19th century, the painting of the independent Greek state

The National Gallery - Alexandros Soutzos Museum

The years of Othon’s reign (1832-1862)
The history of modern Greek art coincides chronologically with the history of the independent Greek state and, to a degree, expresses its ideological choices. The institutional and functional role of art becomes apparent through the urgent concern of the new state to establish the School of Arts (31 December 1836), to bring foreign teachers to Greece and to send Greek students abroad on scholarships, mainly to Munich, so that in parallel with the other institutions, the painting language would also be “Europeanized”. Historical scenes and portraits were dominant during this first period of modern Greek art. The former had a more official character, since they were destined primarily for the decoration of public buildings, while the latter give us, in a particularly eloquent way, the imageof the new urban class where the marks of its rural origins are quite clear. The European centres which influenced this first period of modern Greek art were numerous: Italy, France, Austria, and Munich. All these lessons would ultimately lead to academicism owing to the rudimentary aesthetic horizon of expectation of the Greek society of that period.
History painting
History painting aimed at memorializing the Greek War of Independence. Its ideal image was required to promote heroism and the supreme sacrifice as a moral model and an incontestable alibi for historical continuity. At the same time, it could be used as a weapon of ideological propaganda. Theodoros Vryzakis, the son of a victim of the War of Independence, is the first Greek painter who studied in Munich and the main representative of this type of historical painting. The monumental size of these pictures, the ceremonial and theatrical compositions, and the meticulous style of academic idealistic romanticism bear witness to their official ideological role. Alongside the imposing historical compositions, a kind of idyllic romantic genre painting, connected to the War of Independence, also developed, and were once more determined by a philhellenic horizon of expectation.

This painting depicts the army camp of General Karaiskakis at Phaliron during Greek preparations to capture the Acropolis, besieged by the Turks, in April 1827. Greeks and philhellenes are arranged along a section in the foreground, while in the mid-ground on the right, the eye is guided towards the hill from which the leading officers of the army survey the battle field. In the background on the left can be seen the Acropolis. Almost in the centre, a Greek is leaning against an ancient marble in an allusion to the heritage of classical Greece. On the right, a priest is blessing the fighters. The officer in the blue uniform on the left is Bavarian philhellene Krazeisen, to whom the Greeks are grateful. He captured for posterity the figures of the 1821 freedom fighters as we know them today. It is from these drawings that Vryzakis sourced the portraits of the fighters on the hill: Karaiskakis, Makrygiannis, Tzavelas, Notaras, the Scot named Gordon, Englishman Hastings and Karl von Heideck, looking towards the Acropolis through a telescope. Heideck, who had first-hand experience of these events, painted the same subject, and Vryzakis quoted his painting much later, in 1855. The Greek flag sways on the top right. The gold-red and brown colours characteristic of Vryzakis' work are also pre-eminent in this painting. The description blends tension and suspense with release provided by charming genre interludes.

The artist who painted this work, Theodoros Vryzakis, was left an orphan in the War of Independence, when his father was hanged by the Turks. He studied in Munich and became the main exponent of historical painting.
This major painting evokes one of the most tragic and renowned episodes in the Greek struggle for independence – the heroic exodus of the inhabitants of the town of Missolonghi during the night of April 10, 1826. The composition is arranged along a perpendicular axis, without depth, split into two sections: the heavenly and the earthly one. In the heavenly section, on the axis, that is, in the centre of the composition, is seen the enthroned God in a golden cloud, blessing the fighters, while angels with laurel leaves and wreaths are preparing to coronate the heroes. The Greeks believed that their rightful cause enjoyed Christ's blessing. In the earthly section, on a wood bridge, Greek fighters are seen brandishing their swords, storming out of the wall gate. One of them is waving in his left hand the Greek flag with the cross on the pole. Some have already been wounded. Women and children follow. Mothers and children have fallen in the ditch underneath the bridge. Some are already dead, others lie dying. The fully armed Turks are waiting for the heroic fighters. Some of them are climbing up the walls on a ladder. Uproar, tension, drama prevail. It is as if we could almost hear the noise of weapons and the cries of the wounded. The painter has depicted the scene in great accuracy and meticulousness. This painting is romantic in spirit but academic, calligraphic, careful in implementation. A brown and gold tonal palette of black, white and red prevails.

