To many, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva and Árpád Szenes aren’t go-to names when discussing the development of abstract art, yet their life and work reflect the changing styles and events of the 20th-century. The Lisbon-located Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation sheds light on this artist couple through a collection that reveals the evolution of their work over the years. The former silk factory-turned-museum provides visitors with an intimate perspective on modern art.
Both Vieira da Silva and Szenes were born near the turn of the last century; she in Lisbon and he in Budapest. As so many budding artists did, they made their way to Paris, met in 1929, and married in 1930. During their initial years in Paris, they immersed themselves in artistic and intellectual circles that pushed their individual paintings to greater heights of abstraction. Wisely, especially as Szenes was Jewish, they moved to Brazil at the start of World War II. After the war, they moved back to Paris and in 1966, da Silva became the first woman awarded the Grand Prix National des Arts by the French government.
With over 3,200 pieces between the duo to choose from, the small museum presents several emblematic paintings, such as “Le glacier” by Szenes, among a revolving set of other works, like da Silva’s witty collage of Lisbon’s Belém Tower in scraps of paper, typewriter characters, and pen.
Temporary exhibits display works by artists who were familiar with the couple or share an artistic sensibility with them. Also available to visit is the couple’s former home and studio, just around the corner from the museum.
Know Before You Go
The museum resides adjacent to the tranquil Jardim das Amoreiras, where the mulberry trees lining the paths were the source of the silkworms creating the silk used in the former factory.