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Theophilos Hatzimihail | Greek Folk Painter | The Weird Artist with the Kilt

Updated: Apr 29

Theophilos Hatzimihail [born in Lesvos around 1870 and died in Lesvos in 1934], widely known as "Theophilos", was a major folk painter of modern Greek art. He spent the early and the late years of his life in the village Varia, outside Mytilene, the capital of the island of Lesbos, and also some years in Smyrni and Volos.

Theofilos  |  Shiny Greece

Photo title: Theophilos Hatzimihail, circa 1900

Photo by: in the public domain (according to Wikimedia Commons)

Theofilos was a weird personality, a special person who loved tradition and who could not compromise with standards, norms and trends of his era. He was ocassionaly wearing the greek foustanella (the traditional famous kilt of the Greek revolution against the Ottoman rule), and he was acting strangely, so several people were laughing at him and teazing him.

He learned the basics about painting from his grandfather who was an iconographer. After some efforts to work in Mytilene and Smyrni, he ended up to Volos, in central Greece (Magnesia), where he started living from painting (not the art first, but the painting of houses and shops).

There is where he started drawing the Greek traditional folk life, and where a local landholder, Giannis Kontos, realizing his talent, became his protector and bought a lot of art works from him. But Theophilos could just only paint. He was also getting paid for the preparation of costumes for national celebrations, in which he was often participating actively, dressing as Greek heroes, and acting in an exaggerating manner, thus attracting constantly more teazes and laughs. A particular sad incident with locals made him leave Volos forever to Lesbos.

In Lesvos, Theofilos continued to draw for only some pocket money, or for some food and some wine. But fate would work well for the recognition of the huge talent of Theofilos. In a journey to Lesvos, the famous art critic Stratis Eleftheriadis (Teriade) discovered Theofilos and made him famous in Europe and beyond. In 1961, the works of Theofilos were excibited in the Louvre and later on two museums were developed to protect his works. the Museum of Theofilos in Lesbos, with the construction funded from Teriade, and the Museum of Theofilos in Anakasia Pelion, in the house of his protector Giannis Kontos (Hatzianastasis Mansion).

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