Young man facing to the right signed in Greek and dated '22-2-38, 25-12-39' (upper right) mixed media on canvas 54 x 70 cm.
PROVENANCE: Given as a present from Y. Tsarouchis to Andreas Embirikos. Private collection, Athens.
EXHIBITED: Athens, Benaki Museum, Yannis Tsarouchis Retrospective, Athens 2009, no 88 (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue) p. 118.
LITERATURE: Y. Tsarouchis, Comments on the Works Included in the Yannis Tsarouchis (1910-1989) Painting, published by the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation 1990, no. 100, p. v (referred). E. Florou, Tsarouchis - Painting, (doctoral dissertation) vol. 1, Athens 1989, no. 214, p. 221 (referred). E. Florou, Yannis Tsarouchis, his Painting and his Era, Nea Synora-A.A. Livanis publ., Athens 1989, no. 39, p. 262 (referred), p. 42 (illustrated).
Distilled with marvellous restraint in an early masterpiece, Tsarouchis's signature male subject showcases the artist's realist approach, combining diverse elements from Matisse and traditional shadow puppet theatre to introduce a new stylistic approach unprecedented in Modern Greek art. In its rich surface texture, archaizing process of simplification, shallow compositional structure, solidly outlined forms and silent inflexibility, this captivating oil is akin to similar paintings by the great French master from the same period (Compare Matisse's Music, 1939, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo,) while its clarity and truthfulness of vision combined with echoes of Byzantine art conveys a world of pure forms recalling the pictorial conventions of Karaghiozi, which exerted a strong influence on Tsarouchis's work throughout his career.
In 1939, while still in the process of painting Young man facing to the right, Tsarouchis published an article on Karaghiozi, noting that these shadow-puppet figures "have an external resemblance to ancient Greek vase painting but what matters most is their beauty, the realism of their design, the effortless and rich rhythm that governs them. Their value lies in that they interpret the most essential aspects of Modern Greek life."1 Much later, commenting on the Bonhams work in the special addendum to the Tsarouchis Foundation edition, the artist noted: This work resembles a Karaghiozi poster by Sotiris Spatharis."2 "Besides puppet figures, there is also the painting of Karaghiozi as manifested in its advertisement posters. Those made by Sotiris Spatharis, with their multicoloured brilliance, are remarkable works. For years I had Spatharis's posters hanging on the walls of my studio, trying to get from them what nothing else could give me: a realism that doesn't feel obliged to copy anything irrelevant to the beauty of painting."3
In her monograph on the artist, art historian E. Florou noted: "Tsarouchis's subjects from 1936-1939 were mainly male figures set in a room with only a few objects, such as a chair, a door, a flower vase stand or a mirror. These figures were usually seated and portrayed at full length frontally or in profile, as in Young man facing to the right, dominating the foreground and taking up most of the pictorial space. They were inspired by the standard at the time photo-studio poses assumed by working class people next to a vase stand or against a stage-set like backdrop screen. Tsarouchis used those popular photographic poses because he believed that compared to academic posing they were more expressive and better suited for capturing the type of the Modern Greek folk."4 As noted by Kambouridis-Levounis, the stage designer's perception of space played an important role in the work of Tsarouchis as it did in that of Engonopoulos, Moralis and Vasiliou. In the 1930s, these painters designed sets and costumes for the National Theatre under the directorship of F. Politis, while later their contribution proved to be instrumental in the international renown of K. Koun's Theatro Technis. This joint endeavor was embraced by the emerging composers M. Theodorakis and M. Chatzidakis, their music also drawing from Greek cultural tradition.5
Reviewing Tsarouchis's first one man show in 1938 -just a couple of weeks before he took up Young man facing to the right- art critic Z. Papantoniou noted: "The artist often feels the need to redraw inspiration from unspoiled folk sources to lend it the purity which gave birth to myth and folk song."6, while in an article that constituted the first comprehensive review of Tsarouchis' work, D. Kapetanakis perceptively observed that his works "are truly Greek in essence. His objects are studio objects; everyday objects that don't even claim to signify the depth of daily life or mundane existence -a kind of decoration inspired by nothing more than the backdrops used by itinerant photographers. What's remarkable is that Tsarouchis managed, with the wisdom of his art, to elevate a model posing in his studio into a symbol of the modern Greek spirit."7
1. Y. Tsarouchis, Karaghiozis is Theatre [in Greek], Paraskinia journal, no. 74, 14.10.1939. 2. Y. Tsarouchis, Comments on the Works Included in the Yannis Tsarouchis (1910-1989) Painting [in Greek], published by the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation 1990, no. 100, p. v. 3. Y. Tsarouchis, Random Thoughts on Karaghiozis [in Greek], Epitheorisi Technis journal, no. 50-51, February-March 1959, p. 124. 4. E. Florou, Yiannis Tsarouchis: His Painting and his Era [in Greek], Athens 1999, pp. 41-42. See also The Greek Painters, vol. 2, Melissa editions, Athens 1975, p.298. 5. See H. Kambouridis - G. Levounis, Modern Greek Art, The Twentieth Century, Ministry of the Aegean, Athens 1999, p. 66. 6. Z. Papantoniou, Y. Tsarouchis Exhibition, Kathimerini daily, 8.2.1938. 7. Kapetanakis, Yiannis Tsarouchis, Return to Roots, Nea Grammata journal, 1937 as reprinted in Tsarouchis [in Greek], Zygos journal, Athens 1978, pp. 7-8.