Theophilos Chatzimichael was born in 1873 at Vareia near
Mytilini town. He died in 1934 from food poisoning. His works are inspired by
history, mythology, nature and life. They are distinguished by their
primitiveness but also for their expressiveness and their color combinations.
The paintings of Theophilos are difficult to find today and their value has
reached astronomical heights. Large art foundations in Europe and America have
opened their salons to his works which have been insured by Lloyd's of London
for enormous amounts.
He painted on walls, doors windows, houses and shops and
many of his works have been lost or destroyed. Teriade made him known and
supplied him with materials so he could paint on canvas and because of this his
fertile artistic inspiration and creative passion were in large part saved.
Stratis Myrivilis the famous writer from Lesvos writes of
He was a strange man and people thought him half crazy. He
wasted away poor and alone in his unwashed kilts. You might wonder how an
islander came to be wearing kilts. Well it was his passion. He used to long for
the annual carnival so he could wear his kilts out of doors. Sometimes he would
dress up as a Macedonian, sometimes as a soldier of the Greek kilted regiment.
He was a short, pale sickly man but nevertheless there burned within him a
passionate desire for the heroic stature which God had denied him. Sometimes at
carnival he would gather his friends together and they would all dress up as
Olympic gods. Theophilos would always be Ares, the god of war. He would wear a
crown of gold-colored cardboard and carry a wooden spear with it's point covered
in silver paper and a round shield made of a thin board. On the shield would be
painted the head of Medusa with her snake hair. Because he suffered from
alopecia the hairs of his mustache were sparse and he would wear a fals
moustache made of tow, which he would twist fiercely as he walked behind the red
mantle of Zeus.
More often he would wear a kilt and carry an old curved
yataghan at his side or he would paint murals of the Greek War of Independence.
It was thus he appeased his passion.
He left for Pelion on the mainland where he found work as
a shepherd, and there, whenever he came across a mill or a coffeehouse with
plastered walls, he would cover them with murals. He wore his kilts all the time
there, even though the local people wore breeches and thus he earned himself the
nickname Tsolias. On his return from Volos he threw away his sheperds crook and
earned himself a living any way he could, begging for a piece of canvas or a
white wall where he could paint his pictures. He didn't ask for money; only a
plate of food and a supply of water-colors. His passion was to paint heroic
themes, events in the life of Ali Pasha, and hunting scenes. When he was dead
the critics of Athens and Paris proclaimed him a great painter and his pictures
became extremely valuable".
From the book Vasilis Arvanitis by Stratis Myrivilis written in 1934.
No other folk painter or even perhaps classical painter
has been honored since his death as much as the day-dreamer Theophilos. Among
the other figures of Greek art and intellect who were at the August 1965 opening
of his museum was the Nobel prize-winning poet George Seferis.
Be sure to visit the Theophilos Museum in Mytilini. Don't
forget to see the hollowed out tree Theophilos lived in at the spring of Karini
on the road to Agiassos. Keep your eyes open and you may discover a Theophilos
on the wall of some cafeneon in a remote village somewhere on Lesvos