The Museum of Theophilos in Anakasia, Theophilos figure and the celebration of diversity
“Once upon a time there was a poor fustaneforos who was possessed from the “mania” of painting. They called him Theophilos. His brushes were carried on his belt. On the same place, where his ancestors were putting their pistols and knives. He was walking around the villages of Mytilene, he was walking around the villages of Pelion and he was painting. He was painting whatever he was ordered to, just on purpose to make his living. In Ano Volos, there are whole arches painted by Theophilos’ hand, cafes in Lesvos, grocery stores and shops in various places showing his passage. People were laughing at him. They were making fun of him and one day, they even threw him under a ladder with a result of broken a couple of bones. Theophilos, however, did not cease to paint. And he was painting everywhere. I saw paintings of him made on plain, on cardboard. Some young people who were called unbalanced by academics, were admiring him. This is how his life went and Theophilos died. One day a traveler from Paris came. He saw this painting, collected some fifty pieces of them, wrapped them and went to show them to the illuminated critics sitting near Seine. And the enlightened critics came out and wrote that Theophilos was a great painter. And we stayed in an open mouth in Athens. The story of this story is that public education is not only about teaching the people, but also about learning from the people». That was a part, from the book “THE PAINTER THEOFILOS” by Odyssey Elytis.
The Chronicle of the Kontou House
The house was built in the 19th century as a residence of the Hadjianastasis family. Originally it was a three floors fortress architecture building. It took its present form with neoclassical elements on the façade and floor plan after its purchase in 1905 by Yannis Kontos, a wealthy miller from Ano Volos. In 1912 the homeowner allegedly had under his protection the popular painter Theophilos Hadjimihail or Kefalas. Who in return for that and at Kontos’s request, painted the living room of the house. In 1962, after the earthquakes in Volos, Kontou’s house was designated as a historic monument. In 1965, the Ministry of Culture purchased the building in order to repair it and operate it as a museum.
Climbing up the wooden interior stairs of the Kontou house, the visitor’s expression of surprise is shining through his face. In his eyes, glittering with admiration. The C-shaped lounge, a rare example of a home, and is flooded with colors. The emotions that haunt the visitor are contradict. The question that dominates? “What important thing is that that his paintings got!” The color and purity of his soul dominate. Theophilos, the popular painter, managed to convey through his works the way he was seeing the world. And he did. Just before she died, she felt a small amount of admiration. The reward. From Elytis, from Seferis… from Europe and today even from just the simple people.
Truthful of Seferis description: “Theophilos gave us a new eye; he washed our eyes as the sky, is washing the houses, and the red earth, and the little leaf of the bush, after the Catharsis of a rain” Something from the pulse of coolness. He might not be a craftsman, he ignorance in such things might very big. But what was so rare, that it was so impossible before for the Greek landscape: a moment of color and a moment of air, a moment’s halt to the inner vitality of life. That poetic rhythm that links, and holds the scattered and resists the destructive; this human being who was left in a strong tree, in a hidden flower or in a dance of clothes. All these things that we were asking for so much because we missed them, all these grace, was given to us by Theophilos. And that is folklore … “.
At Kontou’s house, Theophilos’ paintings were influenced by the lithographs of the Bavarian painter Peter Von Hess. 16 large paintings with scenes from the Revolution of 1821 and between paintings, patterns from nature to fill the gaps. The wall of the main part of the hall is adorned by a single fresco from the Karavos area of Portaria and in the background Makrinitsa and Anakasia. Four gods of Olympus – Mars, Hermes, Athena and Aphrodite are painted on the pillars of the narrowest part of the room. Characteristic in the frescoes of the house is the handwritten description of Theophilos under each painting. The description under the god Hermes, the god of Commerce in antiquity, is typical. “God of the Thieves”. Theophilos signs.
Kontos’ house was in a bad condition, before it was restored by the Ministry of Culture. Ceilings, rotten floors. The frescoes were in poor condition. The first researcher that recognized Theophilos, was Kolios Makris, from Volos. In 1939 he published a book, called: “The Painter Theophilos in Pelion”. “The paintings in a falling house were in very good condition …”. That was his description in his book about the Kontos house.
Just a few people know about Theophilos Museum in Anakasia. Is not well advertised. According to the museum’s guides, its visitors are mainly French. A sad feeling was created in us, listening that there are not many people knowing about that house. Theophilos, the folk painter who for thirty years wandered around the villages of Pelion and the city of Volos. The Pure Soul Artist, earning a living by painting for a fair pay, on the walls of houses and shops. This particular man of color, died alone in his humble room of food poisoning. A model of a special person to be taught in our schools today. As a tribute to diversity. For the art. But above all for man.
Odysseus Elytis wrote: “Returning from America in June 1961, I stopped for a few days in Paris, and as I went out to the streets, the first thing I saw was, in a bookstore where I used to go, a great poster of Theophilos Exhibition, which had just opened that week in the Louvre. My heart started beating. Well, yes. There was justice in this world. “