Landscape signed in Greek (lower right) oil on canvas 54 x 42.5 cm.
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Athens.
A work full of vitality and inner strength that can deservedly stand next to the great masterpieces of early European modernism, this captivating picture encapsulates all the signature traits of Lytras' landscape painting. Painterly, Cezannesque technique, intense brushwork in the vein of van Gogh and thick impasto that lends a corporeal presence to the pictorial space support the liberation of properties intrinsic to the artist's medium, asserting the freedom of his pictorial gesture. The fluid rhythm of the execution becomes the means by which the artist not only records but shares in this field of energy in search of a deeper pictorial truth. The simplified surfaces with their syncopated rhythm, the corporeality of the picture plane and the gestural, textured brushwork that convey to the viewer a sense of immediacy and an impression of a first-hand experience, act jointly to achieve the final expressive outcome, capturing the eternal structure and timeless canon of the Greek landscape.
The powerful, pronounced diagonal of the hillslopes, the large, triangular shapes and the overall development of oblique, undulating lines, build up a solid compositional edifice, which creates a new reality through an architectural organisation of active space and vibrant form without breaking from the world of appearances. The artist achieves the sense of substance with which he endows his forms by the density and texture of the paint itself, while developing a rhythmically articulate series of formal elements that weld the image and its attendant attributes into a compelling entity. Even the artist's signature on the lower right is treated in a purely formal manner, becoming organically integrated in the pictorial surface, as if it were an 'indigenous' part of the landscape. (Compare Hymettus and Attic Landscape in the Katsigras Museum collection.) 1 As noted by Professor C. Christou, "Lytras' landscapes offer a monumental image of the natural environment and express all its inner forces. Without completely sacrificing the external characteristics of the landscape, the artist manages to represent it as a comprehensive whole with perfectly balanced constituent elements: broad surfaces, energetic brushwork, expressive use of colour and structured organization." 2
Landscape was probably painted towards the end of the 1910s, while the rolling background hills suggest a view of an Attic landscape -a rich source of inspiration for the artist offering him many pictorial challenges. (Compare From Galatsi sold by Bonhams, Greek Sale, 19.5.9009, lot 32.) As noted by A. Kouria and D. Portolos, who prepared the monograph on the artist, "the Attic landscape persistently claimed Lytras' attention since it was sparse, barren, with pellucid, pure forms and planes in a translucent atmosphere and with an innate rhythm. Lytras' paintings lend the Greek landscape a new formal identity and meaning, with the natural environment stripped of the descriptiveness and narrative of traditional naturalistic renderings, often characterised by a tendency for idealisation, genre overtones and penchant for the blatantly picturesque. His landscapes are rugged, frugal, without beautifying tricks or decorative framings, often relying instead on a limited and very restrained palette. Moreover, identifying many of these landscapes is problematic, if not impossible, due to the artist's fragmentary visual approach and abstractive process, as well as the lack of anecdotal elements or landmarks that shape the superficial features and determine the identity of a specific area." 3
In his search for an interpretative approach to nature, Lytras, who co-founded the legendary anti-academic 'Omas Techni' art group, infused the forces of renewal in Greek painting with a fresh and vital impetus and had a major impact on the artists of the 1930s generation who set out not only to identify the unique character of Greekness but also to interpret its very soul. As noted by Athens National Gallery director M. Lambraki-Plaka, "Nikolaos Lytras was a painter committed to the truth of vision and a true revolutionary who reinvigorated Greek painting." 4
1. See A. Kouria in The G. I. Katsigras Collection [in Greek], Municipal Gallery of Larissa - G.I.Katsigras Museum, Larissa 2005, p. 132. 2. C. Christou, The Mountainous Landscape in Greek Painting [in Greek], To Ergastiri Art Editions, Athens 1991, p. 26. 3. A. Kouria, D. Portolos, Nikos Lytras, Building Form with Color and Light [in Greek], exhibition catalogue, National Gallery - A. Soutzos Museum, Athens 2008, pp. 107-109, 113. 4. M. Lambraki-Plaka, introduction to Nikos Lytras, Building Form with Colour and Light, p. 14.