Nikiforos Lytras (Greek, 1832-1904) Zeybek  47.5 x 37.5 cm.

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Lot 11
Nikiforos Lytras
(Greek, 1832-1904)
Zeybek 47.5 x 37.5 cm.

£ 80,000 - 120,000
US$ 100,000 - 160,000
Nikiforos Lytras (Greek, 1832-1904)
signed in Greek (lower right)
oil on canvas
47.5 x 37.5 cm.


  • Painted c. 1873.

    D. Loverdos collection, Athens.
    Private collection, Athens.

    Cairo, Exhibition of the Greek Artistic Association, February 15 - March 20, 1910 (possible).
    Athens, Athens School of Fine Arts, Nikiforos Lytras 1833-1933 retrospective exhibition, April 1933, no. 18 (listed in the exhibition catalogue, p. 5).

    Pinakothiki magazine, no. 107, January 1910, p. 219 (possibly, mentioned).
    Pinakothiki magazine, no. 109, March 1910, p. 18 (possibly, mentioned).
    Great Greek Encyclopedia, Makris editions, 1926, vol. 16, p. 376 (discussed), vol. 12 (illustrated).
    X. Sochos, Album of Greek Artists, Nikiforos Lytras 1832-1904, Athens 1929, p. 74 (discussed), p. 124a (illustrated).
    X. Sochos, Greek Artists, Centennial 1821-1930, Athens 1930, p. 124a (illustrated).
    Filologiki Protochronia annual edition, no. 14, 1957, p. 205 (mentioned).
    F. Yofyllis, History of Modern Greek Art 1821-1941, vol. 1, To Elliniko Vivlio editions, Athens 1962, p. 179 (possibly, mentioned).
    N.M. Athanasoglou, The Painter Nikiforos Lytras (1832-1904), doctoral dissertation, Athens 1976, p. 249 (listed).
    T. Spiteris, Three Centuries of Modern Greek Art (1660-1967), vol. II, Papyros publishing, Athens 1979, p. 311 (possibly, mentioned).
    T. Spiteris, Masters of the Greek Art of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Kastaniotis editions, Athens 1982, p. 108 (possibly, mentioned).
    N. Misirli, Nikiphoros Lytras 1832-1904, National Bank of Greece editions, Athens 2009, no. 32, p. 235 (catalogued), p. 89 (illustrated).

    "Lytras's Zeybek is an unrivalled masterpiece"
    X. Sochos, 1929

    A brilliant jewel in the legendary Dionysios Loverdos1 collection, Lytras's Zeybek is an icon of nineteenth century Greek art and a work of remarkable expressive power wrought into a highly evocative image of quiet monumentality that perfectly captures the commanding presence of the formidable young Oriental.

    In 1873, Lytras, together with his close friend N. Gysis, embarked on an artistic journey to Asia Minor to observe and study the local people and customs. In the second half of the 19th century, being the closest non-Christian regions to Europe, the Near East and North Africa exercised a profound fascination upon the West, spawning imaginative evocations in poems, novels and artistic representations. Recognized itineraries and an expanding corpus of travel literature, such as Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad, made these regions more generally accessible, while Orientalist paintings were exhibited annually at the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon. One of the preoccupations which deeply affected the western understanding of the Orient was the belief that it could satisfy the West's urge for exotic experience, offering artists the opportunity to venture beyond the restrictions of classical rules and allowing viewers to escape a strictly organised and disciplined way of life. 2

    Lytras's trip to the Orient had a profound impact on his artistic evolution and led to the development of a new style that retained elements of the Munich School teachings remoulded, however, through the eyes of a Greek and, in a broader sense, an easterner for whom the Orient was neither a romantic ideal nor a dreamy fantasy but a deeply felt familiar reality. As noted by N. Misirli who prepared the artist's monograph in 2009, "the blazing sunlight of the Orient accentuates the brilliance of the white, turning it into a source of intense luminosity. This, together with his palette of earth tones, was to become a signature trait of the artist's later output, in contrast with Gysis who, living in Munich, would use warmer tones." 3

    The young sitter is set against a luminous monochromatic background and handled with a carefully limited palette of earthy colors and blacks overshadowed by the dazzling white of his traditional breeches. His head, which is slightly turned to the left to let the painter better capture his imposing look and piercing gaze, is crowned by a complex gear of overlapping red, ochre and white bands—a distinctive feature in the costume of the Zeybeks from the mountain region of western Anatolia. The Zeybeks had been part of the irregular Ottoman forces and had a troubled history with the Ottoman regime, but by the 1870s they were in favour with the Sultan even though their relationship with the state would continue to wax and wane as the century progressed. The Zeybeks enjoyed a particular notoriety due to their fierce resistance against any measure to abolish their distinctive dress and their refusal to comply with the Ottoman state's modernization efforts that emphasized unity within diversity across a multi-ethnic, multireligious empire. In this context the Zeybeks' costume, which represented a strong element of regional native culture, eventually came to signify an itinerant existence that defied formality and protocol. 4

    The undisputed founder of Greek genre painting, and often referred to as the Patriarch of Modern Greek Painting, Lytras enjoyed an illustrious career, while his works attracted a dedicated and ever-growing clientele. Period records indicate that the paintings included in the artist's 1933 posthumous retrospective were owned by such prominent collectors as A. Benakis, D. Loverdos, Mrs. Serpieri, M. Melas, G. Embirikos, P. Kalligas G. Stringos and Mrs. Choremis.

    1 Prominent collector and patron of the arts, Dionysios Loverdos (1877-1934), was cofounder of Laiki Bank together with his brother Spyros.
    2 See The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse, The Allure of North Africa and the Near East, M.A. Stevens ed., Thames and Hudson, New York 1984.
    3 N. Misirli, Lytras, National Bank of Greece, Athens 2009, p. 86.
    4 See M. Roberts, "Gérôme in Istanbul" in Reconsidering Gérôme, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 2010, pp. 128-130.
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