View of Pasalimani, Piraeus signed in Greek and dated '66' (lower right) oil on canvas 81 x 116 cm
Provenance: Private collection, Athens.
Literature: E.Florou, Tsarouchis-Painting, (doctoral dissertation, vol.1, Athens 1989, no 692, p. 254 (referred). E.Florou, Yannis Tsachouris, his Painting and his Era, Nea Synora-A.A. Livanis Publ., Athens 1989, no 810, p. 280 (referred).
Hailing from an esteemed private collection, this emblematic portrait of Tsarouchis native Piraeus, with Alexandras Square and the enchanting Ziller1 neighbourhood in Castella viewed from the Pasalimani Rowing Club, 2 (of which his brother was a prominent member), is a visual treatise on purity and simplicity evoking the discreet elegance of 19th century neoclassicism. On the left, one can make out St. Catherines church and the Patsiados mansion, a Ziller marvel which was demolished in 1973, while the turret crowing this charming bouquet of neoclassical beauties belongs to the another mansion, also designed by Ziller and owned by Patsiados, that has been renovated and become one of the citys most beloved landmarks. I was born in Piraeus in a neoclassical building and raised in two others, also neoclassical homes in Piraeus. For me, house meant only the neoclassical building. Later, when they started tearing them down one by one, I felt my life was dismantled. 3
Noble, silent and serenely luminous, the picture is a spare and audacious portscape with the horizontal line of the seawall and the solitary row of buildings dividing the composition into two parts. Shadow and modelling are reduced to a minimum, leaving large areas of barely inflected colour, while the oil paint is lovingly applied in the artists most refined and disciplined manner. The few boats, peacefully floating on the still waters, seem perfectly integrated into the site, imbuing the picture with a lyrical tone and meditative feel. Narrative is suppressed and human activity, both on sea and land, is entirely absent. Horizontal harbour walls, diagonal jetties and vertical masts frame the irregularity of the landscape, containing the profusion of the scene and indicating a tendency towards order and rationalization. While Engonopoulos used the same port view as a mere backdrop for unfolding his surrealist metaphors (compare The Sailor auctioned by Bonhams, The Greek sale 12.12.2006, lot 104), Tsarouchis is drawn by the poetry and tranquillity of sea, land and city to suggest balance between the natural and the manmade.
This subtle dialogue of light, form and human scale creates a harmonious and lyrically interpretative composition, which not only captures the absolute stillness of the hour but also alludes to the very definition of the portscape as a combination of landscape and city view. A place where the natural world meets the man-made environment, the port is a connecting link, a peaceful and secure refuge, a realm of nostalgia and contemplation. 4 Radically reduced to its bare essentials, this sensitive and irresistibly attractive picture that immediately captures the eye with its clarity and truthfulness, conveys a tranquil world of purity and inner harmony that borders to abstraction. They say that a painter should work in an abstract style only if he is able to faithfully imitate nature. I would say the opposite is true; one who understands that painting is a matter of harmony has earned the right to depict nature. 5
1. One of the masterminds behind the late 19th century neoclassical flourishing in Athens and Piraeus was the German architect Ernst Ziller (1837-1923) who designed more than 600 public buildings and residential mansions and whose work constitutes a milestone in Modern Greek architecture. 2. A later version, with a cloudy sky, in the collection of Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation is illustrated in Yannis Tsarouchis-Painting, Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation, Athens 1990, no. 367. 3. Preface to S. Skopelitis, Neoclassical buildings of Athens and Piraeus [in Greek], Dodoni publ. 1975. 4. See T. Christou, 'Portscapes by Greek Artists from the Late 19th to the Mid-20th Century' in The Ports of Hellenism, Aenaon publ., Athens 2004, p. 69. 5. Y. Tsarouchis, 'Notes and Speculations', Greek Heritage journal, vol. 1, no. 2, 1964, pp. 94-95.