Specialist, Head of Sale, Greek Sales
The Greek Sale / Nikiforos Lytras (Greek, 1832-1904) Jeune fille à la toilette (signed (lower right)oil on canvas)
€220,000 - €280,000
K. Mouratiadis collection, Switzerland and thence by descent to the present owner.
N. Athanassoglou-Souyoutzoglou, The Painter Nikiphoros Lytras (1832-1904), doctoral dissertation, Athens 1976, p. 254 (mentioned).
N. Misirli, Nikiphoros Lytras 1832-1904, National Bank of Greece edition, Athens 2009, no. 50, p. 117 (illustrated).
Featured prominently in Nelly Misirli's monograph on Lytras, Girl washing her hair is a highly evocative image of quiet monumentality and a wonderful vignette of rural life, perfectly illustrating the artist's adherence to local traditions and customs deeply rooted in the Greek folk culture.
Dr. Misirli discusses this lot as follows: "Two young girls are shown in a simple village household, or in an inner courtyard covered with a vault, with one helping the other wash her hair. The younger one, who has undertaken to pour the water, has climbed on a kind of pedestal in order to reach the girl, who, with her white petticoat gathered up, has loosened her black hair. Her red apron is striking in colour, enlivening the whole scene, while the clothing of her young assistant is in a range of warm brown tonalities."1
The two figures are kept close to each other, adhering to the firm compositional structure championed by the masters of the Munich School, especially Karl von Piloty, under whom Lytras studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. In terms of style, however, form is simplified, drawing loosens up and surfaces are handled with broader brushstrokes, achieving unity of effect and pointing to the artist's ability to shift from the descriptive to the pictorial.
Despite the secular subject, the scene is endowed with a solemn grandeur accentuated by a limited palette of subdued and unvaried hues that perfectly match the austerity of the setting. This evocation of noble sentiment and archaic simplicity promotes a world of everlasting values vis-à-vis modernity's transient, fragmentary and largely superficial experience, conveying to the viewer a sense of nostalgic desire for more stable times, for an age-old, uncorrupted world of firm beliefs and pure feelings. As Lytras used to say, "the broad boulevard of morality leads the nation to true happiness. The customs of the Greek people brought Independence and must be protected like the apple of one's eye. Artists should devote themselves to genre painting and to works that are related to what stirs delights and educates the people."2
The undisputed founder of Greek genre, 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 his paintings were owned by such prominent collectors as A. Benakis, D. Loverdos, Mrs. Serpieri, M. Melas, G. Embirikos, P. Kalligas, G. Stringos and Mrs. Choremis. Of the approximately 200 works estimated to have been painted by Lytras during his mature years, 75 remain unlocated, known only through old photographs or period references.3 As noted by art historian E. Gemtou, "though demand for Lytras's work is constantly rising, the supply is extremely limited."4
1 N. Misirli, Nikiphoros Lytras 1832-1904, National Bank of Greece edition, Athens 2009, p. 117.
2 Y. Kerofylas, Nikiforos Lytras, Patriarch of Modern Greek Painting [in Greek], Filippotis editions, Athens 1997, p. 57.
3 N. M. Athanassoglou-Souyoutzoglou, The Painter Nikiforos Lytras (1832-1904) [in Greek], doctorate dissertation, Athens 1976, p. 29.
4 E. Gemtou, "Lytras in the Art Market" [in Greek], Kathimerini daily, Epta Imeres, March 3, 1999, p. 29.