Theofilos Hadjimichael (Greek, 1871-1934) The giant heroes Stamatis Nikitaras, Odysseas Androutsos and Ioannis Gouras 56 x 87 cm.
Lot 20
Theofilos Hadjimichael
(Greek, 1871-1934)
The giant heroes Stamatis Nikitaras, Odysseas Androutsos and Ioannis Gouras 56 x 87 cm.
Sold for £ 108,000 (US$ 145,702) inc. premium

The Greek Sale

23 Nov 2010, 14:00 GMT

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
Theofilos Hadjimichael (Greek, 1871-1934)
The giant heroes Stamatis Nikitaras, Odysseas Androutsos and Ioannis Gouras
titled on the upper and lower parts
natural pigments on material
56 x 87 cm.


    Acquired from the artist's brother by the father of the present owner.

    Athens, British Council, Theofilos Exhibition, May 2-30 1947, no. 3. Athens, Greek-American Union, Exhibition of Works by the Painter Theofilos, February 7-26 1964, no. 15

    Anna Chatzigiannaki, Theofilos, K. Adam Ekdotiki, Athens 2007, p. 138 (illustrated).
    Angloelliniki Epitheorisi, vol.3, no.1, May 1947, p. 8 (illustrated).
    G. Samatouras, Twelve Folk Painters, Athens 1974, p. 45, fig. V (illustrated).

    This engaging work shows the artist's predilection for history and lifelong fascination with the 1821 Greek War of Independence, paying homage to three giants of the uprising: Odysseus Androutsos (1788/9-1825), the brave and fierce klepht (brigand) who achieved legendary status when in May 1821 defeated a large Turkish force led by Omer Vrionis at the pass of Gravia, preventing their decent into the Peloponnese, Nikitaras (Nikitas Stamatelopoulos, 1782-1849), the nephew of Kolokotronis, nicknamed "the Turk-eater", whose greatest triumph was his victory at Doliana in May 1821 where, leading a small band of 200 men, he crushed a much larger Turkish force led by Kehaya Bey, and Yannis Gouras (1791-1826) who led the fight in mainland Greece along with Panourgias and Androutsos.

    History is filtered through the artist's rich imagination and transformed into the enthusiasm sparked in him by a multitude of different events, allowing him to explore a world of valour and heroic achievement without having to succumb to historical accuracy. The left half of the painting depicts Nikitaras defeating the Turkish forces at Doliana, while the right half is devoted to the heroic feats of Androutsos and Gouras during the victorious battle of Vasilika in August 1821. Theofilos invented this historical amalgamation based on conventional folk lithographs (the Vasilika battle scene derives from a painting by the German Peter von Hess)1 but ingenuously reworked and significantly altered to fit his own artistic vision. As noted by folk art scholar K. Makris, "Theofilos borrowed his subjects but he did not make copies of them. He often added figures that didn't exist in the original, while at other times he subtracted or modified, in short he produced something totally of his own."2 Likewise, art critic A. Xydis noted that "the transformation of academic prints into true masterpieces is ample proof of Theofilos' wisdom."3

    The Greek heroes are identified as such not only by their characteristic fustanella kilts -the same highland garb the painter himself wore when he left Smyrna for Athens to voluntarily enlist in the 1897 campaign against Turkey and which eventually became his signature attribute- but by purely pictorial means as well: they are more carefully modelled and shown considerably bigger than their opponents, reflecting Theofilos' insistence in taking full advantage of art's liberating freedom that recognizes no limitations when it comes to scale or perspective.4 (Note how Androutsos' grandeur is emphasized by the fleeing horse on the left, which is much smaller in size despite being in the foreground and, consequently, closer to the viewer's eye).5

    Gallantry is indicated through the repetition of pictorial and iconographic conventions, an approach to painting rooted in Byzantine and folk tradition and reminiscent of the Karaghiozi shadow-puppets or descriptions found in demotic songs. The linear arrangement of the warriors, the symmetry and rhythm of the composition and the impression of an immutable reality, take one even further back to Archaic Greek vase painting and the narrative arrangement of that precursor of folk poetry, the Homeric epics –where all parts are generally set side by side in a paratactical presentation, a style in which sentences, ideas, episodes or figures are placed one after the other like beads on a string.6 The inscription at the top and bottom of the painting reflects the painter's desire to provide a full description of his subjects by leaving nothing obscure. Everything is explained and clearly expressed and, therefore, all phenomena are thrust forward to the narrative surface where they receive even illumination in a flat, continuous present.

    Directing his brush to such expressively condensed notations, Theofilos unknowingly combined the age-old Greek tradition with some of the fundamental stylistic premises of European modernism, "coming to parity with all the modern 'primitives' and innovative painters, whose inventive audacity he possessed to a point that amazes us."7

    1. See Befteihung Griechenlands in XXXIX Bildern Entworfen von P. Hess, Munich 1836 or 1852/54, reprinted by Spanos publ., 1978.
    2. K. Makris, The Painter Theofilos in Mt. Pelion [in Greek], Volos, 1939, p. 18.
    3 A. Xydis, Proposals for the History of Modern Greek Art [in Greek], vol. 1, Athens 1976, pp. 36-38.
    4. See L. Papastathis, 'Theofilos in Mt. Pelion' [in Greek], Lexi magazine, no. 172, November-December 2002, p. 945.
    5. See G. Petris, The Painter Theofilos [in Greek], Exantas publ., Athens 1978, pp. 42-43.
    6. See H. Kambouridis - G. Levounis, Modern Greek Art-The 20th Century, Athens 1999, p. 43.
    7. S. Eleftheriades-Teriade, 'A Great Unknown Painter' [in Greek], Athinaika Nea daily, 21.9.1935.

Saleroom notices

  • Exhibited: Bern, Kunsthalle, Der Griechische Bauernmaler Theophilos, July 23 - September 4, 1960, no. 38 (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, p. 24). Please note that due to Greek Regulations this painitng cannot be exported from Greece. It will be available for inspection by prospective buyers at the Athens preview. (See page 3 for details).
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