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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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