Maria Helena Vieira Da Silva, Joan Brown…
On sale November 29, 2023 at 7pm
PARIS – The Contemporary Art department of Tajan auction house unveils the highlights of its prestige sale of “Post-War and Contemporary Art” on November 29th, 2023 at 7pm.
Maria Helena Vieira Da Silva – Tempête – 1957
“In Tempête, from 1957, gray, while tending toward blue, takes on the characteristics of the color that tints it, through the impression of remoteness and infinite exterior with which it is nimbed.”
Diane Daval Béran in Vieira da Silva, Monographie, Éditions Skira, Genève, 1993, p. 345
Painted in 1957, just a year before the Kestner-Gesellschaf in Hanover held its first retrospective exhibition of Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s work – which was subsequently shown at the Kunstverein in Bremen and the Kunstund Museumsverein in Wuppertal – Tempête is a remarkable illustration of the unique approach to the representation of space that characterises the work of one of the greatest names in post-war abstract painting.
Born in Lisbon in 1908 and introduced to art by her grandfather at an early age, Vieira da Silva left her native country for Paris at the age of nineteen; there she continued her training with sculptor Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de La Grande Chaumière. From 1929 onwards, she began to focus mainly on painting, attending Fernand Léger’s Academy and then Roger Bissière’s classes at the Académie Ranson. With Sienese painting – which she had discovered two years earlier during a visit to Italy – as a major inﬂuence, together with architecture and music, Vieria da Silva soon became fascinated with issues of space, and perspective was a constant source of reﬂection for her throughout her career.
Although Vieira da Silva used perspective to delineate indoor and enclosed spaces up until the 1950s, from the beginning of that same decade she also used it to denote outdoor spaces. With its seemingly neutral and restrained palette, Tempête (1957) evokes an immaterial, liquid landscape, hovering between dream and reality, perception and memory. A view of an entwined sea and sky? A city in the mist? The mystery adds to the poetic appeal of the painting. Gradients of blues and greys contain subtle, infinite nuances that lend it a dense, vibrant quality. The touches of colour that make up the landscape hover in a state of equilibrium that waxes and wanes before the viewer’s eyes, creating a sense of instability and movement that is the hallmark of Vieira da Silva’s work. Running through these shades of grey and blue, a network of dark lines seems to “dissolve into the ﬂuidity of the colours that ﬂow around them.”¹ Some of them extend sideways, expanding the visual scope and adding to the sense of boundless expanse, further heightened by the numerous vanishing points. In the words of Diane Daval Béran describing our painting, “the directions of the painting are defined by the broad brushstroke, with the outline a mere accent. As if the landscape, urban in character, were reverting to nature through deconstruction. As if the rules of perspective, artifcial though they first seemed to the artist, had become natural to her afer so much time spent dissecting them.”²
Conjuring up a fractured, multi-layered, vibrant and complex vision of space, straddling abstraction and figuration, Tempête reﬂects the artist’s exploration of a seemingly infinite pictorial and mental universe, where the eye wanders in a jubilant daze. As its title suggests, whilst seemingly unruly, the composition is not in fact devoid of underlying structure or order. Michel Seuphor clearly expressed this very early on: “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 play of light, the apparent improvisation of lines and colours, determines the slightest brushstroke which is never exceeded by temperament. Or rather, this temperament, in Vieira da Silva’s work, is temperance, order, orchestration. What is surprising is that this rule, this art so firmly reined in, also allows such an intense, mediumistic expression of the inner world. Rigor and freedom come together here in an exhilarating marriage. The art
of Mondrian was pure style, that of Van Gogh pure cry. With Vieira da Silva, style and cry are simultaneous in each painting, tightly entangled in every moment of painting.”³
Although widely exhibited throughout Europe and South America in the four decades since it was created, Tempête has remained in the family of Jorge de Brito up to the present day; his was probably the most extensive privately held collection in Portugal in the second half of the 20th century, and in 1994, thanks to him, the Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation was established in Lisbon with a collection of artworks of undisputed quality.
1 Diane Daval Béran in Vieira da Silva, Monography, Editons Skira, Genève, 1993, p. 302
2 Ibid, p. 210
3 Michel Seuphor in Vieira da Silva, ‘Introducton’, exhib. cat., Galerie Pierre, Paris, 1949
Joan Brown – The Kiss – 1976
“If there is a San Francisco style, a San Francisco atitude, that style, and that atitude can be found epitomized in her paintings.”
Philip Leider in Artorum, june 1963
Painted in 1976, The Kiss shows a couple in love embracing on a bench. The figures’ elongated shadows and orange tones seem to indicate that the embrace is taking place in the early evening as the sun is setting. The viewer’s gaze is drawn along the embankment, which creates a dynamic line of perspective. Set behind the figures, the sheer scale of the landscape adds to the romance of the scene. Painted with sparing detail, pared-down forms and broad expanses of colour, The Kiss is a magnificent example of Joan Brown’s pictorial exploration over the course of her three-decade career, and of her deep interest in the human experience and everyday life, whether portraying heartache, domestic cats, or spiritual beliefs.
Joan Brown was born in San Francisco in 1938, where she lived and worked most of her life. Deeply rooted in this art scene, a friend and peer of Bruce Conner, Wallace Berman and Jay DeFeo, her work straddles the boundary between abstraction and figuration. After graduating from the California School of Fine Arts, she achieved almost instant success working in the style of her mentor, Bay Area figurative painter Elmer Bischoﬀ. Her early paintings, with their thick impasto and gestural depictions of ordinary people and objects, received national attention when they were first exhibited in the late 1950s. This early success was reﬂected in the purchase of one of her paintings by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1960, and the illustration of one of her pieces on the cover of Artorum magazine in 1963, shortly after her twenty-ffh birthday. The article stated that : “If there is a San Francisco style, a San Francisco attitude, that style, and that attitude can be found epitomized in her paintings.” (Philip Leider in Artorum, June 1963).
Yet in 1965, Joan Brown began to feel constrained in her style due to her association with the Bay Area figurative movement, and she felt the need to explore new approaches to painting. In the late 1960s, she embarked on a radically diﬀerent style, featuring bright colours and a graphic directness that she would go on to develop for the rest of her career. Drawing on a variety of sources to create an appealing and unconventional body of work embracing both whimsy and heavier topics, her work is playful, imaginative, and autobiographical. The Kiss, with its use of colours and planes giving a dreamlike, almost unreal, dimension to the scene, reﬂects Joan Brown’s constant pictorial research. After several visits to India and driven by a deep-seated curiosity, her final works featured an increasingly vast symbology, as she pursued a more spiritual and metaphysical path, up until her premature death in 1990.
Joan Brown’s work was shown at Carnegie International in Pittsburgh in 1964 and at the Whitney Biennials in New York in 1972 and 1977. Solo exhibitions of her work were also held at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1971 and at the Berkeley Art Museum in 1974 and then again in 1998. Recently, a major retrospective was devoted to her work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (19 November 2022-12 March 2023) and at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (27 May-24 September 2023).
As the major Joan Brown retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Carnegie International in Pittsburgh draws to a close, the Contemporary Art department is delighted to unveil a major work by this icon of the San Francisco Bay Area art scene, The Kiss (1976).
From an important European private collection, The Kiss, with its vivid colors and graphic frankness, is characteristic of the style developed by Joan Brown in the late 60s, inspired in particular by autobiographical themes. Featuring a couple embracing on a bench, our work, which could evoke a personal memory of the artist, is set against a self-portrait painted the following year and held in the collections of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
© Estate of Joan Brown, courtesy of George Adams Gallery, New York