pompidou, Paris.