Exhibited: Athens, Hellenic-American Union, Exhibition of works by the painter Theofilos, 7-26 February 1964, no 43.
Ingeniously combining exceptional design, delicate drawing and a vibrant palette with a deep sense of mythology and history, Theofilos became a point of reference for the most prominent Greek intellectuals of the 20th century. Nobel laureates G. Seferis and O. Elytis considered him an uncorrupted student of the senses who gave expression to the true face of Greece and a great artist who made us see the world with a different eye.1 His roots go way back to the ancient Aegean and it is this heritage that makes him paint in a distinctly Greek manner.2
Ancient Greek subjects comprise a significant subset of Theofilos iconography. G. Petris, a scholar of Greek folk art, noted: He has a clear preference for the ancient gods, not as part of elaborate compositions but as single figures. In the works from his Mytilini period we find Zeus, the greatest of gods, Hera, goddess of the air, Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Artemis, the hunting goddess.3 Armed with bow and arrows, Artemis, Apollos sister and hunter-in-chief to the gods, is the protectress of little children and of all suckling animals, but she also loves the chase, especially that of stags.4 In this piece, Theofilos explores a mythical, ideal world that was out of his reach, before turning with nostalgia to more familiar and accessible subjects, such as landscapes and genre scenes.5
In the catalogue of the seminal 1964 Theofilos exhibition at the Greek-American Union in Athens, which included the painting offered at auction, art critic A. Xydis noted: The way Theofilos composes his chromatic harmonies, his lively and confident brushwork and unique handling of light are reminiscent of three of the most painterly artists of our time, namely Matisse, Van Gogh and Utrillo. Like Matisse he enjoys colour and constantly seeks, always successfully, new colour combinations. Like Van Gogh he directs his brush to the most expressively condensed notations with verve and sensitivity. And like Utrillo he is enchanted by light but manages to maintain control over it.6
Apart from his close affinity with some of the fundamental stylistic premises of the early 20th century avant-garde, Theofilos is perfectly at home with the rich tradition of Byzantine art. His female figures emulate purely Byzantine models, such as egg-shaped faces, well-delineated features and frontal approach.7 The full frontal posture usually creates a powerful vertical thrust, which he knowingly balances by simply combining it with a strong horizontal. In lot 83, all elements indicating the goddess identity (quiver, arrows, bows, stag, wilderness) are clearly pronounced, while the figure of Artemis is handled with a set of pictorial and iconographic conventions, an approach to painting deeply rooted in Byzantine and folk tradition. The inclusion of the title (in gold) at the top of the painting, in addition to expressing a longing for knowledge following the Ottoman occupation, denotes a unification of iconographic and linguistic symbols in a uniform and living Greek myth.8
1O. Elytis, The New Greek Myth, Asterias, Athens 1973 and G. Seferis, Angloelliniki Epitheorisi magazine, vol. 3, no. 1, May 1947, p. 2 2A. Xydis, Proposals for the History of Modern Greek Art [in Greek], vol. 1, Athens 1976, p. 36-38. 3G. Petris, The Painter Theofilos [in Greek], Athens 1978, pp. 42-43 4see R. Graves, The Greek Myths, vol. 2, Penguin Books, 1960, p. 82 5See K. Makris, The Relevance of Theofilos, Zygos Annual Edition on the Hellenic Fine Arts, vol. 3, Athens 1984, p. 98 6Xydis, preface for the 1964 Theofilos exhibition catalogue, Athens, Greek-American Union, p. 11 7D. Evangelides, Theofilos Art, Angloamerikaniki Epitheorisi, vol. 3, no. 1, May 1947, p. 5 8H. Kambouridis - G. Levounis, Modern Greek Art, The 20th Century, Athens 1999, p. 43