Autumn signed in Greek and dated '76' (lower right) oil on canvas 116.5 x 81.5 cm.
Painted in 1976.
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Athens.
LITERATURE: Tsarouchis, Zygos editions, Athens 1978, p. 111 (illustrated). Sixteen Cards with Works by Tsarouchis, Zygos editions, Athens 1980 (illustrated). E. Florou, Tsarouchis - Painting, (doctoral dissertation) vol. 1, Athens 1989, no. 932, p. 270 (referred). E. Florou, Yannis Tsarouchis, his Painting and his Era, Nea Synora - A.A. Livanis editions, Athens 1989, no. 1111, p. 288 (referred). Yannis Tsarouchis (1910-1989) Painting, Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation, Athens 1990, no. 485 (illustrated).
One of the most enduring signifiers of twentieth century Greece, Tsarouchis's personified Autumn enjoys Olympian-level status in the modern Greek pantheon. Silently immobile in his shallow space like a precious butterfly pressed under glass or a treasured relief crystallized on the pediment of an archaic Greek temple, the artist's signature male subject celebrates the purely pictorial realisation of a symbol's everlasting value. Truthfulness of vision, honesty of representation and genuineness of character build up a solid edifice of pure form, an ideal world liberated from the fleeting moment. Painted in earthy colours highlighted by solid outlines and set against a dark background reminiscent of many works by Giovanni Bellini (compare Pieta with Four Angels, 1470-1475, Pinacoteca Comunale, Rimini), the young sitter conveys a striking immediacy and resilient allure, echoing Fayum portraits, Byzantine icons or Renaissance portraits. As noted by D. Kapetanakis, "Tsarouchis managed, with the wisdom of his art, to elevate a model posing in his studio into a symbol of the Modern Greek spirit."1
Around 1970, Tsarouchis replaced his subjects of working class Greek males, sailors and soldiers with mostly young Europeans, mainly long-haired French youths like Dominique, who posed for the Bonhams picture, who nonetheless shared similar social and cultural backgrounds with the Greeks he painted until then. "I chose as a model Dominique, a working class youngster from Chartres, who showed skills in painting, poetry and music, since at the time I was interested in the new type of teenager with long hair and distinctive clothing usually bought from second-hand stores, and who exemplified all the traits of a traditional Frenchman with a thin coating of revolutionary spirit. He wasn't much different from the Greek fellows I used to paint, who had a traditional upbringing lightly tinted with traces of western culture."2
In Autumn, as in many of the artist's allegorical compositions of the time, the figure is set behind a group of still life objects that allude to the sitter's symbolic identity, much the same way as in ancient Greek and Renaissance works, comprising, in Tsarouchis's own words, a modern-day Greek mythology.3 The luscious grapes on the extreme foreground -an homage to Caravaggio's and Zurbaran's fruit baskets- are effectively balanced by the sensual curves of the peaches on the right, demonstrating Tsarouchis's intimate familiarity with the European artistic tradition.
This allegorical portrait is rendered in great detail and with an air of idealization, with the artist employing well established art historical conventions to elevate the male model to a mythical level. Tsarouchis himself once said he felt great joy that the mythical figures painted by Giorgone, Dürer, Carpaccio and other old masters, kept in museums, came alive and walked the streets where one can see them bathed in sunlight. "I went out and saw young people with long hair, the hippies, and realized that we live in a new Renaissance."4 Once again, Tsarouchis bridges disparate historical eras in an effort to glorify the past by means of the present and vice versa.5 "Tsarouchis draws on allegory -a rhetorical mode used as a cryptic form of artistic expression in Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings- not simply so as to give an aesthetic dimension to an abstract concept through a specific form, but rather to make the most of its narrative and image-making abilities. As a typical rhetorical scheme of old master paintings, it invests his work with an aura of classicism."6
As noted by Athens National Gallery Director M. Lambraki-Plaka, "Tsarouchis's figures managed to survive the iconoclastic crusade of modern art, which never tired to demolish, distort or expel the human form. Tsarouchis did not give in to this negative aesthetic theory which preached the systematic rejection of the rules of Western tradition. He is one of the few painters who managed to cross the tempestuous 20th century by keeping intact the precious palladium of the human figure. His art is a modern day incarnation of Noah's Arc."7
1. D. Kapetanakis, Yiannis Tsarouchis, Return to Roots, Nea Grammata magazine, 1937 as reprinted in Tsarouchis [in Greek], Zygos, Athens 1978, pp. 7-8. 2. Y. Tsarouchis, The Four Seasons [in Greek] in Stone Rejected by the Builders, Kastaniotis, Athens 1989, p. 151. 3. See Y. Tsarouchis, Torniamo all'Antico, e Sarà un Progresso, exhibition catalogue, Il Gabbiano gallery, Rome 1974. 4. As quoted in M. Karavia, The Thinker of Maroussi, Kastaniotis, Athens 1989, p. 45. 5. See E. Florou, Yannis Tsarouchis, his Painting and his Era, Nea Synora - A.A. Livanis, Athens 1989, pp. 174-175. 6. A. Kafetsi, Yannis Tsarouchis - Between East and West, exhibition catalogue, Greek Ministry of Culture, Athens 2000, pp. 21-22. 7. M. Lambraki-Plaka, Yannis Tsarouchis and the Palladium of Painting [in Greek] in Osei Myra, Yannis Tsarouchis 1910-1989, Kastaniotis editions, Athens 1998, p. 452.