Early greek portraiture
Early Greek portraits give us an image of the new urban class, in the process of development. Veterans of the War of Independence, islanders, and farmers were then being transformed into the bourgeoisie. They still retained their attire, customs and stern mien. Professional distinctions, elaborate costumes, and expensive jewellery were all used to depict the class, the role and the ideological image which the subject wished to promote. A more bourgeois character is to be found in the portraits by the Greek painters who had studied or lived in the large urban centres of Europe and addressed themselves to a more refined clientele (Aristeidis Oikonomou, Nikolaos Kounelakis)

An appealing as well as seminal work, this painting marks the beginning of Greek portraiture. A painting by an unknown to us artist beckons us to visit a young Greek painter's studio. He is wearing a characteristic costume of the Greek islands, sitting in front of his easel, adding the finishing touches to a male portrait. The sitter, a youth dressed in occidental clothes with a bow-tie is upright, examining his likeness in the painting. Another young man, probably an apprentice painter, also wearing an island costume and cap, is comparing the sitter and his image in order to evaluate the verisimilitude. These may well be young students of the recently established School of Arts, practicing the new genre of portraiture.

A Tyrolean painter working in Greece, Francesco Pige left us the most magnificent gallery of the Greek society in the early years of Independence. The frontal or three-quarter figures are portrayed looking towards the viewer, clad in traditional ethnic costumes and surrounded by elements either decorative or emblematic of their professions and social positions.

Kyriakoula Voulgari was the wife of Antonios Kriezis, who rose to political offices of the highest rank. She was member of Queen Amalia's entourage. One of her jewels, carrying the royal emblems, reminds us of the fact.

Pige's style is distinguished by his accurate depiction of faces and hands. An accuracy and clarity reminiscent of 15th century Flemish portraits, or those of the great French neoclassical painter Ingres. In capturing decorative details, though, such as embroidery, jewellery, in all their detail, Pige reminds us of naive, non-academic painters. He often forgets volume and perspective. Note how the flowers on Kyriakoula Voulgari's scarf are rendered.

Another of Pige's characteristic traits is that he does not use the brown colour, contrary to academic painters. To this he owes his clear and lucid colours.

The Bavarian artist Ludwig Thiersch was one of the first professors at the School of Arts. His model here is a woman of great personality, Kleoniki Gennadiou, one of the first Greek women painters and sculptors. She is elegantly dressed, holding a book in her left hand, probably a book of poetry, a detail suggesting that she was an educated, scholarly person.

Now for the first time, the figure is placed outdoors: the rock on the right, the sea, an island in the background, the blue sky with orange clouds, all suggest Greece. With her romantic beauty and her dreamy eyes, Kleoniki Gennadiou is a representative example of how a foreign artist envisioned the ideal Greek beauty.

The Cretan artist Nikolaos Kounelakis studied in St Petersburg but lived and worked in Florence, where he was inspired by the great masters of the Renaissance, such as Raffaello, as well as the neoclassicism of his contemporary French artist Ingres, also related to Florence. Both artists, Raffaello and Ingres, sought to capture the ideal figure.
Zoe Kambani was the artist's fiancee. She is shown putting her engagement ring around her finger, against a solid dark background, her eyes dreamy, as if lost in tender anticipation of love. An opened love letter on the table with the flower vase is the only additional element in the painting. The girl's comely face, softly modelled, and her plain blue dress underline the classical character of the work.

There is an allegory concealed in this family portrait. The painter lived in Florence, where the echo of a literary debate concerning the respective merit of the Liberal and the Fine Arts was still alive: Were the Fine Arts (painting, sculpture, architecture) equal to the noble Liberal Arts? The painter proposed his own answer in this painting, in which the Fine Arts exist side by side with the Liberal Arts. The artist himself becomes the symbol of the art of painting; the dome of the Florence Cathedral, shown depicted in the painting within the painting, suggests architecture, while invoking at the same time the city in which the artist lived. The bust of a classical Muse on the left suggests sculpture. These three fine arts coexist with poetry (symbolised by the small book held by the artist's mother in law, Euphemia Kambani), while his wife, Zoe Kambani is writing down musical notes, suggesting music. Of excellent arrangement, the composition is inspired by Renaissance models. Gravely suffering from tuberculosis, Zoe Kambani was to perish soon afterwards.

