Bonhams: Greek-ness celebrated in the Greek sale May 2, 2018

Art and auctions, Events, Paintings and Sculpture, People and Places — By on May 1, 2018 at 10:44 AM

Louis Loizou, Anastasia Orfanidou and ‘Young Man from Piraeus’

Bonhams: Greek-ness celebrated in the Greek sale May 2, 2018

By James Brewer

Spanning a century and a half of achievement, masterpieces of Greek modern art are going under the hammer at London auction house Bonhams.

The disposals will be at the headquarters of Bonhams at 101 New Bond Street at 2pm on Wednesday May 2.

Girl with Daisy, and Ship in Storm.

The breadth of this representative selection of Greek art must come as a surprise to some art-lovers.  This heritage is grossly under-represented in the great national galleries of many other countries. What stands out from the excellent Bonhams catalogue is the resourcefulness of the painters in interpreting slices of life amid peace and war, as conflict raged over many periods with the very survival and liberation of the nation at stake.

Bonhams for its preview devoted two large rooms to the rich diversity of the nation’s art from the serenity of the 19th century, with along the way the transformative impetus of the 1930s Generation, to the vibrancy deployed by contemporary figures such as Christos Bokoros.

Odalisque.

Louis Loizou, chairman of the Hellenic Bankers Association-UK, welcomed his members and guests to a preview and champagne reception on April 30, and introduced Anastasia Vasiliki Orfanidou from the Greek division of Bonhams. She outlined the art-historical context of the 113 lots to be sold. She spoke of the early 19th century when the background was the establishment of the Greek state, and the second half of that century which was a landmark for modern Greek art. In the 20th century, Greeks became part of the wider avant-garde in Europe; and the impact of the 1923 expulsion of many thousands of Greeks from Asia Minor was widely traumatic.

“The history of Greek painting over the past 200 years has been characterised by the quest for Greek-ness,” said Ms Orfanidou, who is originally from Thessaloniki and has wide experience in art gallery and auction specialisms in London.“As the wide range of works in our sale demonstrates, different generations of Greek artists have sought and found their own distinctive way of capturing the nation’s identity and soul.”

Vacances, The brave hero Skaltsodimo, and The Liberation of a Princess.

Surrounded by gorgeous objects, visitors to the salerooms remarked on the nobility of much of what was on display, a characteristic of the Greek temperament here. A large screen projected some of the leading highlights, adding to the sense of wonder.

The preview included some of the leading names – Engonopoulos, Lytras, Ghika, Fassianos, Ralli and others – and underlined that while some hewed to wider European traditions, others remained staunchly individualistic. Interestingly there appeared little trace of the icon heritage nor of religious allusion. Conversely there was considerable influence of legend, Greek village life and landscape, and marine patrimony. A few of the artists survive, mainly in their seventies or eighties, and continue their output.

Women in the Yard. By Michalis Economou.

Greek practitioners were not initially at the heart of European art movements, but they quickly aligned themselves with several major schools.

Outstanding for its charm is a study by Georgios Jakobides (1852-1932) Girl with Daisy. This oil on canvas celebrates a country girl in the fields wearing a traditional Greek costume and a red headpiece adorned with silver coins. Against a luminous background of shimmering light, she plucks the petals of a white daisy. Her unpretentious and slightly shy mien wins over the viewer. Bonhams notes that the vigorous brushwork is informed by Impressionist principles. his handling of paint came closer to what we know today as German impressionism.

Repairing the Blanket (detail).

During the 1890s Jakobides broke from conventional portraiture to paint countryside figures. Bonhams says that he is an unsurpassed draughtsman and keen observer of human nature – he managed to look behind the sentimental stereotypes. In 1886, he wrote: “I am trying to blend the natural with the beautiful.” The estimate is £40,000 to £60,000. By the same author, another painting, A smiling Girl, oil on panel, is estimated at £10,000 to £15,000.

Nearby was hung an epic and turbulent contrast. The anxiety-laden Ship in Storm, oil on canvas by Jean Altamoura (1852-1878) exemplifies his “compelling mature work.” Tragically though the promising career of this exceptional and pioneering Greek seascape-ist was cut short in his twenties. Even so, Altamoura showed an acute awareness of the artistic trends of his time, not only of the Danish or Flemish schools but of British and French marine painting. Altamoura pursued graduate studies in Copenhagen before returning to Greece.

View of Symi

In the storm scene, the eye is drawn to the tilted mast of a sailing ship buffeted by waves and new, menacing storm clouds to the right. The low horizon contributes to the illusion that the vastness  of sky and sea expands far beyond the limits of the picture. The Bonhams description refers to the “shimmering sky with silvery travelling clouds and choppy sea.” Its delightful note says: “Capturing the freedom of the sea and the fleeting beauty of natural phenomena in a manner that usually eludes the painstaking style preached at the academies, the young painter developed a fresh approach to the seascape… that distantly echoes the splendour of 17th century marine painting.”

