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Around the Hearth



Vassilis Vryonides (1883-1958)
Around the Hearth
Tempera on plywood
AGLC 726 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

Vassilis Vryonides is considered a special case in contemporary Cypriot art. After the poet Vassilis Michaelides (1849-1917), who, according to his biographers, attended some painting courses in Italy, he was the second Cypriot painter who studied occasionally at a school of fine arts, first in Venice and then in Paris. A sojourn of several years in Venice acquainted him with the Venetian Renaissance and the contemporary currents which the Venice International Biennale had begun to support and promote since 1885. In post-war Paris of the 1920s, which was being shaken by one of the greatest art revolutions, that of the modern movements, he also saw and learnt a great deal.

Vryonides moved back to Cyprus permanently in 1930, at the age of 47. Income from his family’s fortune allowed him not to work and instead to concentrate on painting as his main interest. He painted mostly small-sized canvases and focused on research and experimentation regarding the processing and use of his colours and varnishes. By creating different mixtures of his own invention, he tried to achieve textures which would show to advantage the radiance of the colours. He never exhibited or sold his work, showing it only to a select few to whom he was close. The public discovered him only in 1962, at a posthumous exhibition held in his honour by the City of Limassol.

Studying Vryonides’ oeuvre presents serious and insurmountable difficulties. Unfortunately, the greater part of his work was lost in Kyrenia, together with the holiday home of a relative where it was kept, and in Athens, when the same relative’s house was looted. The number of his known works is limited and does not present the complete picture of his career as an artist. Besides that, the paintings are not dated, a fact which further hinders any effort to study them. Nevertheless, his known work allows the scholar to classify and analyse it based on its subject matter and style. With respect to their themes, his works fall into three categories: works with Venice as their subject; works inspired by life in Paris, which, in terms of their style of painting, are close to such artists as Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Intimists; and, finally, works with Cypriot themes.

This painting belongs to the third category. It should be noted that its title is not known, but that it was given the descriptive name Around the Hearth for easy reference. Like all of Vryonides’ known works, apart from the monotypes, it carries no signature or date. Presumably it was painted in Cyprus after the artist returned permanently to the island in 1930. The painting depicts an elderly woman cooking at the hearth and next to her sits a young man in urban clothing. This small composition was painted in tempera, Vryonides’ favourite medium. It was produced with his own special method, which, let it be stated, he refused to disclose. He applied his medium to the plywood in such a way as to create a relief texture. The subject matter is rendered with considerable abstraction and a limited, but carefully chosen colour palette, reflecting light across the painting’s entire surface. This particular work of Vryonides, not unlike the sum of his artistic output, constitutes an unending study by its creator into the properties and potential of his materials.

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About the artist

He studied for a while at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice, where he stayed for about nine years pursuing independent studies. Around 1922 he went to Paris and attended lessons at the Grande Chaumière and the Colarossi academies. He lived in Paris for six years. His subject matter includes portraits, still lifes, nudes and scenes from daily life, mainly in the city. He painted primarily in tempera. In his work one can discern influences from the wealth of colour of the Venetian Renaissance and the French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters. His oeuvre was presented in a posthumous exhibition in 1962 at the Limassol Municipal Art Gallery.

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