Τhe bourgeois class and its painters (1862-1900)
1862 is a landmark in both modern Greek history and art. Though the dethronement of King Othon brought an end to the Bavarian rule of Greece, in art a new period of “Bavarianism” began with the triumphant arrival on the forestage of Greek artistic life of the major representatives of the mature School of Munich: Nikephoros Lytras, Nikolaos Gysis, Georgios Iakovidis, Konstantinos Volanakis etc. 1862 also marked the end of a fruitful twenty year period at the School of Arts, under the directorship of the brilliant architect Lysandros Kaftantzoglou. The students who distinguished themselves at the School of Arts during the Kaftantzoglou period (1844-1862) were destined to become outstanding teachers and the founders of modern Greek art. The School of Arts managed to bridge the gap separating it from European academies in the second half of the 19th century. Greek academicism was frequently superior to that of its immediate German models and certainly more vigorous and genuine than the French academicism of the Second Empire of Napoleon III. Genre painting, the epitome of bourgeois taste since the time it developed in The Netherlands in the 17th century, was a prestigious preference of the new urban class which arose during the time of Charilaos Trikoupis. A form of portraiture for the haute bourgeoisie also achieved great success. Still life, the urban genre par excellence, and to a somewhat lesser degree the nude became part of the thematic repertoire of the mature phase of Greek academicism. The academic landscape gives us the stereotypical and unchanging image of a world based on a rural economy. At the same time, there emerged a genuine plein air painting, marked by free brushstrokes, colour and light; this plein-airism transmitted the image of a fluid and changeable world, where there were no certainties beyond the feelings of an individual at a specific moment.
Genre painting
From the middle of the 19th century on, and throughout Europe, under the direct influence of Positivism and in the context of the first industrial revolution and rapid urbanization, the traditional repertoire of painting was abandoned. The observation of daily life, nature and the objects which surround us, replaced historical and mythological subjects. However, this kind of observation did not always lead to Realism, which developed primarily in France. Genre painting is marked by a basic qualitative difference from Realism. It also gives us pictures of customs and everyday images, but reduces them to models of an idealized, harmonious, painless and passive life. Thus genre painting can function as an educational model for the people, according to Nikephoros Lytras.Genre painting in Greece coincided with the consolidation of the bourgeois class, which nostalgically returned to its rural roots. Indeed, Greek genre painting was inspired by the manners and customs of the Greek people, in the same way the literature of that period was. It is not by chance that the Studies of Folklore and Linguistics were created during the same period, while at the same time the dispute over the value of demotic Greek began. Realistic observation and idealism were reconciled in Greek genre painting.Genre painting gave Greek painters the opportunity to display their compositional abilities, to bring many separate motifs -- portraits, the still life, and the study of traditional costumes -- into the same pictorial space, while enabling them to develop their purely artistic talent in design, colour and the rendering of light and texture. When objective observation became more important than idealization, Greek artists were able to come close to a realistic representation.

Having received numerous awards, the "Betrothal of the Children", which exists in two variations, records a custom from Ottoman times. The parents engaged their children while still at a very young age, perhaps in order to protect them from being abducted by Turks. Arranged in a semi-circle in a village home interior, the merry scene is masterfully captured. In the centre of the painting, the priest has already put the ring around the puzzled boy's finger, while the little girl is looking down, shying away from the old man's call to come forward for the ring. The parents and other relatives merrily witness the scene. A man wearing the traditional Greek fustanella kilt is holding the wine vessel, a simple water pumpkin, ready to seal the event with a toast. On the right, the artist has placed a pile of utensils and luscious textiles, offering him ample opportunity to show off his skill in capturing profuse colour and variety in textures, from shiny bronze to silk. Warm gold-red hues and white colour prevail.The work was made after Gyzis' journey-pilgrimage to Greece and the Orient in 1872-3, along with his friend, compatriot and teacher, Nikephoros Lytras. It records his impressions from the colourful world of the Orient, the rich costumes and customs of the Greek people.

