Maria Helena Vieira da Silva was a member of the Second Paris School, a loose group of post-war artists whose best-known members include Jean Bazaine, Roger Bissière, Maurice Estève and Alfred Manessier. They worked with a form of expressive abstraction based on elements drawn from reality, embracing a degree of ‘allusive figuration’ while rejecting pure abstraction in favour of ‘abstract landscapism’.
In the late 1940s Vieira da Silva began work on a set of paintings of libraries, train stations, streets and cities, the sorts of urban hubs Michel Foucault described as ‘heterotopias’. The labyrinthine, proliferating spaces, interior and exterior, become towers of Babel with outlandish perspectives and a limited palette. La ville suspendue, typical of these characteristics, could be Lisbon, the artist’s home city, where the houses are indeed built in haphazardly overlapping terraces. The Lisbon cityscape was doubtless a major influence on the art of Vieira da Silva, who left for Paris at the age of twenty. Against a backdrop of vertical yellow-ochre and blue strips, a complex tangle of lines and views presented as fragmentary facets takes centre stage, like a mirror shattered into a thousand shards or a stained-glass window – an art form greatly valued by the Paris School – with a cloisonné effect created by grey-blue brushstrokes.
This seminal work of the early 1950s dates from a period of emerging international interest in the artist and was one of her first works to be acquired by a European museum. The Museum purchased it in 1952 following the exhibition Rythmes et couleurs, devoted to major works of French art from the first half of the twentieth century.
Diane Daval Béran, Nathalie Galissot et al., Maria Helena Vieira da Silva: l’espace en jeu, exh. cat. Céret, Musée d’Art moderne, Paris, Somogy, 2016.
Guy Weelen and Jean-Françius Jaeger, Vieira Da Silva. Catalogue raisonné, établi par Virginie Duval and Diane Daval Béran, Geneva, Skira, 1994: 187, n. 961.
Dora Vallier, La peinture de Vieira da Silva. Chemin d’approche, Paris, Weber, 1971.