Nikos Engonopoulos (Greek, 1910-1985) L' Aeroport 93 x 73 cm.

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Lot 21AR
Nikos Engonopoulos
(Greek, 1910-1985)
L' Aeroport 93 x 73 cm.

Sold for £ 81,312 (US$ 102,719) inc. premium
Nikos Engonopoulos (Greek, 1910-1985)
L' Aeroport
signed in Greek (lower left)
oil on canvas
93 x 73 cm.


  • Painted in 1959.

    Acquired from the artist's wife by the present owner c. 1982-83.

    Athens, Athens Technology Institute, Exhibition of Paintings by Nikos Engonopoulos, February 6-18, 1963, no. 16.
    Athens, Moraitis School Studies Society, Personal Exhibition, November 19 - December 19, 1976, no. 12.
    Athens, Zappeion Hall, Images of Greek Art II, October 18-30, 1979.

    G. Kominis, Contemporary Greek Painters and Sculptors, Athens 1962 (illustrated).
    K. Perpinioti-Agazir, Nikos Engonopoulos, Son Univers Pictural, exhibition catalogue and catalogue raisonée, Benaki Museum, Athens 2007, no. 627, p. 306 (illustrated), p. 463 (illustrated).

    Lost for almost 40 years before being rediscovered by Bonhams in a private collection in Athens, this exquisite Engonopoulos from the late 1950s is flooded with light and colour and bathed in a translucent atmosphere of dazzling clarity and glow, recalling the Minoans immortalised on the Knossos frescoes and the early kouroi, while alluding to the tall and slender formula of the Byzantine saints also evident in El Greco's work.1 Elegant and masculine with an athletic built,2 the three protagonists in ancient Greek himations and chlamys allude to the heroism of a mythical past, faithfully reflecting the artist's attitude towards painting as an ideal vehicle to probe into the world of Greekness. All three wear a ring on their index finger, essentially identifying with Engonopoulos himself who used to wear a characteristic ring on the same finger.3

    This brilliant picture, included in the artist's third one-man show, the first after his 1954 Venice Biennale participation and the first to be held in Greece after 1939, introduces the viewer to a fascinating world of poetic metaphor. As indicated by the red-and-white conical windsock on the upper right, the visual act takes place on airport grounds. The airport appears in Engonopoulos's poem "The totem-like idols of the airport", whose first three verses read: They left forever / away from us / the huge rocks of the orient.4 As noted by E. Nikoloudaki-Souri, "the poet chooses the airport, a structured space associated with noisy liftoffs and landings, partings and home comings, and sets it as the starting point of his narrative. The totem-like idols and the airport, the place where flights begin and end, indirectly refer to Daedalus,5 the mythical hero who taught mankind how to fly. In other words, he was the first bird-man and in this sense Engonopoulos identifies with him, embracing the age old notion associating poets with birds of flight.

    The equivalence between the huge rocks of the orient and the totem-like idols of the airport links the poem with collective perception and tradition, according to which the huge rocks are symbolic remnants of a mythical past alluding to the famed gigantic Greeks. The poet, representing the collective subject, implies that the difference between the two symbolic places, the "orient" and the "airport", fall under the same equivalence. The former is far away and refers to the past and tradition, stability and nature, while the latter is the subject's here and now, a place of quick transitions, closely linked with the mobility and achievements of modern civilization."6 In the same vein, R. Zamarou notes: "Engonopoulos usually refers to a cultural stratum associated with the orient. It could be argued that he represents (hailing from Constantinople) an intermediary between these cultural strata. By standing between the European and Oriental cultures, he created his own cultural amalgam."7

    The visual act takes place in a shallow space reminiscent of a theatrical stage set.8 "The lack of vast open spaces and supernatural landscapes whose sheer size nullifies the human scale is a typically Greek element."9
    This sense of theatricality is accentuated by the inclusion of a stage-like curtain and the use of vivid colour, a key element throughout Engonopoulos's career. The sparkling, enamel-like yellow,10 red and blue pieces of clothing worn by the three figures, applied side by side on the canvas without tonal gradations, invite the viewer to a festive ritual of pure colour, handled with conscious daring, unique aptitude and undisputed love. As E. Engonopoulou, his daughter, notes, "for him each colour had its own value, its own voice"11, much the same as in Byzantine art, which Engonopoulos always considered the art form Greeks most closely relate to.

    1 See M. Lambraki-Plaka "The Timeless Pantheon of Nikos Engonopoulos" [in Greek], Filologiki quarterly, no. 101, October-November-December 2007, p. 9.
    2 "I am not interested in the face" the great Greek surrealist often remarked. "Each may at his will, place mine or his own there. It's only the body that I paint. I love it because it is the chalice of life. As sparkling as life is when young." Apogevmatini daily, 2/8/1969. See also "An Interview with Nikos Engonopoulos", Manna, no 5, May 1974.
    3 As noted by sculptor Nelli Andrikopoulou, the artist's spouse from 1950 to 1954, "at the Brazilian Cafe, our hangout on Voukourestiou Street, Engonopoulos used to lean on the front counter, his head resting on his right hand with the ever-present silver ring on the index finger, gazing at the passersby." N. Andrikopoulou, Tracing Nikos Engonopoulos, Potamos editions, Athens 2003, p. 53. See also D. Menti, Faces and Masks [in Greek], Gutenberg publ., Athens 2007, pp. 135-136, note 34, and Chartis review, no. 25/26, November 1988, p. 172.
    4 See N. Engonopoulos, Don't Talk to the Driver, poetry collection, Kyklos editions, Athens 1938.
    5 In his painting titled Daedalus (1949), Engonopoulos implies the timeless presence of the mythological hero. A reference to aviation can also be found in his poem Nocturnal Maria, where he pays respect to pioneer aviator A. Karamanlakis.
    6 E. Nikoloudaki-Souri, "The Totem-Like Idols of the Airport, The Flight of Poetic Idea and the Accountable Poet" [in Greek], Nea Estia magazine, no. 1804, October 2007, pp. 708-710.
    7 R. Zamarou, The Poet Nikos Engonopoulos, a visit of Places and Figures [in Greek], Kardamitsa editions, Athens 1996, p. 36.
    8 See A. Kafetsi, "Stage Setting Paradoxes of N. Engonopoulos" [in Greek], Hartis journal, no.25/26, November 1988, p. 32.
    9 S. Boulakian, "The Work of Nikos Engonopoulos" in Greek Painters-20th Century[in Greek], Melissa publ., Athens 1974, p. 261.
    10 In Engonopoulos's poetry and painting the color yellow signifies light and formality. See Nikoloudaki-Souri, p. 714.
    11 E. Engonopoulou, "Freedom and Discipline" in Nikos Engonopoulos, The Painter and the Poet, p. 23.
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