A talented artist, Ioannis Zacharias died at an early age. He left few yet high-quality works. The boy portrayed in this painting is most probably a student at the School of Arts, as it was possible to enrol at a very young age at the time. The interior in which he is seated is encircled by paintings and frames, while at his feet there is an open folder, from which he has taken out a drawing and examines it. This is a seminal work. First of all, for the seriousness with which the artist regards art education at such an early age. Moreover, it is also a work of artistic importance. The light entering through the window on the left caresses the forms and softens the outlines. Neither sharpness nor hard lines are anywhere to be seen. The colours strike beautiful and original harmonies in ochre, green and brown. It is a work of silence and recollection, expressed both through its subject and the plastic means used to interpret it.

Iakovidis is the last great exponent of the Munich School. Although he distinguished himself in many genres (genre painting, portraiture, still life), he was mainly known and loved by the people as a painter of childhood. Most of his works on this theme were painted in Munich, where he lived from 1877 to 1900, when he was invited to return to Greece and become the director of the National Gallery, which had only recently been established. Iakovidis inimitably captured the relation of the elderly, grandfathers and mothers, with their grandchildren.
This work features a dark-clad goodly grandmother, holding a cute blonde little girl in her lap; the child is wearing a white flowery apron and red socks. The bronze fruit plate has captured her attention — a great opportunity for the artist to create a wonderful still life. The scene unfolds against a white wall, contrasting sharply to the dark-coloured main subject. Everything has been painted with an extraordinary knowledge of drawing, colour, light as well as profound insight into the psychology of the relation between the two ages.

"The First Steps" is one of Iakovidis' best-known and loved works. The scene is set in a Bavarian village home interior, bathed in the light pouring through the open window. Dressed in dark cherry tones, the grandmother is holding the blond baby, full of courage and smiling, taking its first steps in the world, on top of a wooden table. The grandmother has left her red knitwear in a corner. Note this dash of red colour in Iakovidis' works; we have also seen it in his teacher, Nikephoros Lytras' paintings. The baby's elder sister, seated with her back towards the foreground, is waiting to receive the baby with her arms open in a protective gesture. Note also the effect of the light on figures: All white and blond, the baby is dazzling. It thus becomes the symbol of emerging new life. The incoming light, on the contrary, illuminates the girl's outline, lining it with a bright aura. The work exudes life and elan vital.
First shown at the Glaspalast exhibition in Munich in 1892, this painting marks a key change in Iakovidis' work regarding his interpretation of light. The natural light floods the scene as it comes through the window, adding vibrancy and ambiance.

The subject of the painting is the dirge for a sailor lost at sea. In an island house, women and children are wailing, seated around a red cap, all that is left of the lost sailor. The tragic figure of the father is seated on the far right, face down. An impromptu iconostasis has been set up on a chair on the right. The stool, thrown on the floor, symbolises the absence of the lost sailor. The scene is full of drama. Rendered in simplified brushwork and diluted paint, it proves the great artist's skill in drawing, composition and expression.

Orientalism, the nostalgia for the Orient, the cult of the exotic and extravagant, is part of the pathology of Romanticism. The Orient excited the artists’ imagination and fired their passions. In addition to Delacroix, who was inspired in many paintings by the Orient, a large number of French academic romanticism painters specialized in oriental subject matter. German Orientalism, although it lacked French ebullience, had similar characteristics. The joint trip of Nikephoros Lytras and Nikolaos Gysis to Asia Minor in 1872 took the character of a return to roots. Symeon Savidis, who actually came from Asia Minor, painted authentic orientalist scenes, inspired by his repeated trips to his fatherland, in which he captures not only the atmosphere but also the light that enlivened the profuse colour of the Orient.It is of course difficult to draw a clear line between Greek genre painting and Orientalism, as the scenes of everyday life in Greece had, as their natural decor, the traditional costumes set amid the context of a life spent in the countryside, which still bore a strong oriental flavour. Theodoros Rallis, a pupil of the French orientalist Gérôme, was the most genuine Greek orientalist. He had a dual vantage point: as a Greek he explored Greek orientalist subjects with a greater understanding but at the same time he couldn’t help seeing them like an academic painter of the French School.Orientalism, and the painting of Rallis in particular, allows us to evaluate the differences between the Paris academic painters (pompiers) and the artists of the School of Munich. The pompiers’ painting is less formal, both in subject matter – which frequently tends toward eroticism – and in technique: its palette is brighter and often presages the colour photograph.

