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Lot 33AR
Constantinos Parthenis
(Greek, 1878-1967)
Poetry 70 x 35 cm.
26 April 2016, 14:00 BST
London, New Bond Street

Sold for £50,000 inc. premium

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Constantinos Parthenis (Greek, 1878-1967)

oil on canvas
70 x 35 cm.


The estate of the artist.
Private collection, Athens.

Unequivocally revealing Parthenis's devotion to symbolist and allegorical compositions, Poetry is a mesmerizing work of linear elegance, evocative palette and rhythmic pattern designed with a great deal of freedom and alluding to spiritual values, lofty ideals and timeless visions. The fact that Parthenis made a twin painting (1910-1911), now in the art collection of the National Bank of Greece, shows, as noted by Professor N. Zias, the interest the artist invested in the particular theme.1 Fine, segmented lines, which echo the simplicity of ancient Greek vase painting, dematerialised curvilinear shapes, sensitive, translucent colours, bold use of large areas of raw canvas2 and abstractive stylisation create a world of pure forms, conveying an uplifting feel and a conviction that poetry can elevate human consciousness to a higher spiritual sphere.

The centre of the composition is dominated by a seated young woman—the personification of Poetry as a symbol of universal order, harmony and peace—set against a shimmering blue-green background and flanked by roughly sketched buildings and structures that recall Parthenis's renowned Annunciation, 1910-1911, National Gallery, Athens. On the right there is a standing figure holding a scroll and in the lower left corner a minute cupid playing a lyre. To the right and to the left of the woman's head there are two floral motifs, while further up the symbolic representations of the rising sun and the setting moon draw from mythological and religious sources and balance the composition. The upper part is occupied by a winged figure—an angel—with large outstretched wings who appears as the bearer of inspiration in the vein of the ancient muse.3

Drawing from the poetic and inspiring atmosphere of the symbolist era, angels represent a recurrent theme in Parthenis's work throughout his career. Interestingly, when the artist produced works intended for worship, such as his portable Annunciation icon, 1919, in the collection of the National Gallery in Athens, the angel wings are given a small, conventional shape. However, in his paintings not intended for worship, they are stylised in a geometric Art Deco fashion. Moreover, these stylised wings are equal to or exceed the angel's height.4 (Compare Prayer in the Mount of Olives, c. 1930, sold by Bonhams, Greek Sale 9.4.2014, lot 24.)

1. N. Zias, "Annunciation-Poetry" in Constantinos Parthenis, Force-Poetry, Annunciation, exhibition catalogue, Museum of the City of Athens, Vouros-Eutaxias Foundation, Athens 2009, p. 15.
2. "In some cases I let the canvas retain its natural tint which perfectly matches the adjacent hues to achieve the result I'm looking for." (Interview by N. Yokarinis [in Greek], Proia daily, 27.1.1930).
3. The subject has certain iconographical similarities with renditions of the Coronation of the Virgin in western tradition. See A. Kafetsi, Drawings by Constantinos Parthenis in the National Gallery, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery - A. Soutzos Museum, Athens 1989, p. 144.
4. A. Kotidis, Modernism and Tradition in the Greek Art of the Interwar Period, Thessaloniki 1993, pp. 128-129.

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