Resting under the olive tree signed 'M. Economou.' (lower right) oil on canvas 54 x 65 cm.
PROVENANCE: Private collection, France.
A true find and a soulful rendition of nature distinguished by the charm of its uncontrived composition, this exceptional canvas reveals Economou's penchant for painting the quiet corners of the landscape, while displaying his ability to transform ordinary subjects into evocative visions of humble monumentality.
In a peaceful olive orchard, the aged trees shaped by time and the elements become the real protagonists, offering a delightful variety to the artist's observing eye. Economou pays close attention to all the irregularities that establish their individual characters. The bark of the massive olive tree in the foreground and the moss attached to it are composed of countless quick touches of thick impasto suggesting the trunk's rough texture, while the varied angles and gnarled curves of the tree branches create a vivid surface pattern. At the same time, the pronounced triangle in the centre opens out the composition to reveal the landscape beyond, while large areas of cast shadows animate the ground and contribute to its weightiness. As noted by art historian A. Kouria who prepared the artist's monograph, "in certain works of Economou, the shadows, along with the shapes and visual effects they create, actively contribute to the compositional structure, endowing the picture with a vibrating pulse that's akin to the Nabis, art nouveau aesthetics or even Van Gogh."1
The artist, however, is concerned not only with the physicality of natural forms and the visual effects produced by the interplay of light and shadow but also with the harmonious incorporation of the human presence into the whole -the two female figures that ease themselves under the thick shade of the olive tree. He is interested in the spatial relationship between figure and surrounding space, and the pictorial unity of the figure and its environment. This need to unite figures and surroundings into a whole (a lifelong preoccupation of the artist) dictated a uniform handling of energetic brushwork throughout the picture plane in the vein of many Pissaro landscapes (compare 'Chestnut Trees at Louveciennes', private collection, New York.)
Highlighted by bold animating touches -note the emphatic daub of pure red pigment at the seated woman's headscarf- the figures blend in with the environment, suggesting that human beings, just like trees, are part of a universal natural order. Such an interpretative approach to the landscape charges the painting with symbolic, even spiritual overtones and invests it with a higher order of meaning, echoing van Gogh's celebrated olive orchards.
1. A. Kouria, Michalis Economou [in Greek], Adam, Athens 2001, p. 113.