Maria Helena Vieira da Silva was an artist born in 1908 in Lisbon and died in 1992 in Paris. She enrolled at the Academia Nacional de Belas Artes in Lisbon in 1919 to study drawing with Emilia Santos Braga. In 1928, she left Lisbon and moved to Paris where she studied sculpture with Antoine Bourdelle and Charles Despiau at the Académie de la Grande-Chaumière. There she met her future husband, the Hungarian painter Árpád Szenes, and gave up sculpture for painting in 1929. Living in Paris, she absorbed various influences, from the geometric abstraction of the Cercle et Carré group (1929-33), through the work of Joaquín Torres-García, to avant-garde Cubism. Vieira da Silva began to paint rectangular patches to recall the Azulejo, the Spanish-Arabic tiles characteristic of Lisbon’s stepped architecture. In 1933, Vieira da Silva held his first solo exhibition at the Jeanne Bucher Gallery in Paris.
At the beginning of the Second World War, Vieira da Silva and Szenes fled to Portugal and then to Rio de Janeiro. Jeanne Bucher organised her first solo exhibition in New York, at the Marian Willard Gallery, in 1946. She continued to paint and exhibit in Brazil until her return to Paris in 1947. In the 1950s, Vieira da Silva’s paintings echoed the grim realities of post-war Europe. Titles such as “The Flooded Station”, “The Traboule” and “Ruins” reflect the flooded and razed cities, claustrophobic corridors and altered landscapes of the post-war period. Vieira da Silva became a French citizen in 1956 and was named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1962. She was the first woman to receive the Grand Prix National des Arts in 1966.
Vieira da Silva had retrospectives at the Kestner Gesellschaft in Hanover in 1958; at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1969-70; at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1977; at the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon in 1988, and at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid in 1991. During his career, the French state acquired several of his paintings, three of which are on display at the Musée national d’art moderne in Paris. His works are held in important collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Tate in London; the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.