Greek Pictures Achieve World Record Prices at Bonhams

MORALIS MAKES £490,400 TO ACHIEVE TOP PRICE FOR LIVING GREEK ARTIST

The 10th Greek Sale at Bonhams in London achieved £3.87million and broke a number of world records for Greek artists on 15 May 2007, at 101 New Bond Street.

The sale of predominantly 20th century Greek art featured over 200 pictures and sculptures by the very best Greek artists, including Yiannis Moralis, Theofilos Hadjimichails (1867-1934), Nikos Engonopoulos (1910-1985), and Constantinos Volanakis (1837-1907). Top prices were led by the modern and contemporary Greek art in the sale with no fewer than five paintings topping £250,000.

Lot 122, a painting by Yiannis Morales (born 1916) from 1965 titled Composition, estimated to sell for £130,000 to £180.000 achieved £490,400, making it the highest price ever paid for a work by a living Greek artist at auction.

Accepted as being the greatest living Greek artist, Yiannis Moralis’ monumental piece (90x220cm), simply called Composition, is a revival of the archetypal universe of an Ionian frieze or a Doric metope. Architectural motifs portray fragments of an ancient Greek temple or neoclassical Athenian mansion and the artist has combined these with austere horizontal and vertical lines from which the human form appears – a young woman and a loving couple embracing.

Another Moralis picture, lot 162 was the third highest price at the sale making £322,000 for an image titled West side room (130x130cm) estimated to make £100,000 to £150,000. The previous top price for a Moralis was £311,200 at a Sotheby’s sale.

A Bonhams spokeswoman, Titi Terpsichore, said: “This sale indicates that the market for Greek art continues to grow and also shows strength in depth. The sale topped the last Greek sale at Bonhams by more than £1m with 90 per cent sold following a very successful preview at Art Expertise in Athens, Bonhams local agents. Buyers were almost exclusively Greek with 500 bids left before the sale.”

A world record price was also achieved for Lot 55, one of the most significant items in the sale, a frescoe Katsantonis in the Ravine near ‘Pende Pigadia’ by Theofilos Hadjimchail, which has been in a private collection for 40 years. The painting pays homage to Katsantonis (1873/5-1907/8), one of the great figures of pre-revolutionary Greece, who was a constant source of inspiration to Hadjimchail. It is one of just a few surviving murals by the great 20th century artist and this was reflected in its £100,000-150,000 estimate. At the sale it achieved £288,000, the best price for this artist.

Originally, Hadjimchail had produced the work for the wall of a coffee-shop in the village of Parkoila on the Greek island of Lesvos (Mytilini), where it remained for 30 years, accumulating soot and smoke residue from the coffee shop’s stove, gas cooker and cigarette smoking patrons. In the early 1960s, the work was transferred onto canvas and subsequently restored by an Athens National Gallery expert.

Another great 20th century artist, Nikos Engonopoulos also achieved a strong price at £126,000 for Lot 109, a distinctive nude, the bold Hero (Philopemen), which was painted in oil in 1957 which was estimated at £80,000-100,000. A pioneering advocate of surrealism and many of the defining features of his work are demonstrated in this piece. A faceless naked man is depicted holding a staff and sword next to a table featuring green pears and a blue jug in front of a vibrant blue sky and sea.

“I love the nude body more than the face,” the artist once said. “The face may lie. The nude never does. That’s why I am not interested in the face. It’s only the body that I paint. I love it because it is the chalice of life. As expressive as life is, even when tired. As sparkling as life is, when young.”

Until now, the canvas has been kept in a private collection, available to scholars only through a charcoal and pencil on paper, published in the artist’s book Sketches and Colours Athens 1996.

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