Theophilos Hatzimihail (Theofilos) | Greek Folk Painter | The Weird Artist with the Kilt
Updated: Oct 29
George P. Papadellis | SG Head
with some good tips from AI
Theophilos Hatzimihail, widely known as "Theophilos", was a remarkable folk painter who left an indelible mark on modern Greek art. Born around 1870 in the village of Varia, near Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, Theophilos spent most of his life in pursuit of his passion for painting. A man of eccentricities, he held steadfast to tradition and refused to compromise with the norms and trends of his era. This article delves into the life and artistry of Theophilos, a painter who captured the essence of Greek folk life and history, while facing challenges and ridicule.
Photo title: Theophilos Hatzimihail, circa 1900
Photo by: in the public domain (according to Wikimedia Commons)
Theophilos was not only an artist but also a man of peculiar habits. His attire, often adorned with the traditional Greek foustanella, set him apart, drawing ridicule and laughter from those around him. Despite facing mockery, he continued to embrace his unique identity and pursued his artistic inclinations.
His artistic journey began with his grandfather, an iconographer, who taught him the fundamentals of painting. Theophilos embarked on a journey, trying to find work and recognition. From Mytilene to Smyrna and finally settling in Volos, he painted murals on houses and shops, gradually immersing himself in the representation of Greek folk life. During this period, he encountered Giannis Kontos, a local landholder who recognized Theophilos's talent and became his protector, commissioning many works from him.
Theophilos's creative spirit extended beyond painting. He played an active role in organizing popular theatrical acts for national ceremonies and became a prominent figure in local carnival festivities. Whether dressed as Alexander the Great with a group of pupils forming a Macedonian phalanx or as a hero of the Greek Revolution, he reveled in the performance, captivating audiences with his theatrical flair.
A Fateful Return
A tragic incident in a coffee shop led Theophilos to leave Volos and return to Mytilene. There, despite continued mockery, he persisted in his artistic endeavors, painting murals in villages for meager compensation—often just a plate of food and a cup of wine. This period of his life saw the creation of many artworks, some of which have been lost to time or neglect.
Alexander the Great 1900 Painting by Theophilos | Photo by: Theophilos Hatzimihail creator QS:P170,Q1371698, Theophilos Chatzimichail - Alexander the Great, about 1900 - Athens, National Historical Museum, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
Fate intervened when renowned art critic Stratis Eleftheriadis (Teriade), residing in Paris, discovered Theophilos's talent. This serendipitous encounter brought the artist much-deserved recognition and international acclaim, albeit posthumously. His works were exhibited in the Louvre in 1961, showcasing the genuine essence of Greek folk painting.
Legacy and Museums
Sadly, Theophilos passed away in March 1934, on the eve of the Annunciation, possibly from food poisoning. However, his legacy lived on through his art, with Tériade playing a pivotal role in preserving and promoting his work. Theophilos's artistic treasure found refuge in two museums: the Museum of Theofilos in Lesbos, with Teriade's funding, and the Museum of Theofilos in Anakasia Pelion, established in Giannis Kontos's Hatzianastasis Mansion.
The Power of Art
Theophilos Hatzimihail, the Greek folk painter, defied societal norms and embraced his idiosyncrasies to passionately portray Greek traditions and history. His journey from obscurity to recognition stands as a testament to the power of artistic expression. The museums dedicated to his works ensure that his legacy continues to inspire generations, while his paintings offer a window into the vibrant tapestry of Greek folk life.