Nikos Engonopoulos (Greek, 1910-1985) Jason 45 x 34.5 cm. (Painted in 1951.)

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Lot 18AR
Nikos Engonopoulos
(Greek, 1910-1985)
Jason 45 x 34.5 cm.

Sold for £ 52,562 (US$ 67,773) inc. premium
Nikos Engonopoulos (Greek, 1910-1985)
signed in Greek and dated '51' (lower right)
oil on canvas
45 x 34.5 cm.
Painted in 1951.


  • Exhibited
    Athens, Zappeion Hall, 4th "Armos" Group exhibition, December 10, 1952 - January 10, 1953, no. 93 (listed in the exhibition catalogue, p. 12).
    Venice, XXVII Biennale, June 19 - October 17, 1954, no. 38, (listed in the exhibition catalogue, p. 295).

    Angloelliniki Epitheorisi, vol. 6, no. 3, Winter 1953-1954, p. 206 (illustrated).
    N. Engonopoulos, Atlantikos, 1954, p. 4 (illustrated).
    Nikos Engonopoulos, Painter and Poet, Epta Imeres, Kathimerini weekly magazine, 25.5.1997, p. 30 (illustrated).
    Nikos Engonopoulos, As Handsome as a Greek, Goulandris-Horn Foundation, Athens 2000 (illustrated on the cover).
    K. Perpinioti-Agazir, Nikos Engonopoulos, Mythology, Ypsilon editions, Athens 2006, no. 35, pp. 82-84 (discussed), p. 85 (illustrated).
    N. Chaini, The Painting of Nikos Engonopoulos, doctoral dissertation, National Technical University of Athens, 2007, no. 66, p. 221 (discussed and illustrated).
    N. Engonopoulos, Love is the Only Way, National Book Centre of Greece, Athens 2007, p. 8 (mentioned).
    K. Perpinioti-Agazir, Nikos Engonopoulos, Son Univers Pictural, exhibition catalogue and catalogue raisonée, Benaki Museum, Athens 2007, no. 397, p. 527 (mentioned), p. 270 (illustrated), p. 436 (illustrated)., 2017 (mentioned).

    The journey begins
    come along
    we embark
    to foreign lands

    N. Engonopoulos, Atlantikos, 1954

    A historic painting, which illustrated N. Engonopoulos's surrealist poem Atlantikos when it was first published in the Angloelliniki Epitheorisi journal in 1954, Jason was exhibited in the 1954 Venice Biennale1 alongside surrealist works by such towering figures of modern art as Arp, Ernst, Miro, Klee, Bacon and Magritte. There, for the first time, Greece was represented by one artist alone. As noted by K. Perpinioti-Agazir, who prepared the painter's catalogue raisonné, "in the 1946-1954 period, and probably throughout Engonopoulos's career, his most important milestone was the representation of Greece at the Venice Biennale."2 Prefacing the exhibition catalogue, Biennale's Secretary General R. Palluchini noted: "Greece devotes its entire pavilion to Engonopoulos, whose work certainly is a surprise to everybody."

    This brilliant picture shows the ancient Greek hero Jason standing aboard his legendary Argo, which is registered here in the seaside town of Chalkis, wielding a trident in his left hand, while making a characteristic gesture with his right in an effort to discern something in the distance, perhaps the faraway land that stretches on the horizon. This painting was indeed a perfect choice to illustrate Atlantikos, which, as noted by literary critic V. Chadjivassiliou, "seems to look outward, possibly towards an ontological and existentialist field, where what's primarily at stake is the non-negotiable struggle for freedom, which the poet invokes right from the opening verses: the ship sounds / the train whistles / from the turrets they give the signal / beware / the journey begins / come along / we embark / to foreign lands."3

    Alluding to a heroic past drawn from the treasury of Greek mythology, Jason faithfully reflects the artist's attitude towards painting as an ideal vehicle to probe into the world of Greekness and reinterpret a rich tradition in a modern and vigorous manner. As noted by art historian N. Loizidi, "Engonopoulos gave us a version of surrealism that's universal, but at the same time deeply rooted in Greekness".4 His persistence on indigenous cultural sources and experiences clearly indicates that while European surrealists used an irrational vocabulary to break free from the shackles of traditional conventions, Engonopoulos perceived tradition as a connecting cultural link.5 His "Greekness" is not only achieved through iconographical choices but it is also shaped by the values of ancient Greece and the principles of Byzantine painting and folk art. As a result, the artist is credited with carrying on the tradition of Greek art from antiquity to the present.6

    1 Up until the mid-20th century the Venice Biennale was the only major artistic event worldwide. Especially for outlying countries like Greece, showing in Venice was extremely important on a national level and highly enviable on a personal one.
    2 See K. Perpinioti-Agazir, Nikos Engonopoulos, Son Univers Pictural [in Greek and French], exhibition catalogue and catalogue raisonée, Benaki Museum, Athens 2007, p. 78.
    3 V. Chadjivassiliou, "From Bolivar (1944) to Atlantikos (1954): Surrealist Uprising and Defeat in the Poetic Mythology of Nikos Engonopoulos", Lexi magazine, no. 179, January-March 2004, p. 81.
    4 N. Loizidi, Surrealism in Modern Greek Art, the Case of Nikos Engonopoulos [in Greek], Nefeli publ. Athens 1984, p. 181.
    5 See N. Loizidi, "The Indigenous Surrealism of Nikos Engonopoulos" [in Greek], To Vima daily - Nees Epoches, 21.10.2007, p. A57.
    6 See L. Tsikouta, "On Nikos Engonopoulos" [in Greek], Eikastika magazine, no. 48, December 1985, p. 21.
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