Josef Šíma (1891–1971)

The Return of Theseus

Technique :mixed media (gouache, watercolour, ink) on paper

Date:1933 - 1934

Signature:bottom right

Dimensions:42 x 72 cm

Accessories:frame, glass

starting price:‍100000 EUR

achieved price:‍156000 EUR

85th Auction, Lot 97


This excellent work from Šíma’s high creative period dates back to the first half of the 1930s, in which the painter repeatedly elaborated the fundamental themes of ancient myths in his own distinctive and very unconventional way. The Return of Theseus, in which he expressed his relation to this famous ancient hero, can be considered one of the most important pieces of his entire work. In his drawing, the author captured an approaching ship, while the related dramatic plot is expressed by heavy clouds hovering just above the ground, casting a shadow on the water surface. On the shore, we can see another fundamental motif of Šíma’s work: a floating hexagonal crystal. The author placed it in front of the ruins, which meant to be a reminder or remnant of the foregone world. It was the motif of the crystal and the ruins that the artist elaborated on several other paintings and gouaches from 1934–1935. In this excellent drawing, two popular themes are connected into an ambiguous, interconnected synthesis, which suggests a multi-layered interpretation and insight into the philosophical contemplations of the artist himself. In this masterpiece, Šíma takes us to a place where man and nature stand against each other as well as rational reflections and myth.


The painter donated the drawing to the wife of the poet Jean Ballard (1893–1973), the director of the Les Cahiers du Sud magazine, one issue of which from 1931 was dedicated to Josef Šíma. On the drawing is the inscription “Le retour de Thésée pour Madame J. Ballard – á Marseille 28. Mai 1949, to which is related a letter of thanks from Mrs. Ballard to Šíma dated May 31, 1949, deposited in the National Library of France, Paris. Assessed during consultations by PhDr. R. Michalová, Ph.D., and PhDr. J. Machalický. From the attached expertise by PhDr. K. Srp: “[…] In this drawing, which is a great discovery for the admirers of Josef Šíma, […] the author achieved an extraordinary conjunction of his lifelong subject matters, appearing as a strongly escalated vision, as a holistic expression of the world. […] The gouache The Return of Theseus is one of the most significant that Šíma created during the interwar period. […]”