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Born in Lisbon, the painter Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992) moved to Paris in 1928 to become one of the major figures of post-war art, one of the few female artists to gain international fame in the 1950s. In her painting, described as “abstract landscape art,” Vieira focused her attention and her practice on the question of perspective. Her central subject was the city.

Vieira observed and contemplated the world, deconstructing it and recreating it in the intimate and silent world of her studio. She evoked the memories of streets, enclosed interiors, performance venues, libraries – so many recalled sensations that became lines and planes, fragmented by a process of abstraction of space. Thus a poetic world was born on her canvases, made of complex compositions which obeyed her personal laws of perspective, playing on the viewer’s gaze and composing mental landscapes which blur the boundaries between abstraction and figuration.

With infinite meticulousness, the painter built her paintings with a rare attention to detail, based on a principle of composition adopted in the mid-1930s: a network of interwoven lines, checkerboards and wefts where colour plays an essential role, creating an ambiguous spatiality. The moving eye travels through the work, gets lost in it, as in a labyrinth, and seeks to identify landscapes by mobilising its own memory. These evocative surfaces are offered to viewers as psychological spaces, possibilities of reflection revealing all the complexity of the world.

A number of influences enriched Vieira’s practice and allowed her to develop her unique way of capturing reality in a fragmented way: the avant-garde, discovered in Paris; Cubism, geometric abstraction and Futurism; the painters of the Renaissance, discovered during a trip to Siena in the summer of 1928, which fascinated her for their sense of perspective; Paul Cézanne, for his fragmented construction of space; Pierre Bonnard, for his perspectives; and finally, from her childhood, azulejos, the multicoloured ceramic tiles typical of Portuguese architecture which undoubtedly led her very early on towards the fragmentation of space and networked construction.

Audiences discovered her paintings from her first solo exhibition at the Jeanne Bucher gallery in 1933. From then on, the pace of exhibitions around the world was sustained and her works soon became included in the most prestigious collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Tate Modern in London, the Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. In 1990, the Árpád Szenes – Vieira da Silva Foundation was created in Lisbon to promote the artist’s work.

Vieira received many awards, including the Grand Prix de Peinture at the São Paulo Biennale in 1961 and the Grand Prix national des Arts from the French government in 1966, which she was the first woman to receive. She was also awarded high honours. She was made Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1962 and Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1979. The City of Lisbon awarded her the City Medal in 1988, and the Royal Academy of London named her an Honorary Member in the same year.

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“The beauty of the work is precisely this channelled power, this burst seen in a sort of slow motion. A severe discipline, hidden by the light play, the apparent improvisation of lines and colours, determines the slightest brush stroke, which is never exceeded by temperament. Or rather, this temperament, in Vieira da Silva’s work, is temperance, order, orchestration. What is surprising is this rule, this intense, medium-like expression of the inner world. Rigour and freedom are exultantly married in her work.”

Michel Seuphor


Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

Intérieur, 1951
Oil on canvas
46,5 x 55,5 cm | 18 1/4 x 21 7/8 in.

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, L'observatoire


Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Composition


Art Fairs



Action, Gesture, Paint | Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940–70

9 February - 7 May 2023

Whitechapel Gallery, London

Whitechapel Gallery presents a major exhibition of 150 paintings from an overlooked generation of 81 international women artists. Reaching beyond the predominantly white, male painters whose names are synonymous with the Abstract Expressionist movement, this exhibition celebrates the practices of the numerous international women artists working with gestural abstraction in the aftermath of the Second […]

Action, Gesture, Paint | Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940–70

Paris et nulle part ailleurs

September 27, 2022 - January 22, 2023

Musée de l'histoire de l'immigration

  24 artistes étrangers à Paris. 1945-1972 The exhibition Paris et nulle part ailleurs (Paris and Nowhere Else) immerses the public in the years of post-war tumult that saw the emergence of new artistic visions, in the fields of abstraction, figuration and kinetic art, between 1945 and 1972. In the first half of the 20th century, Paris […]

Paris et nulle part ailleurs

Modernités portugaises

June 4 - October 30, 2022

Musée Caillebotte

Embrassant une vaste période, des années 1910 aux années 1960, l’histoire du modernisme portugais, dont le poète Fernando Pessoa fut la figure tutélaire et son principal fondateur, se déroule entre le Portugal et Paris : la capitale française, centre artistique international depuis le XIXe siècle, attire les Portugais en quête de modernité. Cette histoire méconnue […]

Modernités portugaises


October 22, 2021 - February 27, 2022

Musée Guggenheim Bilbao

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Women in Abstraction

May 19, - August 23, 2021

Centre Pompidou, Paris

The exhibition sets out to write the history of the contributions of women artists to abstraction, with one hundred and six artists and more than five hundred works dating from the 1860s to the 1980s. “Women in Abstraction” provides an opportunity to discover artists who represent discoveries both for the specialist and for the general […]

Women in Abstraction

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, l’espace en jeu

February 20 - May 22 2016

Musée d'art moderne de Céret

L’exposition « Vieira da Silva, l’espace en jeu » présente l’œuvre de Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (Lisbonne 1908-Paris 1992), femme peintre et figure majeure de l’art moderne, pour la première fois au musée d’art moderne de Céret. L’exposition « Vieira da Silva, l’espace en jeu » offre au public l’opportunité de découvrir une artiste peu exposée […]

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, l’espace en jeu

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