Eros and the Painter signed and dated 'N. Gysis 68' (lower left) oil on canvas 50 x 40 cm.
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Hamburg. Private collection, Nice. Bonhams, The Greek Sale, 23 May 2006, lot 21. Private collection, Athens.
EXHIBITED: Munich, Münchener Kunstverein, c. 1868-1870 Athens, Exhibition of works by Nicholaos Gysis, Eteria Filotechnon, Iliou Melathron, 1928, no 376.
LITERATURE: Marcel Montandon, Gysis, Verlag von Velhagen & Klafing, Bielefeld und Leipzig 1902, p. 8 (illustrated) p. 32 and 44 (referred). Pinakothiki magazine, 3rd year, 31st issue, September 1903, p. 137 Artists from Tinos, N. Gysis, ed. D.I. Kalogeropoulos, X. Sochos, Estia publ., Athens 1925, p. 16 (referred), p. 17 (illustrated). Zacharias Papandoniou, Eleftheron Vima, Gysis and the Genre, 18 March 1928, p.1, 2 Fotos Yiofyllis, Nicholaos Gysis, Nea Estia, issue 679, 15 October 1955, p. 1358-9 S. Lydakis, Geschichte, p. 67 Yiannis Papaioannou, Greek Artists, Nicholaos Gysis, volume A', Melissa publications, Athens 1974, p. 148 Stelios Lydakis, Geschichte der Griechischen Malerei des 19 Jahrhundert, Hirmer publ., München 1972 , p. 67 Stelios Lydakis, History of Neohellenic Painting (16th to 20th century), 3rd volume, Melissa publications, Athens 1976, p.168 (illustrated) Miltiadis Papanikolaou, Greek Genre Painting of the 19th century, Thessaloniki 1978, p. 79-80. Marinos Kalligas, Nicholaos Gysis, MIET, Athens, 1981, p. 37, 38, 41, 122. Constantinos Didaskalou, Kompositionsentwurfe und Studien von Nikolaus Gysis (Magisterarbeit in LMU), Munich 1986, p. 91. Afroditi Kouria, The Child in Modern Greek Art 1833-1922, Dodoni publ., Athens-Ioannina 1985, p. 39 (referred), p. 40 (illustrated) Constantinos Didaskalou, Genre und allegorische Malerei von Nikolaus Gysis, dissertation thesis in LMU, Munich 1991, p.9. Nelli Missirli, Gysis, ADAM publ. Athens 1995, p. 41, no 4 (illustrated). Constantinos Didaskalou, Nicholaos Gysis 1842-1901, Thessaloniki 1999, p. 104 (referred) Constantinos Didaskalou, Gysis in Tinos, Tinos 2001, p. 65 (referred) Gysis, The National Painter from Tinos (catalogue of the Tinos 2001 Scientific Conference), Society of Tinian Studies, Athens 2002, p. 65 (illustrated fig. 9)
"Eros, who is Love, handsomest among all the immortals" Hesiod
A rare gem of ingenious conception and superb draftsmanship, Eros and the Painter is the first genre painting by Nicholaos Gysis and a point of reference in the evolution of the greatest 19th century Greek artist. This most important work was dealt with by all the scholars who have studied his oeuvre. Marcel Montandon, a contemporary of Gysis' who was thoroughly familiar with his work and published his biography a year after his death, considers Eros and the Painter an exquisite work of great artistry and mentions that according to Gysis' diary, which he had access to, it was commissioned on September 1st 1868 by a Swiss merchant. Due to a fall out between the artist and his patron regarding financial matters, Gysis kept the painting and showed it later at the Munich Artists Association (Münchener Kunstverein), where it made a great impression.1 Nelli Misirli, an authority on the artist, considers it a work of multifaceted importance, painted the year Gysis joined the studio of Karl von Piloty and met Franz von Deffeger, the genre painter who later became a close friend of his.