The dramatic scene depicted in this painting is set in front of the sanctuary gate in the interior of an Orthodox church. The church has suffered great vandalism and sacrilege by the Turks; it has been robbed of its sacred utensils, seen piled up on the floor. Yet, the protagonist is the beautiful, almost naked Greek girl tied on the church bench. Her face conveys pain, outrage, anger.
The scene has been painted with the characteristic accuracy and mastery of French academic painting, seriously influenced by photography. The red belt is the only bold colour in this painting, in which brown tones are dominant.

Born in Asia Minor, Symeon Savidis was an authentic Orientalist. This painting records the ritual of lighting the pipe. The scene is set in a characteristic interior in a luxurious palace. The old man with the turban and lush caftan is patiently waiting for the pipe to be lit by his slave with the exotic, Mongolian features and the colourful, patched clothes. His face is illuminated by the flames from the fireplace and the reflection of the coal blown by the servant. This has been one of the favourite subjects for painters since antiquity. Dark brown and red tones prevail in this scene, which invokes silence and recollection.

Symbolism and allegory
By the end of the 19th century Symbolism spread throughout Europe functioning as an antidote to the prosaic character of Realism. It was inspired by those forces which had once been activated by Romanticism: dream, fantasy, poetry and ideas. Such artistic themes now became symbols of a symbolic content that referred to another reality. Content and form aspired to lure the viewer into emotional participation, to commune with poetry and mystery. The term Symbolism was introduced in the literary circles by the manifesto of the Greek poet Jean Moréas, which was published in Paris in 1886, while in painting it had emerged earlier. The entire repertory of the thematic, morphological and expressive content of Symbolism can be traced in the mature work of Gysis.Around the same time, Symbolism is sometimes fused with another formalistic current: Art Nouveau. The Art Nouveau style, which influenced all the arts throughout Europe, is characterized by flat forms and marked decorative qualities with a particular preference for floral motifs and curved lines.

Great painter Nikolaos Gyzis had strong religious and metaphysical feelings and questions in the latter part of his life. It is in this context that the magnificent, transcendental work on the Second Coming was born. The artist did many studies in preparation for this work. Some of them, verging on the abstract, their protagonist being the light, are on display adjacent to this work. Christ appears on the throne, illuminated against a golden-purple background. Golden clouds form homocentric circles around him. Golden rays emanate from the figure of Christ across the entire work. The Coming of the Saviour is heralded by four angels with trumpets, while Archangel Gabriel is flying above on the top of the composition. Myriads of angels are kneeling on the great staircase which frames the scene, leading to Christ, celebrating his coming. The work is also inspired by the Apocalypse of St John, but Gyzis, as he wrote in a letter, did not see Christ as a punisher and avenger, but as a sweet god who came to bring to the world light, salvation and comfort.

Free from the limitations imposed on him by his patrons, an artist who enlists members of his family as his models often expresses the inherent desire of his art. This bold portrait Gyzis made of his young and beautiful wife, Artemis Nazou, in 1890 is an example in question. The artist portrayed his wife seated, in a spontaneous pose, her one hand resting on a table, laid with a precious red table cloth. Her white silk dress is covered on the right-hand side with a brownish fur with purple tones, which the woman has put around her shoulders. Her smiling face is leaning slightly, creating shades in which the eye sinks into a reverie of darkness. The work has been painted with extreme freedom, luscious multiple-layer glaze coats and extraordinary boldness in colour.

