Yiannis Moralis (Greek, b.1916) Composition 90 x 220 cm.
Lot 122AR
Yiannis Moralis
(Greek, b.1916)
Composition 90 x 220 cm.
Sold for £ 490,400 (US$ 645,008) inc. premium

The Greek Sale

15 May 2007, 14:00 BST

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
Yiannis Moralis (Greek, b.1916)
signed in Greek and dated ‘1965’ (lower right); signed, inscribed in Greek and dated ‘1965’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
90 x 220 cm.


  • Provenance:
    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner.

    Y. Moralis, Angels Music Poetry, Benaki Museum edition, Athens 2001, p. 139, no 163, 164 (illustrated).

    A monumental piece by the greatest living Greek artist, Composition revives the archetypal universe of an Ionian frieze or a Doric metope. The architectural motifs that echo fragments of an ancient Greek temple or a neoclassical Athenian mansion, the shallow compositional depth, reminiscent of sculptural relief, and the austerity of the horizontal and vertical lines set up a perfectly balanced geometric edifice from which the human form emerges. The symbolic figure of the young woman, the loving embrace of the couple at the far left, the angel on the upper part1, the clear skies indicated by luminous patches of blue and the serene rhythm dictated by the classical sense for human scale, compose an evocative representation, a universe of poetic images that echoes the timeless values of ancient Greek art. 2 Disciplined line and pure form support the well thought out compositional layout, emphasising the work’s theatrical character, coherence and organic rhythm. Pointing out Moralis’ ideological kinship with his classical models, M. Lambraki-Plaka, Director of the Athens National Gallery, notes: “Verticals, horizontals, diagonals and curves compose a harmonious whole full of intensity, hidden under apparent tranquillity.” 3

    As Nobel laureate O. Elytis once said of Moralis, “by using a limited vocabulary of form, in which recurrent and opposing curves of ochre and black dominate, Moralis has succeeded - in a manner unprecedented in Greek art - to transform the language of the natural world into a purely optical phenomenon. Memories and encounters are repeatedly distilled until they blend into forms of great simplicity and precision. 4

    This perpetual research on transforming the dialogue of forms and objects into visual reality is evident in the artist’s monumental compositions from the 1960s and the 1970s, painted on ceramic tiles and intended for architectural applications in interior or exterior, private or public spaces. Everything is carefully and precisely calculated down to the smallest detail, taking into consideration the use and style of the space the work was commissioned for. The painter concentrates on the overall concept, as well as the organisation and balance of the compositional elements, the quality of colour and the impeccable technical execution. 5

    Elaborating on the relationship of painting and architecture in Moralis’ work from the mid 1960s, art critic A. Xydis notes: “For a long time I have believed that the qualities of Moralis’ art were particularly appropriate to the full expression of a work of architecture. His strength in and love of composition, his sensitive and balanced colour harmonies, the diligence of his technique, the clarity and monumentality in the organization of planes and volumes, make up a combination of qualities much sought after by architects. They are even related to those that belong to a good architect, whose artistic temperament must at every moment be subject to the control of reason and mathematics.” 6 Likewise, art critic N. Papadakis makes the following remark: “Much more than a true master, Moralis is an explorer of life and reality. His functional art is an extension of his painting, created as a revelation of the mystery and energy of nature, the same way a ship builder does not hesitate to explore the uncharted pathways of his art, breaking away from fossilized ideas and starting all over again from the very beginning.” 7

    Vasilis Fotopoulos, who compiled and edited the artist’s monograph in 1988, perceptively notes that “Moralis has produced a corpus of work which, in addition to its acknowledged aesthetic merit, helps us to realize that painting, like all the arts, is not a matter of ballyhoo and manifestos but of quiet work, a great deal of work. To be versed in the alphabet of art, its established rules and materials, and to possess the patience to await a development that can only come from an inner compulsion, is to be lifted to heights which, though lonely, are beautiful, spacious, truly great.” 8

    1. The angel is a recurrent theme in Moralis’ art, frequently signified by just one wing, as is the case in Composition. Rejecting any kind of religious or psychoanalytic import lent to this subject, the artist notes: “I do not include angels on purpose. It’s their form that interests me.” Y. Moralis, Angels, Music, Poetry [in Greek], exh. cat., Benaki Museum, Athens 2001, p. 155.
    2. Compare Y. Bolis’ analysis on Moralis’ Spring B’ in Yannis Moralis [in Greek], Ta Nea ed., Athens 2007, pp. 62-63.
    3. M. Lambraki-Plaka, “Classic and Human-centred” [in Greek], Kathimerini daily, Epta Imeres, 10.4.1994, p. 11.
    4. O. Elytis, preface in the Moralis exhibition catalogue, Iolas-Zoumboulakis Galerie, Athens 1972.
    5. See Bolis, p. 127.
    6. A. Xydis, “Auspicious Collaboration of Art and Architecture”, Architectoniki journal, no. 42, November-December 1963, p. 8, reprinted and translated in Yannis Moralis, Commercial Bank of Greece, Athens 1988, p. 475.
    7. N. Papadakis, Moralis, Functional Art, Polyplano ed., Athens 1976, pp.10-11.
    8. V. Fotopoulos, preface in Yannis Moralis, Commercial Bank of Greece, p. 13.
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