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Bonhams to offer one of the most significant works of modern Greek art ever to appear at auction
Yiannis Tsarouchis, Small coffee house in Athens. Estimate: £80,000-120,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- One of the most significant works of modern Greek art ever to appear at auction- Dark noon, by Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika- is to be sold at Bonhams Greek Art sale in London on 25 November. It is estimated at £250,000-350,000 and is just one of a wide selection of works by leading Greek artists of the 1930s generation to feature prominently in the sale.

The landscape of post-war art in Greece was mainly dominated by the artistic group and movement known as ‘Generation of the Thirties’. It aimed for a return to Greek tradition interpreted through the channels of modern art, in particular new European trends such as expressionism, cubism, abstract art, and surrealism. Painters like Yiannis Tsarouchis, Yiannis Moralis, and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika blended key elements of European artistic movements with Greek classical conventions to create a distinctive national school which continues to this day. Many of the works in the Bonhams sale by these and other painters of the 1930s generation chart their development over the years as they moved towards their artistic maturity.

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (1906-1994), generally acknowledged as the artist who introduced modernism to Greece, drew his inspiration from ancient Mediterranean civilizations and Byzantine mosaics to early 20th century avant-garde trends, expressing a complex approach to the question of 'Greekness', the main aesthetic and ideological concern of his generation. Ghika, who skilfully analyses his native culture and landscape, creating intense natural light into simple geometric shapes and interlocking planes that form his poetical compositions, is represented in the sale by three major works including Dark noon. Monumental in scale, magnificent in colour and bold in vision this 1959 painting is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the artist’s mature style.

High Priest (£60,000-80,000), also painted in 1959, is a more personal work. The central figure of the tavern cook in his kitchen surrounded by the tools of his trade stands for the artist himself and represents the two sides of Ghika’s nature – the restrained Apollonian and the wilder Dionysian - which have also been identified as the core of classical Greek culture.

The third work Hydra, Composition in black (£40,000-60,000) from 1939 is one of the most charming and accomplished paintings from Ghika’s celebrated Hydra period (1938-1940), during which the defining characteristics of the artist's work were formulated. Drawing on the fragmented planes and spatial distortions of cubism, the work also alludes to the enduring geometric character of Greek art.

Another major painter of same period, Yiannis Moralis (1916-2009), master of geometric abstraction, is present in the sale with works distinguished by solid compositional structures, poetic schematization of forms, and expressive synthesis of recurrent and opposing curves.

Epithalamion (£60,000-80,000) belongs to his Epithalamia series from the 1960s. (An Epithalamion is a poem recited to a bride on her way to her wedding chamber). The picture space is defined by an intricate fabric of highly abstractive shapes, with the bodies of a man and a woman approaching each other and merging into a single form.

Painted in 1977, Full Moon L (£220,000 – 280,000) demonstrates Moralis’s superb grasp of solid compositional structure, purity of form and harmonious proportions. The work is true to his classical Greek heritage and yet uses a formal vocabulary that perfectly reflects a modern sensibility.

Yiannis Tsarouchis (1910-1989), - a pivotal exponent of the 1930s generation, with a multiplicity of artistic influences - embodied in his oeuvre the ideal of ‘Greekness’ and created a distinctive style that is evident in his portrayal of young men, usually sailors or soldiers, Athenian buildings and landscapes. Small coffee house in Athens (£80,000-120,000) painted in 1955 is one of a series of works on a similar theme about which he once wrote, ‘I decided to abandon the lyrical and mystical interpretation of the world in order to discipline myself to see the exterior world objectively and narrowly.’ This work was once in the collection of the American Pulitzer Prize winning playwright William Inge who wrote Come back little Sheba.

Seated Youth in Olympiakos Jersey (£15,000-20,000), also painted in the 1950s, shows Tsarouchis’s empathy with working class culture and deep affection for his roots in the Pireaus district of Athens where he was born. The local football team, Olympiakos, enjoyed a golden age in the 1950s and Tsarouchis portrayed the players as emblems of Modern Greece forging a new identity in the wake of the Second World War.

Georgios Bouzianis (1885-1959), a pioneer expressionist of international caliber and a great painter of the female figure, is represented by two characteristic portraits, Reclining Nude from 1958 and the important earlier work, Portrait of a Lady, painted in 1923 when he was living and working in Munich. Both paintings demonstrate Bouzianis’s belief that art was a vehicle for conveying emotional states rather than simply beautification and he portrayed his sitters in an explicit and honest way.

Finally, the abstract painter Thanos Tsingos (1914 -1965), notorious for his flower paintings marked by impetuous pictorial linear marks of dense paint, applied on the canvas directly from the tube, is also represented in the sale by a few outstanding works. Cannes painted in 1959 (£40,000-60,000), Chrysanthemums on black background from 1960 (£8,000-10,000) and the undated Flowers in pink background (£20,000-30,000) show his ability to transform thick impasto into delicate petals and stems but also his fascination with texture and colour.

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