Mature bourgeois portraiture
The mature bourgeois portraits present a picture of the haute bourgeoisie which was created under the government of Charilaos Trikoupis during the last decades of the 19th century. Bankers, industrialists, merchants, ship-owners and rich landowners, as well as certain intellectuals, would for many decades constitute the ideal clientele for the great masters of the School of Munich. Bourgeois portraiture was addressed to a higher social class noted for its advanced urban taste, considerable refinement, contacts with Europe and a completely different lifestyle. This may account for the commissions for individual and, more infrequently, family portraits given to the most renowned and fashionable painters, who often depict the sitters full scale and sometimes even largerthan life. The affluent bourgeois class would find in the figure of Nikephoros Lytras its poet. At the end of the 19th century, the style and technique of some portraits tend to become autonomous and to outweigh the importance of the person depicted. 

Nikiforos Lytras produced certain imposing, full-body portraits of ladies of the upper-class Athenian society; these works are distinguished by their refined elegance. The lady in the white dress and the long gloves poses against a flat white background, painted in a similar way to her white dress, that is, with brushwork of a subtly changing white, mixed, according to an impressionist principle, with some yellowish ochre in the bright areas, and with a light mauve, lilac, in the dark ones. These two complementary colours make the white colour iridescent and vibrant. The only dark tones in this extraordinarily painted symphony of white are the lady's brown hair, the lilac bouquet and the black fringes of her umbrella.

This small work is a characteristic example of the wealthy bourgeois as well as of bourgeois portraiture in the latter half of the 19th century. In a hall lined with paintings, statues, furniture, rugs, an elegantly dressed bourgeois has paused reading his foreign newspaper and smoking his cigar in order to look to the right, perhaps towards an invisible to us door. The painting is skilfully and meticulously executed, but it is of more interest to us here for its content and meaning than for its quality, although the latter is very high nevertheless.

The nude
The nude, as an independent category, returned to art, after the eclipse during the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance, around the middle of the Quattrocento (15th century).  From that time on it became an established practice that every nude shown in painting would have Aphrodite as its model, and should be “dressed” with the triumphal nudity of the goddess of love. The exceptions were many and frequently caused a scandal. Realism demystified the nude, which was stripped of the mythical aura of idealization (The Naked Maya by Goya, Courbet’s nudes, Manet’s Olympia).The study of the female nude model was not established at the Greek School of Arts until 1904. The collections of the National Gallery include quite a number of nudes, some of which are idealized, such as the one by Nikephoros Lytras modelled on Velasquez’s Aphrodite, and others realistic, such as the one by Lembesis.
Still life
The term still life, natura morta, was introduced into Italian art terminology in the 18th century. At the time, natura morta was still thought to be a second class category of painting and was juxtaposed to the “noble” natura vivente, the living nature, where man was the protagonist. Still life enjoyed a particular flourishing in the Low Countries in the 17th century. Still life developed in Greece in the last quarter of the 19th century in order to meet the demands of the new bourgeois class. Still life places an illusory emphasis on material goods, symbolizes prosperity, and is destined to decorate dining or drawing rooms.

This transparent vase with peonies, roses, carnations and a fine-stemmed hyacinth has been painted by Gyzis with freedom and artistic sensitivity. The fine gradation of pink and above all the interplay of light, which makes some of the hyacinth flowers glow, have been captured with the utmost gentleness. The bright colours of the flowers project strongly against a dark brown background.

