Theofilos Hadjimichael (Greek, 1871-1934) The hero George Karaiskakis in battle with Kioutachi 70.5 x 100.5 cm.

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Lot 16P
Theofilos Hadjimichael
(Greek, 1871-1934)
The hero George Karaiskakis in battle with Kioutachi 70.5 x 100.5 cm.

Sold for £ 137,562 (US$ 178,253) inc. premium
Theofilos Hadjimichael (Greek, 1871-1934)
The hero George Karaiskakis in battle with Kioutachi
titled and inscribed in Greek (upper left and lower left)
natural pigments on cardboard
70.5 x 100.5 cm.


  • Provenance
    T. Eleftheriadis collection, Petra, Mytilene, Greece. (Zygos magazine, 1975)
    Private collection, Athens.

    Petra, Mytilene, T. Eleftheriadis House, T. Eleftheriadis Collection of Paintings by Theofilos, 1961.
    Mytilene, Tourist Pavilion, The Painter Theofilos on Mytilene, October 7-30, 1962, no. 16 (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, p. 6).
    Athens, Athens Art Gallery, Theofilos, May 12-31, 1975, no. 9 (listed in the exhibition catalogue).

    G. Samatouras, Twelve Folk Painters, Athens 1974, p. 88, fig. VII (illustrated).
    Zygos magazine, no. 13, March-April 1975, p. 79 (illustrated).
    Anti magazine, vol. 2, no. 20, May 31, 1975 (mentioned).
    T. Spiteris, "Works in the Collection of Takis Eleftheriadis - Petra, Mytilene", handwritten list, c. 1960s (T. Spiteris Archive, Tellogleion Art Institute), no 8 (listed and illustrated).
    M.G. Moschou, Theofilos Hadjimichail Self-Biographed, doctoral dissertation, University of Athens, Athens 2005, vol. 1, p. 13 (mentioned).

    An exceptional work by the 'wandering magician of Greek history'1, this engaging canvas of pulsating energy, brilliant colour and keen sense of heroic stature, shows the artist's lifelong fascination with the 1821 Greek War of Independence, paying homage to a giant of the uprising and a legend in his own time.

    Portrayed on horseback and followed by prominent chieftains (their names fully mentioned in the lower left hand corner inscription),2 Georgios Karaiskakis, commander-in-chief of Greek forces in eastern Greece, hounds the Turk Reshid Mehmed Pasha (known to the Greeks as Kiutahi) who had laid siege to the Acropolis of Athens in 1826. The Sacred Rock, epitomised by the Parthenon ruins shown on the upper right, was of little strategic importance but it had a strong emotional and symbolic value for the Greeks and the philhellenic movement in Europe.

    The scene's main protagonist is depicted at the centre of the composition, where the viewer's eye is usually drawn, as is the case with Byzantine painting, which lacking a vanishing point, allows the eye to freely wander and naturally focus on the middle of the painting.3 Emerging from the smoke and dust of battle, his gaze fixed on the turbaned Turk, the battle-ready leader holds his pistol in his right hand, while his black steed is about to rush the enemy. The vehemence with which both Karaiskakis and his horse prepare to attack is expressed by the dynamic design and the vividness of colour.4

    The Greek hero is portrayed full length and well in view, presented in such a manner as to show his figure to the best advantage. Much like a Byzantine icon painter, Theofilos is aiming at an interpretation of the historic event adjusted to a preconceived scale of values.5 Gallantry is indicated through the repetition of pictorial and iconographic conventions, an approach to painting rooted in Byzantine and folk tradition and reminiscent of the Karaghiozi shadow-puppets or descriptions found in demotic songs. The linear arrangement of the warriors, the symmetry and rhythm of the composition and the impression of an immutable reality, take one even further back to Archaic Greek vase painting and the narrative arrangement of that precursor of folk poetry, the Homeric epics, where all parts—sentences, ideas, episodes or figures—are placed one after the other like beads on a string.6

    The Greek heroes are identified as such not only by the blue and white banner on the right or their characteristic fustanella kilts—the same highland garb the painter himself wore when he left Smyrna for Athens to voluntarily enlist in the 1897 campaign against Turkey and which eventually became his signature attribute—but by purely pictorial means as well: they are more carefully modelled and shown considerably bigger than their opponents, reflecting Theofilos's insistence in taking full advantage of art's liberating freedom that recognizes no limitations when it comes to scale or perspective.7 The wealth of detail, as in the background group of young pallikares fighting over the ruins of the ancient theatre of Herodes Atticus and captured in a style reminiscent of the representational conventions used by Dimitrios/Panayotis Zografos and Ioannis Makriyannis, is a vehicle of initiation into the artist's vision; a means of rendering more tangible to the spectators' imagination the world of gallantry and legend they are invited to contemplate.

    1 See T. Eleftheriadis, "Theofilos, Chieftain and Guardian of Greek Painting' in The Painter Theofilos in Mytilene [in Greek], exhibition catalogue, Mytilini 1962.
    2 This inscription, as well as the title on the upper left, reflect the painter's desire to provide a full description of his subject by leaving nothing obscure. On the contrary, everything is explained and clearly expressed and, therefore, all phenomena are thrust forward to the narrative surface where they receive even illumination in a flat, continuous present. The inclusion of written text, in addition to expressing a longing for knowledge following the Ottoman occupation, denotes a unification of iconographic and linguistic symbols in a uniform and living Greek myth. See H. Kambouridis - G. Levounis, Modern Greek Art, The 20th Century, Ministry of the Aegean, Athens 1999, p. 43.
    3 See P.A. Michelis, Aesthetic Approach to Byzantine Art [in Greek], Panayotis end Efi Michelis Foundation, Athens 1990, p. 203.
    4 See E. Diamantopoulou, Theofilos in Mt. Pelion [in Greek], Alexandria editions, Athens 207, p. 75.
    5 See A. Grabar, Byzantine Painting, Skira, Geneva 1979, pp. 36-37.
    6 See H. Kambouridis - G. Levounis, p. 43.
    7 See L. Papastathis, "Theofilos in Mt. Pelion" [in Greek], Lexi magazine, no. 172, November-December 2002, p. 945.

    *Please note that due to Greek regulation, this lot cannot be exported from Greece and will be available for viewing and inspection in Athens either by appointment or during the Athens Preview, 26-29 March 2020. This work will be located in Athens during the auction.
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