Painted by Pablo Picasso (Malaga 1881 – Mougins 1973) in 1939, “Female Head” was donated by the artist to the Greek people in honour of its brave resistance during the Nazi occupation; it formed part of the French Artist’s Donation, made on the initiative of the Milliex couple in the aftermath of the War. It is a portrait of the photographer Dora Maar, Picasso’s companion between 1936 and 1943, as evidenced by the fact that this painting can be seen in a photograph by her from the studio at Royan, in 1940, where they retreated when Paris was occupied by the German army.
Dora Maar documented as a photographer the complete production process of the Guernica; her personality provided Picasso with the model for “the weeping woman”. Two and a half years after “Guernica”, the same attitude towards colour is noted in “Female Head”, conveying the pessimist mood prevalent during World War II.
This excellent work, acquired in 2002 by the National Gallery, may be considered as one of Volanakis’ most free “impressionistic” achievements. Painted in Munich, it depicts fishermen pulling the nets at sunrise. The boat and the fishermen are shown as silhouettes, as the light is coming from behind, from the background. The sky and the waves are flooded with light, which is rendered in orange and violet tones. The brushwork is free, and the entire work pulsates with life.
The “Crucifixion” of Christ and the two thieves, the good and the bad, was painted by Andreas Pavias in the latter half of the 15th century, using egg tempera on a wood panel, that is, adhering to the traditional Byzantine iconography process.
The scene is dramatically narrated in many episodes, against a flat golden background. Reminding us that we are dealing with an idealistic rather than a realistic painting, in Byzantine art the golden background denotes the sky; the figures are divine, transcendental, existing outside of time and place, in the infinite space-time. The figures seem lit from within themselves rather than by an external source of light. The scene is arranged in three levels, leading the eye upward, without perspective or depth. On the bottom left is depicted the resurrection of the dead, who can be seen rising from their graves; on the right hand side, the painter has portrayed the soldiers, playing dice for Christ’s crimson robe. In the middle ground, there is the colourful crowd, witnessing the tragic event; the main scene shows the Madonna fainting, supported by the Holy Women and St John, while St Magdalene is throwing her arms around the Holy Cross in lament. A colourful crowd in exotic costumes and hats, horses and a wealth of details complete the scene. On the upper, third section, in which the crosses with the bodies of Christ and the two thieves are portrayed, angels are flying about, in deep lamentation, while others are collecting the Saviour’s sacred blood in chalices. In the background on the left, an angular building structure evokes the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There is a multitude of always meaningful detail, such as the stork above the Holy Cross, piercing its own breast in order to feed its young ones – a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice in order to save Humanity from the original sin.
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.
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.