Dialogue with light and colour
Landscape developed as a particular kind of urban painting in the 17th century in the Protestant Netherlands. The realistic landscapes of the Low Countries would become the models for the revival of interest in nature during the 19th century.This turn towards nature was fostered and completed by Realism. The group of French painters who, around the middle of the 19th century, formed an artistic community in a small village in the woods of Fontainebleau, near Paris, has become known as the Barbizon School. These artists were the first genuine plein air painters and paved the way for Impressionism.Going out of the shadowy workshop to the brilliant light of the outdoors was a revelation for painters. This signalled the birth of Impressionism: a form of painting that aspired to capture the momentary impression, before it was elaborated by the intellect. Through the assistance of optics, the impressionists broke light down into the pure colours that composed it, creating a semiology which did not imitate but rather interpreted the action of light. The impressionists worked with pure colours, resorting to supplementary tones in order to increase their brilliance and luminosity and managed to translate the pulsing vibrancy of the real outdoors. They painted with short, quick brushstrokes and invited the viewer’s eye to actively participate in the genesis of the work. Their paintings glow with luminosity, pulse and colour and transmit to the viewer a feeling of ebullient vitality.A “realistic” landscape painting slowly came into being in Greece during the last quarter of the 19th century. Plein air intimations and impressionist signs were to be encountered in many Greek painters such as Volanakis, Chatzis and Altamouras.After the Athens School of Arts Periklis Pantazis briefly sojourn in Paris and ended up in Brussels. There, joining radical groups of Belgian artists, he took part in the renovation of painting, despite his premature death. The plein air quests and subject matter of his mature works are related to those of the pre-impressionists Manet and Boudin.The light of the south, as manifested in Greece in the dry climate of Attica par excellence, describes volumes and shapes with sharp precision and without the gradations which distinguish the atmospheric landscapes of the north. This is the main reason why genuine Impressionism was not able to prosper in Greece. This suggestion is confirmed in all Greek painters who even well into the 20th century continued to paint in an impressionist idiom. Symeon Savidis can be considered a genuine Greek impressionist, despite the fact that he originated from the School of Munich.At the end of the 19th century most Greek artists felt the need to brighten their palettes and revitalize their painting with the touches of Impressionism, independent of their origins.The human figure in the plein air occupied a prime place among the plastic investigations of the impressionists.
The first impressionist signs

Following his graduation from the Athens School of Arts, Ioannis Altamouras continued his studies in Copenhagen, Denmark, encouraged by King George I of Greece. Although he died very young, when he was still 26, he managed to produce several works which can arguably be considered as true pre-Impressionist art. One of them is the "Copenhagen Harbour", made in 1874, that is, the same year when the first Impressionist group exhibition was organised in Paris. In this painting, the Copenhagen shore, with the dimly delineated buildings, the castles, the smoking smokestacks and the great ships at anchor, is a dark horizontal line, splitting the painting surface into two. One third is occupied by the sea, where a dark rowing boat can be seen, and two thirds are taken up by a sky with fleeting clouds. Water and sky are the main elements in this painting. In fact, time is the true protagonist here, flying and changing the face of the world from one moment to the next. Using swift brush strokes in order to capture these fleeting phenomena, the painter records the shifts of colour and their iridescence on the waves. Note the great variety of colours in the clouds and see if you can identify their respective reflections on the water. Complementary couples of blue-grey, orange-ochre and violet prevail.

This painting and the "Areios Pagos" by Periklis Pantazis were produced during the same year, 1880, and their makers were friends, they may well have been made at the same time, as was the habit of Impressionist painters. It is interesting to compare the two paintings in order to find out how two painters coming from two different schools – Lembesis from Munich and Pantazis from Brussels – approached the historical rock of the Areios Pagos on a summer day. Let us first see the elements they have in common: the two paintings share the same dominant colour tonality, based on the interplay of gold-yellow ochre on the rock and grey-blue in the sky. In both paintings, shades are purple. Therefore, both painters are familiar with the Impressionist "recipe." So, where is the difference to be found? In "writing," in brushwork, and in rendering volume. Lembesis' writing is meticulous; he draws and captures every detail in the subject. The rock, on the other hand, maintains all of its compactness, it is solid. On the other hand, let us see how Pantazis, who is more of a true impressionist, approached his subjects. His technique is utterly different. Here, free brushwork can be seen at work, "building" the form. The rock is not trapped within a closed outline; rather, it is an open form. Also note the sky and the clouds, rendered in the most agile brushwork. In the dry Attic light, of course, forms maintain their shape, they are easy to draw clearly. One is therefore at a loss as to which painting is the most faithful interpretation of reality.

