Constantinos Parthenis (Greek, 1878-1967) Dawn (Aurora) 77 x 98 cm
Lot 29
Constantinos Parthenis
(Greek, 1878-1967)
Dawn (Aurora) 77 x 98 cm
Sold for £ 356,000 (US$ 478,818) inc. premium

The Greek Sale

19 May 2009, 14:00 BST

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
Constantinos Parthenis (Greek, 1878-1967) Dawn (Aurora) 77 x 98 cm
Constantinos Parthenis (Greek, 1878-1967)
Dawn (Aurora)
signed in Greek (lower left)
oil on canvas
77 x 98 cm


  • Painted circa 1925-27.

    Dionysios Loverdos collection, Athens.
    M.D. Loverdou collection, Athens.
    Private collection, Athens.

    Evgenios Matthiopoulos, C. Parthenis, Adam Editions, 2008, p. 250, no 168 (illustrated).
    S. Lydakis, The History of Modern Greek Painting, The Greek Painters (vol. 2), 1988, p. 40, no 26 (illustrated).
    S. Lydakis, The History of Modern Greek Painting, The Greek Painters (vol. 3), Melissa publ., Athens 1976, p. 369 (referred).
    S. Lydakis, 'The Stylistic Development of Constantinos Parthenis', Zygos journal, no. 50, November-December 1981, p. 21 (referred).
    M. Tsikouta, Les Influences dans la Peinture Grecque après 1945, Université Paris IV-Sorbonne, Paris 1991, Illustrations, vol. 1, no. 28 (illustrated).
    A. Kotidis, Modernism and Tradition in Greek Art of the Interwar Period, University Studio Press, Thessaloniki1993, p. 230 (referred).
    E. Georgiadou-Kountoura, 'Symbolism and other Trends in Greek Painting (1880-1930)', Archeologia & Technes journal, no. 57, December 1995, p. 23 (referred).
    C. Christou, C. Parthenis, Vienna-Paris-Athens, Foundation for Hellenic Culture, Athens 1995, pp. 28, 90 (referred).

    "O radiant Dawn, splendour of eternal light,
    come, shine on those who dwell in darkness."


    “Dawn is, in my opinion, a culmination of Parthenis’ symbolist, spiritual outlook: a literally ‘silent poetry’ defined by hazy colour mists of mannerist sensitivity. As if a transient melody from a distant harp fades away before registering on our consciousness. A fragile psyche, the glimmer of a dream, a fleeting iridescence. Everything is in limbo between reality and fantasy. Barely defined visions that can dissolve and disappear at any moment.” 1
    S. Lydakis

    “Dawn belongs to a period during which Parthenis seems to be fascinated by allegorical compositions and the personification of various concepts, such as Abstinence, The Benefits of Transportation, etc. In subjects such as Dawn he is able to experiment with combinations of colours and forms in an almost abstract interplay that borders on the arabesque. His slender, revealingly clad, just woken Dawn stretches her limbs and turns away from the bright sun, while a naked nymph plays her flute in the background. The composition, based on steep vertical perspective, recalls a post-Byzantine wall painting where though schematization is taken to the extreme the landscape-symbol becomes a more faithful rendition of the Greek landscape than any realistic representation.” 2
    A. Xydis

    The largest and one of the finest works by Parthenis from the 1920s to have ever come up in the auction market, Dawn unequivocally reveals the great painter’s devotion to symbolist and allegorical compositions, “marked by a persistent absorption in an ideal world, a world purified of any kind of brutality, a world that soars loftily in the heights of Ideas.” 3 The 1920s is a period when, besides liberal politicians and businessmen, Parthenis was also supported by prominent and more conservative bankers and leading members of the establishment, including the Chairman of the National Bank of Greece Dimitrios Maximos and the founders of Laiki Bank Spyros and Dionysios Loverdos. As noted by Professor E. Matthiopoulos in his recently published monograph on the artist, “Parthenis’ relationship with the Loverdos brothers was particularly close. While still a journalist with the Asty newspaper, Spyros Loverdos had strongly supported, since 1900, the works Parthenis had first shown in Athens. Since then he and his brother, as patrons of the arts, consistently supported him, acquiring important and emblematic works at exceptionally high prices and entrusting him with the artistic supervision of the newly founded Dionysios Loverdos Museum of Byzantine and post-Byzantine art. Considering the deep religiosity of Parthenis and the Loverdos brothers, we could posit that these two cultured intellectuals and art-loving bankers exercised a highly productive influence on the painter, whole-heartedly and open-handedly supporting the establishment of a modernist neo-Byzantine artistic style.” 4

