Sculptor Maria Martins was born on this day in 1900 in Campanha, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
The charismatic wife of a Brazilian UN diplomat, Maria Martins -- known among the New York surrealists simply as "Maria" -- began sculpting religious themes in a style similar to Paul Gauguin's wood carvings, but by the 1940s her large bronzes were figures writhing in psychological anguish, erotically delineated female nudes whose blind faces are shown in the midst of elastic metamorphosis -- changing into claws, vestigial limbs and animalistic gapes.
Martins had an affair with Marcel Duchamp during the early 1940s (she was the inspiration for his last major piece, Etant donnes, 1947), and although she returned to her husband, Duchamp seemed to linger over the memory of the affair for some time afterward. Some critics have noted that Martins' piece, The Impossible III (1946), created around the time that her relationship with Duchamp was ending, seemed to have been a metaphor for her relationship with Duchamp: it is comprised of two abstract figures, one masculine, one feminine, whose faces explode at each other with jagged, angry tentacles -- drawn to each other implacably but unable to resolve their conflicts.
Martins died on March 28, 1973 in Rio de Janeiro.