View of Symi (detail)

Eroticism was a motif of Théodore Jacques Ralli (1852-1909) as demonstrated in his Odalisque. Women are draped on beds, half clothed with alluring looks. In this oil on canvas, the tender flesh of the nude body is a tribute to the artist’s training in a Paris studio which led him to focus on intimate genre scenes throughout his career. Away from the boudoir, Ralli is represented by another oil on canvas, Resting by a haystack, from a private collection in Athens.

Towel and Green Soap.

Elsewhere, from Bost (Chrysanthos Bostantzoglou) (1918-1995) we have The brave hero Skaltsodimos, oil on board. The hero poses with rifle, rose and holy cross. Next to that work is a study unusually drawn with felt pens on paper, the stylised The Liberation of a Princess, by Georgios Sikeliotis (1917-1994). This was painted in the early to mid-1970s.  To the left of that is the oil on canvas Vacances, showing a simple table topped by a basket of fruits and with bread, painted in Paris in 1963 by Mayo (Antonis Malliarkis) (1905-1990), and from a private collection in Athens. Oil on canvas.

Most startling perhaps is the trompe l’oeil Towel and green soap from Christos Bokoros, born 1956. Composed in Painted 1995-1996, it is here mounted on an easel for even greater effect. Bokoros has a habit of salvaging old pieces of wood to give them a second chance of life. The weathered planks become what he calls “altars of offerings” to which he adds images, in this case a plain towel and bar of soap. This illusionist piece will recall the low wooden tables in Greek country homes. “In his affection for the familiar in everyday life and his nostalgic longing for traditional values, Bokos shares a strong common bond with the 1930s generation, elaborating on the discourse of ‘Greek-ness’ and raising issues of cultural continuity,” comments the catalogue. Yours for possibly £12,000 to £18,000.

Vol parmi les monuments.

Another work from Bokoros is Olive Tree – Candle which is seen as a poignant message of optimism and spiritual rebirth. It marries the image of the flame, a sacred symbol of hope and remembrance, with the dark silhouette of the olive tree, which has nourished humankind across the Mediterranean for thousands of years. The work has an estimate of £18,000 to £28,000.

Surrealism, now: Yannis Gaitis (1923-1984) has here three works, including Vol parmi les monuments. This oil on canvas was laid down in 1981-82. Gaitis has a fascinating theme of identikit men in plaid jackets and sporting summer or bowler hats. He appears to be satirising the uniformity and sterility of modern city life. Born in Athens, Gaitis had a studio in Paris for the last 26 years of his life.

Listening to the presentation.

Sofia Kalogeropoulou, born 1946, has an evocation of Greek island life in View of Symi. The oil on panel brings out enticing features of Symi, a small island in the Dodecanese, north of Rhodes and 9 km off the Turkish coast. Ms Kalogeropoulou makes anyone living under often-grey London skies long to be beside the sun-blessed, picturesque harbour of Symi, crowded with pastel-coloured houses, tavernas and boutiques, or to be embarking on a boat trip.

A dip back to the genre era: Vassilis Germenis (1896-1966) gives us the quiet Repairing the Blanket. The oil on canvas is from a private collection in London.

Admiring the ‘Greek-ness.’

Young Man from Piraeus an early work by one of the major figures of the 1930s generation, Yiannis Tsarouchis (1910-1989), was painted in 1939. It explores the notion of Greek-ness through one of a working class young man from the seaport, the town from where the artist hails. The subject is holding a komboloi (worry beads) and a cigarette as he relaxes in a coffee-shop which has the ubiquitous three-legged metal table and wooden chair. The work was acquired directly from the artist and has been in private hands since then. Fresh to the market, it is estimated at £50,000 to £70,000.

Louis Loizou.

Pulling in the Catch by Constantinos Volanakis (1837-1907) is a virtuoso work from the seascape specialist. Executed with spontaneity, it demonstrates the artist’s sense of space, precision of detail, harmony of proportion and unity of effect. Painted in 1869, the work is estimated at £40,000 to £60,000.

Anastasia Orfanidou.

Erotokritos and Aretoussa by Theofilos Hadjimichael (1871-1934) is expected also to attract a firm price. Estimated at £30,000 to £50,000, the painting from 1930 is based on Erotokritos, the Cretan poetic masterpiece of 1640. That tells of the love between the eponymous hero and Aretoussa, daughter of an Athenian king. Although Theofolis took some liberties with the story and the setting, the composition is imbued with a profoundly Greek atmosphere fitting for a hero who ranks alongside Alexander the Great as a symbol of Hellenism.

l to r: Miria Kyprianou, Leila Lulu with Dr. Evelyn Stefanakis

One of the greatest living Greek artists, Angelos, is represented in the sale by his oil painting Prayer, dating from 1995 and deploying his trademark mastery of light against the dark. The estimate is £15,000 to £20,000. Many of those attending the Bonhams preview had the privilege of attending the private view on April 27 at the Hellenic Centre of the grand retrospective of two decades of the work of Angelos, which is on display until May 8.

Mr Loizou is also photographed here standing close to Molyvos, an oil painting by Spyros Vassiliou (11902-1984) that is a stark almost naïve-style harbour scene.

The event was organised by the Hellenic Bankers’ Association-UK, www.hellenicbankers.org.uk

Bonhams is at 101 New Bond St, Mayfair, London W1S 1SRwww.bonhams.com

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