Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED SWISS COLLECTION
Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992)


Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992)
signed 'Vieira da Silva' (lower right)
oil on canvas
35 x 45 ¾in. (89 x 116cm.)
Painted circa 1953-1954
Private Collection, Lisbon.
Galerie Flore, Brussels.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
C. Roy, Vieira da Silva, Barcelona 1989, no. 37 (illustrated, p. 64).
J. Lassaigne and G. Weelen (eds), Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Barcelona 1978, no. 231 (illustrated).
G. Weelen and J.-F. Jaeger (eds.), Vieira da Silva Catalogue Raisonné, Geneva 1994, no. 1143 (illustrated, p. 225).
Lisbon, Galeria Sao Mamede,Vieira da Silva, 1970, no. 13 (illustrated, p. 39).
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Lot Essay

‘A painting should have a heart, a nervous system, bones and circulation. It should appear to be a person in its movements. A painting is not an escape; it must be a friend that speaks to us, that shows us the wealth inside ourselves and our surroundings’
–Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

‘Everything must be vibrant and lived. It must speak to us of reality. I’m surprised by everything, I paint my astonishment, which is at the same time admiration, terror and laughter’
–Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

In Untitled, c. 1953-54, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva plunges the viewer into her disorientating visual universe of shattered perspective and jubilant colour. A resplendent example of the Portuguese-French artist’s unique style, this painting was executed during a period of international recognition, with major exhibitions in Turin and New York. Vieira da Silva’s work often straddles figuration and abstraction, precariously balancing the two as the artist surveys her surroundings with characteristic existentialism. Untitled leans ostensibly towards abstraction, with glistening and fragmentary shards diffusing and dispersing across the picture plane in a dynamic display of colour and form. A gridded orchestra of lattices encompasses the entire composition, non-systematic and subjective in their configuration. Rather than trying to optically comprehend Vieira de Silva’s complex amorphous perspective, the viewer is content to become immersed in the perplexing wonderment of this figurative fracas; pictorial space is manifested according to Vieira da Silva’s subjective experience alone. The composition is dominated by a monochrome palette: an amber glow seeps down from the top left, shrouding the surface in a quasi-translucent glow, before gently dissipating into cooler tones of stony blue. Over this bipartite diagonal contour, Vieira da Silva has encrusted the impastoed canvas with iridescent and jewel-like forms, which cover the work in an intricate melee of intersecting lines. With its energetic fusion of collapsed spatial depth, vibrant colour and expressive brushstrokes, the work illuminates a skewed alternate world in flux.
Born in Lisbon in 1908, Vieira da Silva followed her love of painting to study in Paris when she was nineteen years old. Here, she discovered a city intoxicated with the glory and innovation of modern art. Vieira da Silva was astonished by the structures of visible reality revealed in the paintings of Cézanne, and by the ways in which Cubism and Futurism shattered the rules of depth, distance and linear perspective that had dominated painting since the Renaissance. On a study trip to Italy in the summer of 1928, the Trecento and Quattrocento frescoes of Giotto, Masaccio, Lorenzetti and Uccello led to her realisation that space in art is relative, intimately connected to its historical moment and the prevailing philosophy of the age. Untitled bears clear hallmarks of these early lessons: the dappled surface is almost crystalline in form, echoing the planes of colour in Cézanne’s landscapes, and the fragmentary facets are reminiscent of Picasso and Braque’s Cubist masterpieces. Vieira da Silva’s striking innovation is to incorporate such ideas while freeing her painting from the tyranny of a single vantage point. Untitled offers instead a dazzling display of undulating splendour: the eye is led restlessly over every rippling inch of the faceted canvas which, like jewels or shattered glass, seems to sparkle in resonating light. For Vieira da Silva, painting was a kind of reflection of the self, intimately expressing the workings of the inner mind: ‘My ego, through the experience of self, [is] in an experiment with painting,’ she once wrote, ‘everything is open, and different every time … That is my deeper nature: I never assert anything. There is also a little of that in my painting … It is a path, but this path can branch into three paths or four paths or turn into a dead end… When I am painting, I do not know that. I do not know it, and yet, I do know it’ (M. H. Vieira da Silva, quoted in G. Rosenthal, Vieira da Silva, 1908-1922: The Quest for Unknown Space, Cologne, 1998, pp. 74-77).

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