EXHIBITED: Athens, National Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Nicholaos Gysis - The great creator, 2001, no 21 p. 32 (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue).
LITERATURE: Nelli Missirli, Gysis, Adam Editions, Athens 1996, no 43, p. 94 (illustrated).
A master of genre painting, Gysis captures a vignette of oriental daily life in a spartan setting enlivened by energetic brushstrokes, wonderful passages of bright colour and charming details, such as the palette lying on the floor and the shinning headpiece of the young girl who is being prepared by three women to sit for a bearded painter, probably Gysis's lifelong friend Nikiforos Lytras.1 The flashes of brilliant white in the local costumes and especially in the artist's sketchbook establish a certain rhythm, drawing the eye from one figure to the other, building up a vibrant and moving composition. The generalised rendering, diffused outlines and elimination of detail point to the artist's concern with purely pictorial and compositional issues.
In 1873, Gysis, together with Lytras, embarked on an artistic journey to Asia Minor to observe and study the local people and customs. In the second half of the 19th century, being the closest non-Christian regions to Europe, the Near East and North Africa exercised a profound fascination upon the West, spawning imaginative evocations in poems, novels and artistic representations. Recognized itineraries and an expanding corpus of travel literature, such as Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad, made these regions more generally accessible, while Orientalist paintings were exhibited annually at the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon. One of the preoccupations which deeply affected the western understanding of the Orient was the belief that it could satisfy the West's urge for exotic experience, offering artists the opportunity to venture beyond the restrictions of classical rules and allowing viewers to escape a strictly organised and disciplined way of life.2
Gysis's trip to the Orient had a profound impact on his artistic evolution and led to the development of a new style that retained elements of the Munich School teachings remoulded, however, through the eyes of a Greek and, in a broader sense, an easterner for whom the Orient was neither a romantic ideal nor a dreamy fantasy but a deeply felt familiar reality. Upon his return to Munich in June 1874 full of vibrant images and vivid impressions, the artist again took up multi-figured compositions adhering to some of the Academy's tenets, but held on to the breakthroughs he achieved during this life-changing trip. Strongly influenced by the dazzling wonders of the Orient, Gysis came up with his own interpretation of the Piloty school's principles regarding the handling of colour.3 As argued by T. Tsatsos, "colour became as critical for Gysis' design as light was for ancient Greek sculpture. It imbued his design with an instantaneous, fleeting, yet vibrant feel."4
The painter in the Orient is based on the narrative description of the subject, the spatial arrangement of the figures according to the principles of the Munich Academy and, at the same time, on the pursuit of painterly values relying on colour juxtapositions. As noted by the late Dr. N. Misirli who prepared the artist's monograph, "Gysis's great interest in the painterliness of his works is clearly indicated in his oil studies, while in his preliminary composition of The painter in the Orient he followed a different narrative sequence but used the same white and red highlights as well as the glittering coinage and intricate embroidery of traditional costumes. Moreover, this group of paintings establish the types of the Greek mother, young girl and palikare (young brave), contributing to the creation of an atmosphere characteristic of Gysis's work."5
1. See M. Papanikolaou, Art History in Greece, 18th and 19th Century, Adam editions, Athens 202, p.150. 2. See The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse, The Allure of North Africa and the Near East, M.A. Stevens ed., Thames and Hudson, New York 1984. 3. See N. Misirli, Gysis [in Greek], Adam editions, Athens 1995, p. σελ. 82 ; N. Misirli, "The painter Gysis, his Life his Work and his Era" [in Greek], Nicholaos Gysis 1842-1901, The Great Artist, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery - Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens 2001, p. 24. 4. T. Tsatsos, About Painting [in Greek], Estia publ., Athens 1970, p. 48. 5. N. Misirli, Gysis, p. 92