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Press Conference, the “Paris-Athens, 1863-1940” exhibition staging at the National Gallery


The staging of the major exhibition “Paris-Athens, 1863-1940” at the National Gallery was announced at a press conference today by the Director of the National Gallery, Ms. Marina Lambraki Plaka and Eurobank EFG Deputy CEO Mr. Nikolaos Karamouzis. Eurobank EFG Private Banking Division is the exclusive sponsor of the exhibition that will run until 31st March 2007 and will be officially inaugurated by the President of the Republic Mr. Karolos Papoulias, on December 20th, 2006.

Referring to this important exhibition, Ms. Lambraki Plaka stressed that “the Paris-Athens” exhibition has been organized with the view to highlighting one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of contemporary Greek art. While the 19th century is dominated by the so-called Munich School, in the 20th century we witness the move of Greek artists to Paris, Europe’s artistic capital, where the most radical art movements were burgeoning. The dialogue between Athens and Munich represents a chapter which has been carefully considered and researched in recent years. The exhibition “Athens-Munich, art and culture in New Greece”, put together by the National Gallery in 2000 and its monumental catalogue have shed light on many facets of this chapter and dispelled many preconceived ideas.

On the contrary, the dialogue between Paris and Athens remains in the realm of legend. Greek artists who went to Paris for studies or further training brought back from the French capital, according to this mythicizing generalization, the light and the color that dispelled the “darkness” of the Munich School.

In Paris, however, there were many Greeks already since the 19th century. In fact, one of them, Nicolaos Xydias, had participated in the famous “Salon des refusés” of 1863 where Manet (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe) and Cezanne exhibited their works clearly revealing the genesis of a new art, which the public was not, however, ready to accept. Was Xydias painting radical? Certainly not, just as the work of other painters who studied and made a career in Paris, like Theodoros Rallis who belongs to the Orientalist School and Iakovos Rizos, who cultivated an upper middle class painting reflecting the spirit of the Belle Epoque, cannot be qualified as “modern”. 

The exhibition’s time frame was conditioned by the “Salon des refusés” of 1863 and the outbreak of the war in 1940, which forced the Greek living in Paris to return to Greece, thus marking the end of a period.

The parallel display of Greek artists’ work next to contemporary French paintings of similar style will help us a eliminate a commonplace in history writing according to which if the painters who went to Munich had chosen Paris instead they would have brought to Greece the spring of French modernism.

The new trends would come to Greece when political and social developments would have paved the way for their acceptance. Galanis and Maleas were in Paris since the beginning of the 20th century; Parthenis arrived a little later, followed by almost all the leading actors of the Greek artistic stage of the interwar period: Michalis Economou, Triantafyllidis, Pericles Vyzantios, Papaloukas, Kontoglou, Gounaropoulos, Engonopoulos, Hatzikyriakos-Gikas, Tsarouchis, Diamantopoulos, Bouzianis, Moralis and others. Greek artists had the opportunity of following closely the radical and successive revolutions, reversals and retrogressions taking place in Paris before World War I and during the interwar period. From Post-Impressionism and the fathers of modern art - Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin - emerged the radical movements of Cubism, Fauvism, late Symbolism (Les Nabis) to be followed by abstract art, metaphysical painting, the Dada movement, Surrealism and finally the “return to order” with the Classicism of the interwar period.

Which among these trends were embraced by the Greek artists living in Paris? This exhibition aims at providing an answer to this critical question. One could briefly conclude that Greek artists were hesitant. They did not follow radical movements. Fauvism adjusted to Greek light and became less violent. The influence of Symbolism was particularly persisting, as shown by the work of Maleas and Parthenis. The return to order of the interwar period was totally compatible with the nationalist introversion that followed the tragedy in Asia Minor. The interwar “Classicist” André Derain, who bears no resemblance to the explosive Fauvist of his youth would have a strong impact on the younger “30s Generation”. Galanis who went along with him would introduce Derain to the Greeks: Frantziskakis, Vasiliou, Moralis in his early work, would all feel the Post-Cubist magic of the artist’s portraits, still lives and landscapes. The intellectual and often rational Parthenis of the 30s rehashes the memory of Cubism in his own particular style. Hatzikyriakos-Gikas emerges as one of the most devoted as well as most creative followers of Cubism and Picasso. The juxtaposition of French and Greek works is fascinating, revealing.

In the exhibition we will view about 60 works of French artists coming from France, Switzerland, the USA, Canada, as well as from private collections in Greece including paintings by rôme, Cabanel, Boldini, Puvy de Chavannes, Maurice Denis, Valloton, Bonnard, Renoir, Cezanne, Manguin, Derain, Matisse, De Chirico, Picasso, Fautrier and others, alongside 160 paintings by Greek painters and 170 engravings by artists from both countries. The exhibition will also present the legendary editions of Christian Zervos and Teriade who played an important role on the Paris art stage in the interwar period.

This is one of the most important exhibitions ever organized by the National Gallery both from an art history aspect and a purely artistic and esthetic viewpoint, because it presents rare quality works by Greek and French artists”.

The exhibition is the outcome of collective work under the general supervision and coordination of Director Lambraki-Plaka who had the idea of staging the exhibition and the contribution of Curators Olga Mentzafou, editor of the monumental 450-page catalogue, Efi Agathonikou, Maria Katsanaki, Marilena Kasimati, Nafsika Litsardopoulou and Lina Tsikouta.

The exhibition is held under the patronage of the French and Greek Ministry of Culture.

Eurobank EFG Private Banking Division is the exhibition’s exclusive sponsor, in the context of a three-year sponsorship programme in cooperation with the National Gallery, which ends this year and which included also the exhibitions on “Georgios Iakovidis” and “Alekos Fasianos”.                             

Referring to the cooperation with the National Gallery, Eurobank EFG Deputy CEO Nikolaos Karamouzis noted that “this sponsorship is part of a comprehensive and vast social corporate responsibility and contribution programme, which our Bank is implementing in recent years. The social responsibility projects financed by our Bank focus on four particularly critical sectors of Greek society: Education, Sports, Environment and Culture. The cooperation of Eurobank EFG Private Banking Division with the National Gallery – Alexandros Soutzos Museum is a very important and decisive activity under which we have made the commitment for the last three years of sponsoring a major annual exhibition. We are presently contemplating with Ms. Lambraki to continue in the coming years this important collaboration with the National Gallery, which is a contribution to our country’s culture.

Mr. Karamouzis also indicated that in the field of art, the cooperation of the Private Banking Division with the School of Fine Arts is also very important. The sponsorship programme “The Great Moment for Culture: Promoting Young Artists”, launched in 2004, aims at promoting the work of young, talented artists who have graduated from the School and support them as they begin their artistic career.

This year, in particular, the Private Banking Division has also sponsored the Goulandris Museum of Modern Art for the opening of the Panagiotis Tetsis “Thalatta” exhibition that was successfully staged in June 2006.