L' Enfant au cerceau signed 'P.Pantazis' (lower right) oil on canvas 100 x 75 cm.
Provenance: Sale of the Pantazis atelier, Brussels, May 1885; Jan Stobbaerts collection, Brussels; Private collection, Brussels.
Exhibited: Amverse, Kunst van Heden, 13 March -18 April 1910, no 94.
Literature: Pericles Pantazis, texts by S. Goyens de Heusch, O. Mentzafou-Polyzou, S. Samaras, Averoff-Tositsa Foundation, Athens 1994, no 344, p.229 (referred) Apollo ephemerides, 19 June 1943 (illustrated).
"A child will through a hoop eternity indicate." Jan Vos, Dutch poet (1611-1667)
A daring piece of youthful freshness and artistic vitality, L' Enfant au cerceau speaks of the unique vision of this amazing Greek artist who, despite his premature death at the age of 35 in Brussels, ranks among the eminent European impressionists and is considered a founding father of the 19th century Flemish school, along such figures as Vogels and Ensor.1 Restless and receptive to new ideas, he ventured into a skilful handling of light in luminous compositions which departed from the tenets of institutionalised realism. In his 1878 showing at the International Exposition in Paris critics made extensive references to his output, placing him among the avant-garde of European art.2 Two years later, the distinguished French novelist and early advocate of Impressionism J.K. Huysmans noted his talent in child depictions, comparing him with the great Gauguin: "This year, Gaugin's designs of children are curious, but they strongly remind me of the interesting works by Pantazis, the Greek painter who exhibits in the artistic circles of Brussels."3.
Childhood scenes repeatedly occupied Pericles Pantazis, who captured their restless energy and perpetual movement with great observation and rare insight. "Pantazis handles this challenging genre with great sensitivity. He makes a sincere effort to delve into the world of childhood, capturing its moments with candour, tenderness and understanding. He draws his subjects from his immediate environment and presents them filtered through his own psychological disposition of the moment, successfully conveying a poetic transcription of children's psyche."4 As argued by art historian A. Kouria, "Pantazis has given us some of the most accomplished childhood images ever made by a Greek artist,5 while in his short monograph on Pantazis, Gustave Mahaux notes: "He loved the simple life and, above all, he loved children, whom he painted with a tenderness rarely found to such a degree in the work of other artists."6
In L' Enfant au cerceau, Pantazis treats his young model with imagination and expressive power. His dynamic brushwork, restrained but luminous palette, ease of design and spontaneity in execution lovingly convey something of the boy's inner world, while expressing the artist's own feelings at the time. The energy that emanates from the flickering reds of the fabric thrown on the piece of furniture and the dazzling whites - a signature feature of Pantazis' art - on the hoop's frayed ends, adds piquancy to the composition and makes the whole picture vibrate. Notice how skilfully the artist has used a variety of audacious brushstrokes to enliven the grey-ochre background wall with a series of nuances and modulations, endowing it with a felted luminance strongly reminiscent of the radiant skies in his evocative marine paintings.
The child's lively facial expression and the effortless manner with which he grips the hoop endow the picture with a sense of warmth and familiarity,7 reflecting the then new notion of individuality that prevailed towards the end of the 1800s. For centuries the depiction of children seemed to lack the essential qualities of childhood; they were conceived as young adults, judged on what they would or should become and not on what they really were. On the contrary, Pantazis' young sitter is conceived as an autonomous personality rather than an extension of his family, absorbed in its own world and toys,8 much the same way as grown-ups are wrapped up in their own concerns. Interestingly, the closed circle of the hoop - a popular children's toy since ancient times - is often compared in European literature to adult preoccupations such as music or hunting, reflecting the eternal cycle of existence.9
1. See F. Maret, Les Peintres Luministes, Cercle d'Art publ., Brussels 1994, p. 9. 2. See O. Mentzafou-Polyzou, 'Pantazis in Greece' and S. Samaras, 'Pericles Pantazis, an Unfulfilled Destiny' in Pericles Pantazis [in Greek], Evangelos Averof-Tositsas Foundation, Athens 1994, pp. 27, 37-38. 3. J.K. Huysmans, L 'Art Moderne / Certains, preface by Hubert Juin, 'Fins d Siècle' series, 1975. 4. G. Drakopoulou, Pericles Pantazis in the Context of 19th Century Belgian Painting (dissertation thesis) [in Greek], Athens 1982, p. 81. 5. A. Kouria, The Child in Modern Greek Art (1833-1922) [in Greek], Dodoni publ., Athens-Yannina, 1985, p. 51. 6. G. Mahaux, Periclès Pantazis, Bruxelles, 1962, p. 16. 7. Undoubtedly, the birth of his son Camille in 1878 influenced his choice of subjects. However, as noted by art historian C. Economides, his insistence on depicting children past their infancy may reflect his own childhood memories from his family life in Athens. See 'Pericles Pantazis 1849-1884', retrospective exhibition catalogue, Hotel de Ville de Saint-Gilles, Brussels, 1993. 8. See Mentzafou-Polyzou, 'Themes et Images dans L' Oeuvre de Périclès Pantazis' in 'Périclès Pantazis 1849-1884 Un Peintre Grec en Belgique', exhibition catalogue, National Gallery - A. Soutzos Museum, Athens 1996, pp. 27-28. 9. See E. Langmuir, Imagining Childhood, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2006, p. 146.