Ten Minutes with Paul Firos
Paul Firos was born in Egypt and is like his wife, Belinda, is of Greek descent. Firos and his family moved to the area in 1974. In 2004 the couple founded the Herakleidon Museum in Athens. Today, they spend their time between Greece and Weston. The Bruce Museum in Greenwich currently features “In the Limelight,” an exhibition of 100 prints and rare drawings by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, all on loan from the Herakleidon.
How and why did you develop your passion for this particular artist?
My original sin was collecting M.C. Escher. My wife’s passion for Toulouse-Lautrec was passed on to me and together we embarked on a long journey learning about the artist and collecting his works, all works on paper. Toulouse-Lautrec is about people and how he viewed their qualities and their flaws. He lived through the construction of the Eiffel Tower but never depicted it in any of his prints, paintings or even in his drawings! Take away the Belle Époque clothes and you see the personality of the individual he is depicting. And here’s the clue to better understand Lautrec: read about the artist or performer he is depicting and you will appreciate more his rendition.
Why did you want to found a museum?
Greece and in particular Athens, does not have a strong art museum scene and there are only a handful of private museums like ours. We brought our collections to Greece, and after exhibiting them there we started lending them around the world. It is a bit ironic that as we speak three of our collections are traveling in the USA! The Lautrec collection is due for a two-year tour in Europe after the exhibition at the Bruce.
What do you find most compelling about Lautrec as both an artist and an individual?
In broad terms people associate Lautrec with a decadent life and always imagine him in the hands of prostitutes. He was also the friend of literary personalities who were looking forward to include him in their soirées. His association with brothels was not for personal indulgence. Instead, this is where he found his inspiration to depict the human side of that profession. Not a single print in his entire body of work depicts lewd or sexual behavior. Lautrec was an observer and could put on paper with a few pencil strokes, his subject’s character.
If you were to host a dinner party of artists, whom would you invite?
Lautrec, a most jovial individual, and Escher, the most taciturn person, who was, it is said, a member of the Hemlock Society. Next day Lautrec would manage to depict Escher thinking of his next intricate print and Escher, who was a tall guy, would be drawing a small guy seen from the top with all the visual distortions he could think of.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What I am today. A lucky guy with a wonderful wife, two amazing daughters and four adorable grandchildren. And some Lautrecs and Eschers to boot.
What are your other passions and hobbies?
Woodworking, playing classical piano, making wine.
What is your personal philosophy or maxim?
“Do the right thing.”