Theophilos Lesbos Island



Today Theophilos is famous. He belongs to humanityî - Stratis Pallis, Mayor of Mytilini


Lesvos is famed as the birthplace of the naïve folk artist, Theophilos who was born in Varia near Mytilini. There is however great confusion over the date of his birth. According to what you read it could have been between 1866 to 1879, however most seem to agree on 1873.

He received very little formal education, being rather a dreamer and preferring his paints to lessons. Moving to Smyrna and then to Volos and Mount Pelion, he spent 30 years living in poverty, going from village to village, painting walls of shops, houses and churches, many of which have been lost or destroyed, his only payment often being a meal and some wine or ouzo, and sometimes not even that.

He was well known for his eccentric ways and his habit of wearing traditional national dress and at carnivals dressing as Alexander the Great.

His works are primitive or naïve in anatomy and perspective but their charm is in their colour and the portrayal of everyday life, nature and history. Theophilos made his own colours by collecting stones, crushing them and making natural pigments from the powder which he mixed with egg, milk, fig juice or even urine.

People did not recognise the beauty of Theophilosí work and most thought it worthless often being mocked by his fellow countrymen. In 1928 an art critic, Stratis Eleftheriadis (Teriade), met Theophilos and was so impressed, that he persuaded the artist to paint on canvas (most of his work had been on wood, walls and doors) so his works could be saved for the future. Apparently, Theophilos never asked Teriade for money. Because of Teriadeís interest in Theophilos some of his works were displayed in Louvre and are now housed in the museum in Mytilini, paid for by Teriade. As with many artists, Theophilos did not live to enjoy this new interest or fame and died of food poisoning in 1934.

The Theophilos museum was built in 1964 in the suburb of Varia, about 4 kilometres from the centre of Mytilini, and houses 86 works by the Lesvos folk artist.