The Meadow (Tinos) signed in Greek (lower left) oil on canvas 52 x 71 cm.
PROVENANCE: Maria N. Lytra collection, Athens. Private collection, Athens.
EXHIBITED: Athens, Galerie Stratigopoulou, 1925, no. 15. Athens, Zappeion Hall, Nikolaos Lytras retrospective exhibition, 1929, no. 94. Venice, Biennale, 1936, no. 99 (listed in the exhibition catalogue, p. 283). Athens, National Gallery - A. Soutzos Museum, Nikos Lytras, Building with Colour and Light, March 19 - June 2, 2008, no. 111 (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, pp. 117,152)
LITERATURE: Postcard issued by the Phoenix Insurance company, c. 1960s (illustrated). Y. Papaioannou, Yannis Spyropoulos, Monograph, Yannis and Zoe Spyropoulos Foundation, Athens 2010, no. 75, p. 152 (illustrated).
One of the best known and most accomplished works by a pioneer expressionist landscape painter and one of the twenty oils that represented his oeuvre at the 1936 Venice Biennale, Nikolaos Lytras's The meadow (Tinos) captures the power and brilliance of the Cycladic landscape, while demonstrating the artist's interpretative approach to nature. Painterly, Cezannesque technique, intense brushwork in the vein of van Gogh and thick impasto that lends a corporeal presence to the pictorial space support the liberation of properties intrinsic to the artist's medium, asserting the freedom of his pictorial gesture over his original subject. Expressionism had a definitive impact on him during his studies in Munich, at a time when fierce brushwork and bold colour began to acquire greater importance than the fleeting effects of impressionism.
As noted by A. Kouria who curated the artist's major retrospective at the Athens National Gallery in 2008, the Bonhams picture is "one of Lytras's best landscapes of Tinos. The island terrain and the chapel in the distance are viewed from a low vantage point with pictorial space developing upwards, like a hanging tapestry, to a very high horizon. The dark, cool-toned areas in the foreground lead the eye to the middleground which is dominated by warm and luminous ochres. The structural handling of the subject conveys to the viewers the impression that they are actually part of the landscape, which unfolds with upward undulating rhythms like an abstract interplay of lines and successive surfaces. This is emphasised by the horizontal markings made on the thick impasto by the pointed rear end of the artist's paintbrush. As in other works by Lytras, the various details are organically integrated in the painting, as is the case with the reclining cow in the fore-middleground which seems to have sprouted from the landscape itself and become an integral part of it."1
The powerful, pronounced diagonals of the island stone walls, the large, angular shapes and the overall development of meandering lines build up a solid compositional edifice, an architectural organisation of active space and vibrant form without breaking from the world of appearances. The artist achieves this sense of substance by the density and texture of the paint itself, while developing a rhythmically articulate series of formal elements that weld the image and its attendant attributes into a compelling entity. Even the artist's signature on the lower right is treated in a purely formal manner, becoming organically integrated in the pictorial surface, as if it were an 'indigenous' part of the landscape.
Animate and inanimate subjects are handled not just as coloured patterns of light and shade in a sequence of receding planes but, rather, as a powerful means of communicating the artist's acute perception and intense experience of their deeper pictorial truth. As noted by Professor C. Christou, "Lytras's landscapes offer a monumental image of the natural environment and express all its inner forces."2 Much more than displaying an intricate fabric of energetic brushstrokes and textured surfaces that betray the sure hand of a master expressionist, this amazing work aims directly at the essence of things, seeking to capture the inner rhythm, eternal structure and timeless canon of the Greek landscape; seeking, in other words, not only to identify its character but also to interpret its soul.
1. A. Kouria, D. Portolos, Nikos Lytras, Building Form with Colour and Light [in Greek], National Gallery-A. Soutzos Museum & Hellenic Literary and Historical Archive, Athens 2008, p. 118. 2. C. Christou, The Mountainous Landscape in Greek Painting [in Greek], To Ergastiri Art Editions, Athens 1991, p. 26.