Old mill and houses signed 'M. Economou' (lower left) oil on cardboard 29.5 x 60 cm.
Painted before 1926.
PROVENANCE: E. Christomanou collection, Athens. Christie's Athens, Greek Sale 24/5/2000, lot 88. Private collection, Athens.
EXHIBITED: Athens, Parnassos, 1926 (possibly under the title 'Early morning - Martigues').
LITERATURE: A. Kouria, Michalis Economou, Adam editions, Athens 2001, pp. 33 (referred), p. 74 (illustrated).
A virtuoso display of the artist's extraordinary ability to transform a simple, ordinary subject into a highly evocative image, Old mill and houses is a vision of 'humble monumentality' invested with a fleeting iridescence and an almost musical effect. Rendered in highly textured curvilinear forms and delightfully reflected on shallow still waters, these unassuming seaside adobe structures become images of subjective truth suspended between real time and memory.
The motif of the house reflected on water is a favourite and recurrent theme throughout Economou's oeuvre, echoing distant memories marked by early experiences and visual recollections of the Aegean Sea and his native port town of Piraeus. During his twenty-year stay in Paris (1906-1926), the painter travelled extensively throughout Bretagne, Normandy and the south of France, especially the area around Martigues,1 depicting quaint streets, weathered houses and old mills captured in a wide range of subtle tonalities and articulated with a sense of sculptural stability and permanence. Many of these thick impasto paintings were included in the artist's first one man show in Athens (1926) and, as noted by art historian A. Kouria, "they rank among the finest examples not only of the artist's first period but of his entire oeuvre."2
In her monograph on Economou, Kouria referred to Old mill and houses to discuss the topographical identity of the artist's subjects. "Economou's intention was not to capture the world of appearances with descriptive accuracy but, rather, to transcend external reality in formulating a personal artistic vision. Actually, in some cases he created imaginative compositions. Perhaps the most characteristic examples are some paintings from his years in France depicting old mills, such as the Old mill and houses, which he consistently places close to the waterline, abiding by his preoccupation with the binary scheme of seaside buildings and their reflections on water."3 As noted by Professor A.Kotidis, "the element of reverse symmetry introduced by the reflection of the solid on the fluid, this coexistence of the man-made/solid with the natural/liquid provides the painter a bipolarity that allows him to express his psychological state. He tries to find a balance between security and uncertainty in his private life, the same way he seeks equilibrium in his pictorial world."4
1. Martigues, the 'Venice of Provence' as it is often called, is a town close to Marseilles that attracted such towering figures of modern art as Derain, Dufy and Braque. 2. A. Kouria, Michalis Economou [in Greek], Adam publ., Athens 2001, pp. 27-28. 3. Ibid, p. 33. 4. A. Kotidis, in Dictionary of Greek Artists [in Greek], vol. 3, Melissa publ., Athens 1999, pp. 350-351.