    Drawing from the poetic and inspiring atmosphere of the symbolist era, during which idealized beauty and pure idea became a veritable religion, Parthenis created a mesmerizing allegorical work of rhythmic patterns and evocative colours. Ethereal, idealized and weightless, the personification of Dawn occupies a world of Gysis-like5 visions that reach back into antiquity. Usually portrayed as an eternally young girl dressed in diaphanous veils, Dawn or Aurora, who precedes daylight personified by her brother the Sun, symbolises potential, endeavour and hope for a new day. She is akin to Spring that comes into the bleak lives of Siegmund and Sieglinde in Wagner’s Die Walküre. In the Christian religion she stands for awakening, rebirth and spiritual enlightenment; the realm of the Holy Spirit. Every dawn is also a symbol of the victory of sunlight over the shadows of night, representing the transition from the dark of unconscious thought to the bright day of rationality. 6 In Parthenis’ picture, this fine transition is ingeniously captured by the blots of paint above the Dawn’s head, which represent the stylised foliage of a protectively overhanging tree7, while alluding to the starry cloak of the Night that has just started to dissolve and disappear with the first rays of sunlight. The tree’s melodious curvilinear motif, echoing the graceful lines and forms of the reclining figure, further enlivens the scene, accentuating the picture’s overall feel of spiritual uplift and poetic charm.

    Frugal in formal vocabulary yet rich in expressive content, Dawn is set in an imaginary arcadia inhabited by abbreviated shapes translated into evocative symbols. Sinuous lines, subtle play of curves, linear elegance which echoes the simplicity of ancient Greek vase painting, sensitive, translucent colours and dematerialised shapes, all show how the painter exploited the essentially expressive nature of his formal repertoire to offer a poetic, idealised experience of the landscape. The light arriving in the distance functions as an innovative and wide-ranging image of divine love, bursting out and overwhelming the entire canvas, expanding into the universe. The whole earth is lit by grace, giving the painting an allegorical evocation, elegiac feel and universal character, while the minute female figure in the distance, perched on a schematised rocky formation and playing the flute or the violin, seems like orchestrating the miraculous symphony of light. These elements, drawn not only from ancient sources but also from Byzantine art, European symbolism, Art Nouveau, the Jugendstil and Cubism, while preserving a distinctive Greek character, formulate an eclectic artistic language that claims the eye and provokes the viewer’s emotional and spiritual participation. “Parthenis’ art reflects the vision of an artist loaded with age-old memories and entranced by the dynamism and boldness of the twentieth century.” 8

    Reclining on a stylised rocky ledge in an Arcadian landscape, her body half-turned towards the viewer, her left arm raised and her head framed in a semi-circular halo-like motif, the personification of Dawn is of the same type as the personification of Hellas prominently featured in Parthenis’ emblematic Apotheosis (Deification) of Athanasios Diakos, 1931 - a type whose origins hark back to iconographic conventions of Virgin Mary in Byzantine representations of Nativity. 9 In most Greek Orthodox depictions she is shown recumbent in mountainous terrain outside the nativity cave (compare The Nativity of Christ, 16th century icon, Hagia Lavra Monastery, Mount Athos), symbolising her virginity since, according to Orthodox Church hymnography (Akathistos Hymn), she is the ‘untouched, unhewn mountain’, a convention unknown in Western art. 10

    If the languid Dawn who dominates the centre of the composition is a symbolic figure alluding to spiritual values, lofty ideals and timeless visions, the distant flute or violin11 player is an allegorical evocation of harmony and music, a revelation entrusted to the miracle of light. The graceful musician seems totally immersed in her purified art, while the slender cypresses look as if they flock around her, irresistibly drawn to the sound of music and enraptured by the divine melody. 12 In such an evocative setting charged by timeless references, the naked nymph is identified with the idea of music as a lofty symbol of universal order, harmony and peace. As noted by Z. Papantoniou, “by dematerialising form and giving shape to ideas, Parthenis creates a musical quality; in other words, he lifts painting to the realm of music, the most immaterial of all arts.” 13 Parthenis himself was an ardent lover of classical music and, accompanied by his wife, he often attended Sunday concerts and recitals by great performers at the Municipal Theatre, the Olympia and the Kentrikon music halls in Athens. 14

