Bonhams sale of Greek art at 101 New Bond Street London on 26 November features several works alluding to the heroism of a mythical past, reflecting the artists' view of painting as an ideal vehicle to probe the concept of what it means to be Greek in the modern world.
A major work by the naive painter Theofilos Hadjimichail, for example, entitled Ulysses brings Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon to the High Priest Kalhas for her to be sacrificed to the God Apollo depicts a key episode in the Iliad when the Greek commander offered his daughter as a sacrifice in order to assuage the wrath of the goddess Artemis who was preventing the Greek fleet from setting sail for Troy. At the last moment Artemis relented and left a deer on the altar in place of Iphigenia who became a priestess in her temple. The painting is estimated at £120,000-180,000.
For Theofilos the point of the myth was not the willingness of Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter but the willingness of Iphigenia to sacrifice herself to save Greece. To his contemporaries, Theofilos was a true Greek painter. The Greek Nobel prize winning poets, Sefaris and Elytis considered him the artist who gave expression to the face of Greece, a view echoed by painter Alecos Fassianos who said of him, "Theofilos was a true artist, who gave us a national pictorial consciousness, so that we can be proud to have paintings that spring like trees from this land's very soil.'
Another work by the same artist, Achilles' Revenge, also recalls an episode from the Iliad – the moment when Achilles, having defeated his great rival Hector in battle and avenged the death of his close friend Patroclus, tied the body of the defeated Trojan to his chariot and dragged it round the walls of Troy. The painter's technique consciously echoes that of Homer, representing people and events in a flat continuous present. It is estimated at £100,000-150,000.
A more reflective Achilles appears as the central figure in a work by Fassianos, Achilles's Temper, one of the works shown in his Mythologies of Everyday Life exhibition in Athens in 2004. The work is estimated at £30,000-50,000.
A different kind of Greek hero is portrayed by Yannis Tsarouchis, one of the famed 1930s generation of Greek artists who redefined Greek art by reinterpreting the tradition of the nation's artistic past in a modern way. Erotokritos - the subject of a famous and well loved 18th century Cretan poetic romance extolling the virtues of love, honour, friendship and courage – is the starting point for Yannis Trasrouchis's exploration of the ideal of the Greek identity. In the words of the critic Kapetanakis, "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." Erotokritos is estimated at £10,000-15,000.
Another work by Tsarouchis, At the Grocer's, (estimate £60,000-80,000) applies the same insights to a more familiar, everyday, image elevating the simple exterior of a humble shop into an examination of the nature of the inner world of Greekness. The painting is regarded as one of the artist's signature works prompting the poet A. Embeirikos to write," when one looks at Tsarouchis's work, one has the immediate impression of looking at Greek painting par excellence."
More works by other Greek artists of the 1930s generation also feature in the sale, some of them exploring other mythical subjects. Midas's Secret (£40,000-60,000) for example, by Nikos Engonopoulos depicts the legends surrounding the pleasure- seeking but impetuous King Midas who not only acquired asses' ears for criticising Apollo's performance on the lyre but, in wishing that whatever he touched would turn to gold, condemned himself to starvation until released by the god Dionysus.
Other important Greek artists represented in the sale include Nikiforos Lytras, Nicolas Lytras, George Bouzianis, Spyros Papaloukas, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Diamantis Diamantopoulos, Nikos Engonopoulos, Yannis Gaitis, Spyros Vassiliou, Yannis Spyropoulos, Alexis Akrithakis, Alekos Fassianos, Costas Coulentianos and Pavlos Dionyssopoulos.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com