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 Maria Helena Vieira Da Silva  (1908 - 1992)

/ vee-EH-ruh da SIL-vuh/


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Lived/Active: Portugal/France      Known for: abstract surrealist image painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992) was a Portuguese-French abstractionist painter.  She was born on June 13, 1908 in Lisbon, Portugal.  At the age of eleven she had begun seriously studying drawing and painting at that city's Academia de Belas-Artes. In her teen years she studied painting with Fernand Léger, sculpture with Antoine Bourdelle, and engraving with Stanley William Hayter, all masters in their respective fields. She also created textile designs.

By 1930 Vieira da Silva was exhibiting her paintings in Paris; that same year she married the Hungarian painter Árpád Szenes.  After a brief sojourn back in Lisbon and a period spent in Brazil during World War II (1940-1947), Vieira da Silva lived and worked in Paris the rest of her life.  She adopted French citizenship in 1956.  Vieira da Silva received the French government's Grand Prix National des Arts in 1966, the first woman so honored.  She was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1979.  She died in Paris, France on March 6, 1992.

By the late 1950s Vieira da Silva was internationally known for her dense and complex compositions, influenced by the art of Paul Cézanne and the fragmented forms, spatial ambiguities, and restricted palette of cubism and abstract art.  She is considered to be one of the most important Post-War abstract artists; however, she is not a "pure" abstract painter.  Her work is related to French Tachisme, American Abstract Expressionism*, and Surrealism* ? as were many of her contemporaries who were painting in Post-War Paris during the mid to late 1940s and early 1950s.  Her paintings often resemble mazes, cities seen in profile or from high above or even library shelves in what seems to be an allegory* to a never-ending search for Knowledge or the Absolute.

She exhibited her work widely, winning a prize for painting at the São Paulo Art Biennial* in São Paulo in 1961.

She decorated in 1988 the new Cidade Universitária subway station of Lisbon with azulejo panels.

In November 1994, the Árpád Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation was inaugurated in Lisbon, a museum that displays a large collection of paintings by both artists.

Her name, sometimes appears written as Maria Elena Vieira da Silva, but the correct version, in Portuguese, is Maria Helena Vieira da Silva.


* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Maria Elena Vieira da Silva

"When I paint a land­scape or a seascape, I'm not very sure it's a land­scape or a seascape. It's a thought form rather than a real­is­tic form."-Maria Elena Vieira da Silva

"Vieira da Silva's frag­mented, abstract forms have been likened to sur­re­al­ism, abstract expres­sion­ism, tex­tile design and tachisme (Which is basi­cally the Euro­pean style of abstract expres­sion­ism) and com­pared too, with some of the great­est painters of our time. She has been called one of the most impor­tant Post-War abstract artists, though her work can­not be cat­e­go­rized into any of the above move­ments. Like Tachisme itself her paint­ings are intu­itive and fluid and infor­mal while at the same time frag­mented, cubist and puz­zling to the eye. I wanted to post some of her work here because it is this abil­ity to touch upon so many move­ments yet belong to none of them that inter­ests me most. To me, there is great suc­cess in a paint­ing that can allude to art his­tory in so many ways yet still be it's own unique addi­tion, ene with­out a name and with out a cat­e­gory. There is noth­ing more truth­ful and real to me than this and for that I cel­e­brate Maria Elena Vieira da Silva's paintings?"


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