Erotokritos titled, dated '1955' and inscribed in Greek (centre right); inscribed and signed in Greek (centre left) oil on board 35.4 x 26.5 cm.
PROVENANCE: Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner.
Erotokritos has struck deep roots in the Greek soul.1 George Seferis
Erotokritos, a true gem of Tsarouchis' oeuvre, is an exemplary representation that beautifully captures the artist's unique personal style and embodies the ideal of 'Greekness' that he so greatly explored in most of his works. Reminiscent of Tsarouchis' earlier and more traditional portrayal of Erotokritos with a luxurious moustache (1948)2, the Bonhams picture, created in 1955, is a more 'modern' and elaborated version of the Hellenic hero. The figures of Erotokritos executed by Tsarouchis are inspired by the story of courage, patriotism and love between Erotokritos and Aretousa, written by Vintsentzos Kornaros around 1640, at a time when the island of Crete was flourishing with commerce and culture between Venice and Constantinople. The romance of Erotokritos is considered the masterpiece of Cretan poetry and a milestone in the history of Greek literature.
Erotokritos belongs to the array of works in which the artist seeks to skillfully explore the ideal of the Greek identity and artistically capture its essence. In this bust-length portrait of a young Greek male the meticulous frontal treatment of the subject, which is one of Tsarouchis' signature traits, is defined by Erotokritos' distinctive characteristics. Romantically idealized, preserving its strong masculine features, and impeccably painted in earthy and subtle tones and slightly complementary colours, this work is highlighted by purity of form, solid outlines and confident brushwork. Thus, it conveys a striking immediacy, echoing the facial features of a portrait created in the same year (1955) by Tsarouchis titled Sailor with a winter uniform in a pink background3, which is part of a private collection. This peaceful and serene depiction is also defined by a marvelous restraint and an outward gaze that dominate the figure of this Greek Hero elaborated by this leading painter of the 'Thirties generation'.
Tsarouchis' young sitter also conveys a striking immediacy and resilient allure, reminiscent of Fayum portraiture, which is a defining aspect of the artist's oeuvre. As Delivorias' noted: "Fayum portraiture was a major source of inspiration for the great Greek painters of the 1930s generation, from Engonopoulos and Tsarouchis to Ghika and Moralis, in their efforts to reinterpret the age-old tradition of Greco-Roman and Byzantine art in a modern and vigorous manner".4 The intensity of Erotokritos' reverie is represented through his direct gaze and evident composure like that of a Fayum portrait. Tsarouchis' exquisite and intense depiction of Erotokritos, characterized by rather almond-shaped eyes looking directly forward, retains the naturalistic beauty of these Greco-Roman figures. Though in this work the personage of Erotokritos is represented in a 'less traditional' outfit than the artist's earlier version (1948), Tsarouchis' painting is imbued by a profoundly Greek atmosphere. As Kapetanakis noted: "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."5 The embroidered neck of the garment and brooch, delightfully embellished by symbols and ornaments that recall the grandeur of Ancient Greek art, are important details of the artist's mastery in conveying the culture of his homeland in his subjects.
1. G. Seferis, Dokimes (Treatises) [in Greek], Fexis editions, Athens 1962, p. 58. 2. Yannis Tsarouchis (1910-1989) Painting, published by the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation 1990, no. 166 3. Yannis Tsarouchis (1910-1989) Painting, published by the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation 1990, no.204 4. A. Delivorrias, Fayum Portraits and the Generation of the 30s in its Search for Greekness, Exhibition catalogue , Benaki Museum, 1998, p. 21. 5. D. Kapetanakis, Yiannis Tsarouchis, Return to Roots, Nea Grammata magazine, 1937 as reprinted in Tsarouchis [in Greek], Zygos, Athens 1978, pp. 7.