People & Stories

Vassilis Ithakissios – The Olympian Painter

Ithakissios_Trata

Vassilis Ithakissios – The Trawler

He was born Vassilis Georganas, his father came from Ithaca island and started his family in Mytilene Lesvos with his local wife. Vassilis, born in 1877, was the sixth of seven children. Although his family wanted him to become a ship builder like his father, he would rather paint ships than build them. His first teacher was a renowned painter of his time, Loukas Geralis, who also taught his pupil the art of photography.

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Vassilis Ithakissios – Mytilini coast

Ithakissios studied painting at the School of Fine Arts in Athens Greece and won a scholarship which led his steps to Antwerp. After that, in 1900 he moved to Smyrna where he had the opportunity to broaden his horizons and experiment with several themes and techniques. He chose landscapes as his specialty. He started with themes about the sea and ended up with mountains, especially with the mountain of the ancient gods, Olympus. At the age of 40 he already was a famous painter in Smyrna and his art exhibitions always were a big success.

One of his close friends was a distinguished personality of his time, the Greek Orthodox metropolitan bishop of Smyrna Chrysostomos. Ithakissios painted his portrait and a few days after the painting was finished, Chrysostomos was slaughtered by the Turks. The day Smyrna was set on fire, among the Greeks who tried to save their lives was our painter who managed to embark into a boat the last minute. Like everybody else, he left everything he owned behind except his mother’s portrait, which was the only thing he carried with him on his escape back to Greece. The portrait of the bishop was lost with all his fortune.

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Vassilis Ithakissios – Portrait of bishop Chrystostomos

In 1923 he moved to Kefalonia Island (across Ithaca) where he painted every aspect of mount Ainos. The next six years he traveled all over Greece and painted almost every landscape he loved. One of his travels took him to Mount Olympus where he found the cave which would be his residence for the next 22 years of his life, except for three months every year, which are the real winter in Greece.

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Vassilis Ithakissios – Monastery of Virgin of Atros, Kefalonia

The cave, which lies above Saint Dionysios’ Monastery, was named by the painter “The Asylum of the Muses” as it was a place full of inspiration. He wrote the names of the Muses on the walls of the cave, and some letters are still visible. All Ithakissios did was strolling around the mountain and painting. He also offered shelter to the hikers and welcomed artists who stopped by to meet the Olympian recluse. Nowadays, the cave is known as the “Cave of Ithakissios”.

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Vassilis Ithakissios – Mount Olympus

Sitting in front of his cave entrance, Ithakissios could look upon the deep canyon, the purple and yellow flowers all over the slopes and in the distance, the endless sea. This was his home, his studio, the source of his joy and creativity.

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Vassilis Ithakissios – Pine Tree

In his exhibition of 1935, the Athenians had the opportunity to admire many of his works depicting amazing landscapes of different places all over Greece. Ithakissios has his unique way of capturing the beauty of nature, especially Mount Olympus. He does not depict the mountain he sees but the one he lives in each and every day of his life. A harsh landscape softly lit or emerging from the mist. Defining his style one could say Impressionism with academic elements, neat outlining and atmospheric shading. As a result we get a poetic touch.

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Vassilis Ithakissios – Boat

In 1936, during the first Climbing Conference in Athens, Ithakissios made some suggestions about the protection of Mount Olympus, which had already begun to degrade due to uncontrolled grazing and fires. He also presented his ideas about the development of tourism in the area. Some of his proposals were taken into account many years later, and by the late 60’s new mountain shelters were built in the places he had pointed out.

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Vassilis Ithakissios – Pansies

Ithakissios also alarmed his audience about the danger the wild goats and roes were in, as their population was reducing and highlighted the horrible situation caused by the swarms in Litochoro (a city at the foothills of Olympus) which prevented the development of the area, an area which should be a first class travelers’ destination.

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Vassilis Ithakissios – Houses on the shore

In 1941, the German occupation forces threw him out of his cave and stole many of his paintings as well as his diary with all his experiences of his time living alone in the mountain.

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Vassilis Ithakissios in 1972

Ithakissios died in Athens in 1977, a few months after his 100th birthday. He spent his last years in the Retirement Home of Athens decorating its walls with his paintings. The minute he couldn’t paint no more, he collapsed. The director of the Home, with the assistance of the Greek Army, managed for him a flight with a helicopter above the Mount Olympus. The director’s idea breathed new life into the painter’s heart. Longing for the trip which was more like a pilgrimage to him, he looked now much stronger and healthier. But his doctor would not allow such a venture and the trip was cancelled. A few hours later, during the night, Ithakissios tried to escape through the window. Although it was not more than one meter high, he injured himself and died the next day.

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Vassilis Ithakissios – Lassi, Kefalonia

He donated all his paintings to the Retirement Home, showing his gratitude for having him there for free. His other works can be found in public Art Galleries and private collections.

 

Sources:
Newspaper “Acropolis”, 25/10/1935 and 26/06/1936
Newspaper “Ethnos”, 16/02/1969
Newspaper “Macedonia”, 27/5/1977
Photo Sources:
www.dasarxeio.com
www.nikias.gr

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