In Eros and the Painter the genre element, which demonstrates Gysis' consummate ability to focus on a scene's crucial moment and render it with great economy of means, is conveyed allegorically in the vein of 17th century Dutch genre masters. First encountered here is a joyful mood, typical of the artist's private life as indicated by his letters, which from time to time surfaced in his works.2 In an elegant studio - defined as such by a mounted picture, a female nude figurine and other plaster casts on top of a wooden cabinet, assorted decorative fabrics and a case of pigments next to an open book on the floor, a painter in a velvet jacket over a silk dress is set to depict her half-naked sitter as Eros, the winged god of love. The young model, with a quiver of feathered arrows strapped to his back, is holding a simple bow with a loose string, while another of Eros' most distinctive symbols hangs behind him. With a seriousness accentuated by the somewhat theatrical gesture of her raised hand holding a brush, the painter is measuring her sitter in an instance of momentary stillness, repeated later in The Engagement of Children (1875).3 With her gesture she is also attempting to convince her restless model to stay still. However, impatient and mischievous, he seems to disregard the artist's 'inspirational zeal', being interested only in ending the session and getting up to either play with the top lying at his feet, or finishing the fruit he has already bitten into, a detail that charges the scene with additional symbolic overtones and innuendos.
"By concentrating on such details the artist fully exploits the anecdotal with a humorous finesse, inducing mixed feelings in the viewer who experiences both an emotional impact and a playful attitude. This work reveals how thoroughly Gysis had studied the Dutch masters. His painter wears the dress worn by a Danhauers' young beauty, treated nonetheless in the manner of Terborch or Mieris. Gysis was gifted with the ability to learn from old masters. You only need notice the highlights caught on the painter's locks and how he handles the old jacket's velvet. You have the sense of observing a work by a Dutch master at his prime. What is not Dutch and is definitely Gysis is his painter's unpretentious elegance and the real charm of her slim and delicate sitter, the lines of his naked arms, the perceptive rendering of his sensitive, grouchy and somewhat deceitful expression (the same as in his young Satyr with a flute, dating from his later output) and the intentionally casual covering of his leg with a blanket. This very first youth by Gysis is a psychological gem and our first clear evidence of the painter's idea of beauty. The young painter starts out to create a genre painting. Then the Greek blood in his veins awakens and the sitting youth turns out to be akin to Eros, the god of love."4
This genre painting, full of the joy of life, is the first in a series of works by Gysis that deal with subjects drawn from daily life and often charged with spiritual content, as well as nuanced references from the visible to the invisible. It also provides us with valuable information regarding the artist's study of Dutch masters at the Alte Pinakothek. His palette is suffused in grey-green hues with soft tonal gradations, in the vein of G. Terborch and G. Metscher whose work Gysis self-admittedly emulated. He would apply this very colour scheme to all the works he completed prior to his first trip back to Greece and the Orient in 1872-74.
For all these reasons, Eros and the Painter is a rare and exquisite specimen of Gysis' earlier output, subtle treatment of colour and genteel, diligent style. His particular attention to the sensitive rendering of the texture of different fabrics, such as velvet and silk, constitutes a pictorial motif that he would adhere to throughout his career. Moreover, it provides clear evidence that in his first genre paintings Gysis followed the Düsseldorf artists L. Knaus and B. Vautier, distancing himself from the strict tenets of Piloty's studio that focused mainly on history painting. Instead of illustrating the historical narrative of a given text, Gysis presented a situation, which, through the introduction of key symbols, he reversed into an attractive image of pleasing obscurity and metaphorical interpretation. Eros and the Painter is also highly significant due to its allegorical content, demonstrating that Gysis from the outset of his career endowed his genre painting with an added dimension where this motif of momentary stillness, so evident in Eros and the Painter and later in The Engagement of Children, draws the viewer's attention to the void between the figures in action. "The sparkling spirituality stemming from his broadmindedness and ability to engage in discourse with the world underscores Gysis' dynamic outlook."5 In short, Eros and the Painter is a milestone in Gysis' illustrious career, encompassing all the defining attributes that made him the greatest artist of modern Greece.
1. M. Montadon, Gysis, Verlag von Velhagen & Klafing, Bielefeld und Leipzig 1902, p. 32 2. M. Kalligas, Nicholaos Gysis, MIET [in Greek], Athens, 1981, p. 37 3. Kalligas, p. 122 4. Montandon, pp. 43-45 5. S. Lydakis, History of Neohellenic Painting (16th to 20th c.), vol. 3, Melissa publ., Athens 1976, p.168