European Art: Paintings & Sculpture

European Art: Paintings & Sculpture

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 157. NIKOLAUS GYSIS | GRANDFATHER'S FAVOURITE.

Property from a Private American Collection


Lot Closed

June 18, 03:31 PM GMT


60,000 - 80,000 GBP

Lot Details


Property from a Private American Collection



1842 - 1901


signed N. Gysis lower right

oil on canvas

unframed: 79 by 61cm., 31 by 24in.

framed: 101 by 82cm., 40 by 32in.

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Dr John Compton, USA (acquired circa 1950s; thence by descent within the family)

Having remained in a family collection in the United States for over sixty years, Grandfather Holding an Infant is a previously unrecorded work and exciting re-discovery that closely relates to Grandfather and Grandson of the early 1880s, also from a private American collection and sold by Sotheby’s in 2007 (fig. 1). By the 1880s Gysis had found international renown as a genre painter and sold his works not only to Greek and German collectors but also to buyers in Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States. It is probable that Grandfather Holding an Infant was sold to a collector in the United States shortly after its conception.

Considered by many to be the father of Greek 19th-Century painting, Nicholas Gysis was at the pinnacle of his career in the early 1880s. Depicting a grandfather affectionately holding his crying grandchild whilst surveying the just smashed crockery containing the infant's repast on the floor, the painting celebrates the importance of family life. In this and his other genre paintings of the period Gysis took a keen interest in exploring Greek manners, customs, rituals, costumes and physiognomy. 

The family, as a basic unit of society, held a special significance for Gysis, and narrative paintings such as the present work and Grandfather and Grandson, The Barber and Grandfather Offering Apples to his Grandchildren, typically built anecdotes around children in ways that fully exploited their optimism, appeal and good humour. 

While firmly rooted in German romanticism, Grandfather Holding an Infant superbly illustrates Gysis' transcendence beyond his masters' teachings and assimilation of other continental trends. From his early tutelage under Karl von Piloty he had developed an obsession for depicting textures. In Grandfather Holding an Infant the virtuoso rendition of fabrics, the contrast between young and old complexions, between rough and polished wood demonstrates the new life that had been breathed into representation by Courbet and French realism. Likewise the warm, earthy palette and strong chiaroscuro suggest the pre-occupation with light that captivated Gysis during this period. Underpinned by a powerful, yet deceptively simple draughtsmanship, these factors give the composition a rich materiality.