Sotheby’s Greek Sale to Offer Important Examples of Greek Modernism

Sotheby’s Greek Sale, in London on Monday, 9 May, 2011, will draw together an exceptional array of Greek art, with important examples of Greek Modernism by eminent 20th-century masters such as Constantinos Parthenis, Yiannis Tsarouchis and Yiannis Moralis.

The Resurrection by Constantinos Parthenis (1878-1967) forms part of a series of works for Athens City Hall, commissioned by the Metaxas government in 1939. Parthenis executed many preliminary drawings for this decorative scheme, as well as plans for their final installation before abandoning the project. The other two related scenes, The Virgin and Child and The Crucifixion are currently in the collection of the National Gallery and Alexandros Sountzos Museum in Athens. Estimated at £300,000-500,000 (€345,000-575,000), the present work is the only example still in private hands. It is a stunning illustration of Parthenis’ use of non-perspectival space, inspired by Byzantine icon painting and other two-dimensional compositional elements derived from ancient Greek vase paintings and folk art. Parthenis offers a unique interpretation of the subject, with radiating lines from the tomb (echoed by the Roman soldiers’ spears) and colours at once joyful and ethereal, imbuing the work with the mysticism typical of his mature work. Without the staff common in traditional depictions, Christ’s arms are free to express majesty and serenity. Parthenis’s work was tremendously significant in the development of twentieth century Greek art. As a prominent member of the Omni Techni group of 1917, he was responsible, along with Constantinos Maleas, for introducing light and colour into Greek painting. With this movement and the influence that Parthenis exerted as Professor at the Athens School of Fine Arts from 1929-1947, the lingering influences of German academicism were finally banished from Athens’ artistic circles, and a new path was laid, paving the way for experimentation in form and colour previously untried in Greek art.

Following the record price achieved at Sotheby’s Greek Sale in London in November 2010 for a Soldier Dancing Zeimbekiko by Yiannis Tsarouchis (1910-89), the Spring sale will be lead by another masterpiece of the same title by the artist, estimated at £300,000-500,000 (€345,000-575,000). Scenes of sailors and soldiers make up a characteristic part of Tsarouchis’ work. In this full-length, life-size portrait, Tsarouchis has depicted a single soldier dancing on a typically Greek tiled floor. His rugged, masculine face with square jawline, and broad shoulders form a contrast with his swaying, unsteady movement. Tsarouchis’ initial training was at the School of Fine Arts in Athens under Georgios Jakobides and Constantinos Parthenis while also working in the studio of Fotis Kontoglou, a religious painter who exposed him to Byzantine art. In 1935 Tsarouchis left Athens for Paris where he studied the work of the Renaissance masters and French Impressionists. Immersing himself in Parisian art circles, he befriended painters such as Matisse, Laurens and Giacometti. By 1936 Tsarouchis had returned to his beloved Athens, organising his first solo exhibition. Widely acclaimed as a painter of the Greek people, his work attempted a reconciliation of Western and Eastern pictorial traditions. He travelled extensively in Greece, Turkey, Asia Minor and France, where he studied Byzantine music, painting and textiles. One of the most important representatives of the Thirties Generation, Tsarouchis embodied in his work the ideal of `Greek’, exemplified to perfection in Soldier Dancing Zeimbekiko.

Painted in 1988, Erotic by Yiannis Moralis (1916-2009) is a monumental, harmonious and deeply poetic work that shows the artist at the height of his powers. Estimated at £200,000-300,000 (€230,000-345,000), the composition is redolent of a lovers’ embrace, despite the geometric abstraction of the figures. The tension between suggestion and abstraction is a central motif of Moralis’ mature work, and a continuous thread weaving through Moralis’ oeuvre is his preoccupation with the human form, most notably the female form. In the present work, the artist has accentuated outlines and produced an effect of flatness. The origins of Moralis’ abstract works, of which Erotic is a fine example, lie in the portraits he painted during the German occupation (1941-44), which were characterised by a restricted palette, the play of light and shadow, and a flattening of form and space. His preoccupation with compositional structure and colour relationships is paramount in Erotic, which has both a delicate formal balance between its light and dark forms and an overall chromatic harmony.

*Pre-sale estimates do not include buyer’s Premium

Image: The Resurrection by Constantinos Parthenis, est. £300,000?500,000 / €345,000?575,000. Photo: Sotheby’s

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