As this painting and the "Areios Pagos" by Lembesis were produced during the same year, 1880, and their makers were friends, they may well have been made at the same time, as was the habit of Impressionist painters. It is interesting to compare the two paintings in order to find out how two painters coming from two different schools – Lembesis from Munich and Pantazis from Brussels – approached the historical rock of the Areios Pagos on a summer day. Let us first see the elements they have in common: the two paintings share the same dominant colour tonality, based on the interplay of gold-yellow ochre on the rock and grey-blue in the sky. In both paintings, shades are purple. Therefore, both painters are familiar with the Impressionist "recipe." So, where is the difference to be found? In "writing," in brushwork, and in rendering volume. Lembesis' writing is meticulous; he draws and captures every detail in the subject. The rock, on the other hand, maintains all of its compactness, it is solid. On the other hand, let us see how Pantazis, who is more of a true impressionist, approached his subjects. His technique is utterly different. Here, free brushwork can be seen at work, "building" the form. The rock is not trapped within a closed outline; rather, it is an open form. Also note the sky and the clouds, rendered in the most agile brushwork. In the dry Attic light, of course, forms maintain their shape, they are easy to draw clearly. One is therefore at a loss as to which painting is the most faithful interpretation of reality.

Impressionistic remnants

Iakovos Rizos, who studied in Paris, expresses the spirit of the Belle Epoque, that is, of the art developing in Paris around 1900. Beautiful, elegant women portrayed in luxurious palaces or gardens are the main theme of his paintings. This is a pleasant, straightforward painting.
Painted in 1897 and receiving the silver medal in the 1900 Paris World Fair, the ""Athenian Evening"" is one of the most charming works dating from the late 19th century. The work expresses the mood of euphoria and well being characteristic of the wealthy bourgeois life in the late 19th century. On the terrace of a neoclassical house in Plaka, a handsome Cavalry officer is reciting verse to the delight of two beautiful Athenian ladies who are listening to him enchanted. A sweet sunset envelops the Acropolis in its orange veils in the background, infusing the forms and smelting them into the atmosphere. The work may ignore schools and Impressionist doctrines, yet it conveys a contagious poetic effect that speaks to the heart.

The "Children's Concert" is one of Jakovides' boldest works with respect to technique and lighting. The merry scene is set in the bright interior of a Bavarian village home, lit up by two windows, one on the left and one in the centre. These windows doubly illuminate the scene, and the light entering in two opposite directions poses a problem, which the artist resolves masterfully as we shall see. But let us first meet the characters: the four young musicians. The first one, seated, is playing the drum, the second is straining in order to blow into the trumpet, the third one, half-hidden, is probably playing the harmonica, and the fourth one, standing further on the side, in lack of a proper instrument, is blowing hard into a bright red watering bucket. All the children are barefoot. Which is the audience of this children's concert? The mother, seated on the left, close to the window, but mainly the little sister, her arms extended towards the musicians. Another older sister is seated in front of the main window, full of flowers. The painter is "watching" the scene from above, which is why the floor boards have been drawn in perspective.
The protagonists in this musical, vibrant feast, are light and colour. The entire scene is bathed in orange hues, which become even bolder as the painter places their complementary colour, blue, adjacent to them. The light comes from two opposite directions, making the volumes of the children dark and heavy, whereas the outlines are intensely illuminated. Thus, the first boy's shirt becomes almost transparent. The face of the elder girl has "melted" into the light. Here, Iakovidis pushes his art to the extreme, in other words, Impressionism.
This work has been painted in two versions. The earlier one was first shown in 1896, during the first Olympic Games in Athens. Its colours were on the cool, grey side, as Emmanouil Roidis remarked. Iakovidis repeated the painting in order to send it to the 1900 Paris World Fair, where it earned a prize. This brighter version is the one we are now able to enjoy at the National Gallery.

Credits: Story

Texts: Marina Lampraki-Plaka,Professor of the History of Art, Director, National Gallery, Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens
Project leader: Efi Agathonikou, Head of Collections Department, National Gallery, Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens
Guest curator: Dr. Alexandros Teneketzis, Art Historian, PostScriptum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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