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Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1909 - 1992)

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, 'Self-portrait', 1930
Born in Lisbon, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva is one of the most successful Portuguese artists and an influential female force within the Modernist canon.

The artist’s oeuvre is defined by a lifelong interest in perspective and a masterful approach to linear, spatial compositions. Having drawn and painted from a young age, Vieira da Silva began her formal studies at the prestigious Academia de Belas-Artes in Lisbon. During this formative period, she was exposed to the work of Fernand Léger and Othon Friesz, whose pioneering work with Cubism and Fauvism were formative influences.

Leaving Lisbon for Paris in 1928, the young artist was struck by the works of Paul Cézanne, which were being exhibited in the Louvre. The art historian Gisela Rosenthal has emphasised the importance that Cézanne’s work had on Vieira da Silva’s work, especially in Cézanne’s pioneering ability to create ‘new ways of representing space’ (Rosenthal 1998, p.15).

Vieira da Silva represented a profoundly unique style that combined Cubism with other Modernist styles such as Futurism and Constructivism. In 1930, she was awarded her first exhibition in Paris, and by the 1950s, Vieira da Silva was already internationally known for her distinct works, heavily characterised by their otherworldly and complex perspectives.

In 1940, the artist moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she lived in exile with her husband Árpád Szenes until 1947. Her status as émigré, as well as an artist in exile, perhaps contributed to a feeling of statelessness visible in the subject matter of her works, often realised from memory.

In 1961 she won a prize for painting at the São Paulo Art Biennial and went on to secure many international public commissions. In 1966, Vieira da Silva was the first female artist to be awarded the prestigious Grand Prix National des Art, from the French government.

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva died in 1992 in Paris. A large collection of her work can be found in the Árpád Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation in Lisbon.
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