    Through such a sophisticated and highly personal formulation of style, which fully utilised the entire Greek aesthetic tradition while reading elegantly like a piece of undiscovered mythology, Parthenis managed to create a work of visual poetry, a world as much Greek as universal. “His Dawn is a poetic conception directly related to the mystery of myth drawn straight from the depths of the human soul.” 15

    1. S. Lydakis, 'The Stylistic Development of Constantinos Parthenis' [in Greek], Zygos journal, no. 50, November-December 1981, p. 21. The author’s account also includes Night, painted during the same period.
    2. A. Xydis, The Greek Painters (vol. 2: 20th Century) [in Greek], Melissa publ., Athens 1975, p. 369. The author holds that Dawn and Night are tableaux en pendant, sharing the same dimensions, approximate date, style and initial provenance.
    3. A. Kotidis, 'The Influence of Hellenic Art on the Work of C. Parthenis', Actes du XVIII Congres de l’ AICA, Greece, 1984, p. 149.
    4. E. Mathiopoulos, C. Parthenis, The Life and Work of Costis Parthenis [in Greek], Adam publ., Athens 2008, pp. 66-68.
    5. See E. Georgiadou-Kountoura, 'Symbolism and other Trends in Greek painting (1880-1930)' [in Greek], Archeologia & Technes journal, no. 57, December 1995, p. 22.
    6. See M. Batistini, Symbols and Allegories in Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2002.
    7. In his treatise on the representation of the tree in Greek art, Professor C. Christou notes that “the tree holds a prominent position in Parthenis’ work and his paintings of the specific subject are exceptional.” C. Christou, 'The Tree in the Greek Art of the 19th and 20th Century' [in Greek] in The Tree, a Source of Inspiration and Creativity in Greek Art, exh. cat., Averoff Museum, Metsovo and Nicosia Contemporary Art Center, Nicosia 1993, p. 19. As early as 1920, Z. Papantoniou made the following remark: “Parthenis’ landscapes from Attica, Corfu and Poros take us to the world of ideas. His eye sees into the ideal, as ours does into the natural. The humblest of trees reveals a thought.” Z. Papantoniou, 'The Art of Parthenis' [in Greek], Patris daily, 19.1.1920.
    8. D. Papastamos, Painting 1930-1940, Astir Insurance publ. Athens, 1981, p. 68.
    9. See C. Christou, C. Parthenis, Vienna-Paris-Athens, Foundation for Hellenic Culture, Athens 1995, p. 90 and A. Kotidis, Modernism and Tradition in Greek Art of the Interwar Period [in Greek], University Studio Press, Thessaloniki 1993, p. 230.
    10. K. Kalokyris, The Painting of Orthodoxy. Historical, Aesthetic and Doctrinal Interpretation of Byzantine Painting, Pournara publ., Thessaloniki 1972, p. 145.
    11. It is noted that the violin appears in Harmony and Affluence, two single-figure drawings Parthenis prepared for the wall decoration of the Athens Town Hall in 1940-42 (a commission that was never realised) and belong to the National Gallery in Athens (compare fig. 111 and 114 in A. Kafetsi, Parthenis Drawings at the National Gallery, Athens 1989). Also compare Still life with violin, auctioned by Bonhams, Greek Sale, 12.12.2006, lot 85.
    12. “The vertical is a quintessentially idealistic line symbolising faith and uplift towards the heavens. That’s why Parthenis so often makes use of his beloved cypress.” Z. Papantoniou, 'The Art of Parthenis'.
    13. Papantoniou.
    14. K. Iliadis, The World of Art in the Period Between the Wars [in Greek], Athens 1978, p. 101.
    15. S. Lydakis, The History of Modern Greek Painting, The Greek Painters (vol. 3) [in Greek], Melissa publ., Athens 1976, p. 369.
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