The Russian modernist painter Marc Chagall traveled twice to Greece upon the request of renowned art patron, publisher, collector and art critic Stratis Eleftheriades-Teriade. Here, he hoped to find inspiration to illustrate the story of “Daphnis and Chloe,” by the 2nd-century AD Greek novelist and romancer Longus and which is set on the island of Lesvos.
On one of his trips, he and his friend Odysseas Elytis visited the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens. Today, half a century later, Chagall has returned to the museum, although not in person, as several of his works are up on display alongside another 350 pieces belonging to the Teriade Collection. The exhibition is organized by the museum in collaboration with the Museum-Library Stratis Eleftheriadis-Teriade, which is based in the city of Mytilene on Lesvos.
Some of the most celebrated painters and sculptors of the early 20th century were commissioned to create artworks by Teriade, a native of Mytilene who spent most of his life in Paris until his death in 1983. The exhibition “Artists’ Books from the Teriade Collection” aims to highlight Teriade’s publishing activity from 1943 to 1975, through selected pages from 26 volumes and five fully digitized books.
The Teriade Museum on Lesvos has been undergoing 2 million euros’ worth of renovations since 2010, during which time it has remained closed, but when it reopens it will have new facilities and additional gallery space totaling 300 square meters.
Most of the artists’ books, in addition to issues of Teriade’s quarterly journal Verve, which will also feature in the exhibition, were preserved in the Byzantine Museum’s workshops.
Though Teriade gave the artists total creative freedom in the commissions, he particularly favored renditions of antiquity and contemporary European authors. One of the artists he approached was Pablo Picasso, for the illustration of Pierre Reverdy’s dramatic poem “Song of the Dead.”
“Picasso worked with abstract motifs,” said exhibition curator, Ioanna Alexandri, as is evident in the book, whose text he illustrated with bold, red arabesques.
For some of the commissioned artists, such as Le Corbusier and Henri Matisse, it was agreed that they would also provide the text. In a series of handwritten notes, Matisse revealed his inspiration behind the colorful collage in his book “Jazz.”
Similarly, paying tribute to the author Alfred Jarry, Joan Miro not only illustrated the writer’s play “Ubu Roi,” but he also wrote two more books in which he made Ubu the heroic protagonist.
Teriade’s interest in ancient Greek literature is evident in the illustrations for which he turned to sculptors, including Henri Laurens, whose woodcut prints accompany the ancient texts of Lucian’s “Dialogues” and Theocritus’ “Idylls.”
“Artists’ Books from the Teriade Collection” is on display at the Byzantine and Christian Museum (22 Vas. Sofias, tel 213.213.9572, www.byzantinemuseum.gr) through Sunday, August 25.