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  • Writer's pictureFrancisca Gigante, MA

A Brief History of the Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation

What is Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation?

The Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation, or Fundação Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva in Portugese, is an art museum and foundation in Lisbon that’s dedicated to the lives and works of Arpad Szenes and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva.

Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation

Portuguese_eyes, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation History

Artists Arpad Szenes and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva met in Paris in 1929 and married the following year. He was Hungarian, she was Portuguese. When the Second World War broke out, the couple sought refuge here in Lisbon, but that was not possible since, owing to his Jewish ancestry, Szenes had been rendered stateless. Instead they took refuge in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they remained until 1947. Years later they gained French nationality. They produced large-scale paintings and drawings, and developed a luminous abstract style, using mostly ochre tones and soft, warm colours.

From the 1950s onwards, they settled in Paris and held individual exhibitions, forming the KWY Group with other Portuguese artists living in the French capital. (The letters ‘k’, ‘w’ and ‘y’ were so rarely used in Portuguese that they were banished from the language in the 1940s – the acronym, therefore, was meant to represent the ‘artists’ own feelings of marginalisation from their native country’). After the Carnation Revolution, the popular revolt stemming from a military coup in April 1974 that ended the longest dictatorship in western Europe, Szenes and Vieira da Silva were finally able to travel between Paris and Lisbon. After Szenes’s death, his wife created a Study and Research Centre dedicated jointly to their work at their home by the Amoreiras Garden.

The project to create the Foundation and the museum dedicated to both artists began in 1988. Lisbon City Hall donated the former royal silk factory, an 18th-century building, and other institutions contributed in order to achieve national recognition for these two artists of international significance. Vieira da Silva donated the works and the documentation to the museum, which are now part of the permanent collection of the Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation.

The exhibitions focus on works from the collection of Vieira da Silva and Szenes, which date from the early 20th century to the early 1990s, as well as works from other public or private collections. The curatorial team usually chooses other artists who engage in a suggestive dialogue with the permanent exhibits.

In the large gallery, emblematic works of either artist are presented, with two self-portraits exemplifying the similarities and divergences in their aesthetics: Vieira da Silva with dark colours and marked strokes; Szenes with a colourful work and bold composition. After the staircase, panels divide the two artists and their work. Szenes’s paintings, tending to the abstract, are mostly inspired by landscapes and impressions of the effects of light. Anyone looking at the soft, warm sea studies by this artist is awestruck. Vieira da Silva's urban environments, on the other hand, break up these landscapes, London or Amsterdam directing her steps.

The Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation continues to energize and innovate, as it places the work of Szenes and Vieira da Silva firmly on the national and international art scene.

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