Art in Corfu until the 40’s
Written by Dr. Athanasios Christou
PaintingMany artists, who had begun their creative course during the 19th century, continued to do so throughout the first decades of the 20th century. Giallinas, Bokachiabis and Samartzis carry on producing notable work , which influences to a great extent the artists born in the last and first years of the 19th and 20th century accordingly. Andreas Vranas (1860-1933), Markos Pierris (1865-1954), Spyridon Pizanis (1870-1927), Eleni Prosalenti (1870-1910), Olga Prosalenti-Papadimaki (1870-1930), Stephanos Stratighos (1876-1944), Nensi Capodistria (1881-1965), Stepfanos Trivolis (1883-1944), Stephanos Voulgharis (1890-1953), Maria Desylla Lavranou (1893-1987), Aggeliki Pana, (1897-1969), Ten Florias (1897-1969), Aglaia Papa (1903-1984), Fillipos Makochis (1911-1985), Nikos Zervos (1901-1988) and Aggelos Kontis (1912-2005), are only a few of the artists who prolonged the traditional creations of the previous century. Vranas, interested in a wide range of subject matters, is at his best in religious representations, portraits and landscapes. From his religious works, it can easily be inferred that the artist employs the painting styles which prevailed in the Ionian islands as early as the 18th century while he adds and uses western principles. In contrast, the decisive role in his portraits is entailed in the realistic figurative language. Undoubtedly, the main type of painting that appeals to Vranas is landscapes for which he uses water-colours. Just as Bokachiabis, Skarvellis and Giallinas, he adds his own contribution in his clearly personal and poetic interpretation of the natural scenery of his homeland’s landscapes. Corfiot water colour artists prolong the traditions of the previous century by often renewing their means of expression. Some communicate in a more traditional language while others test new grounds, embody fresh elements and endevour to go beyond their teachers’ paintings. Among the former, painters such as Spyridon Pizanis and Stephanos Trivolis, are particularly interested in landscapes based on a realistic vocabulary and the study of light. On the other hand, Aggelos Kontis is the one who will boldly introduce a new language through the use of expressionistic elements. Kontis’ plurality of colour and the clearly rhythmic character of the colour development constitute a tremendous piece or artwork, which directs Corfiot landscape paintings in a whole new direction. Surpassing the realistic elaborated depiction, Kontis succeeds in capturing the special features of space and translate it – in often unrealistic colours- on the picture’s surface. In this manner, using the organizational and expressive authority of colour, the artist creates some of the most remarkable works of Corfiot landscape painting. Nikos Zervos, remains loyal to landscape painting, with artwork of rural tendencies incorporating elements mainly, from the French tradition. Being reluctant to use water-colours, and mainly using oils, Zervos incorporates elements of impressionism in his style, thus reaching a clearly lyrical result which deifies light on the picture surface. Regarding Ten Florias, we now encounter an artist who takes advantage of his stay in France to acquaint himself with all the new tendencies in the beginning of the century. He then transfers some of them to his work in a personalized style. His artwork, is initially close to the post-impressionist tendencies and later changes into cubism and post-expressionism. While the former will become the foundation for the creation of his landscapes, the latter –cubism and post-expressionism- will be used in his nudes and his other compositions. He therefore proceeds to a combination of cubist paintings and richness of colour, both adding dynamism to his work. Aglaia Papa is an artist who will gradually adopt to abstract painting, who had a predilection for portraiture painting. Here, the artist has the potential to move beyond the external depiction and to trace the more particular features of the portrayed figures. She distances herself from the dark palette of the Ionian art of the past by creating works distinguished for their expressive power. In the rest of her painting, despite starting with realism, Papa will soon find her way to abstraction. In her abstract paintings, the artist’s creations communicate through their richness of colour, the firm composition and their internal rhythm.
SculptureIn the beginning of the 20th century sculpture in Corfu registers its biggest decline. Evanghelos Kallos along with certain members of his family, continue to create a few sculptures. These are mainly in cemeteries. At the time, sculptures are no longer as majestic as in the past, they come in limited numbers and their subjects- ornamental or symbolic- are usually too conventional. These works reflect the financial crisis of the times since the cost for constructing sculpture is often exorbitant for the middle-classes. Sculpture having produced in Corfu some of the first modern Greek artists, just doesn’t seem to have retained its vitality, not enough in any case to go on displaying its creativity through time. The few sculptors coming from Corfu, do not acquire workshops nor do they settle in their birthplace. Instead, they prefer to go to Athens to study and remain there in the hope of more commissions. Apart from Evanghelos and Iracles Kallos, Ioannis Kostayolas also makes an appearance in sculpture, with burial tombs, which do not, however, escape the established norms of the past. They stick to styles which have already been used in excess during the past decades, repeating themes, distinguished mainly for their rhetorics. Nevertheless, during the first decades of the 20th century, public sculptures are mounted, mainly honorary busts, in areas of Corfu town. These come directly from Athenian workshops. It is thus noted that commissions are now placed to other centres, capable to serve the needs of the local society, needs no longer covered by the local artists. It is at this precise time that busts of Nikolaos Halikiopoulos-Mantzaros and Petros Vrailas-Armenis by Evanghelos Kallos, the bust of Lorentzos Mavilis by Petros Roubos, the bust of Nicolaos Mantzaros, by Michael Tombros, the statue of Georgios Theotokis by Georgios Dimitriadis and the Memorial of the Fallen by Vasos Falireas, are all mounted in Corfu town. In most cases, these works are within the boundaries of the classic style. The statue of Georgios Theotokis, mounted on a pedestal emphasizes its distance from the spectator and attempts an idealistic impression of the person, following faithfully the classic principle. The bust of Lorentzos Mavilis also follows the same principles and it constitutes one of the most beautiful attempts of implementing the classical principles in Modern Greek sculpture. At the memorial of the Fallen, we encounter the same characteristics. As its central theme, we have a soldier holding a gun while there is also a series of collateral elements such as those of the oil lamp and the laurels. On the contrary, through Michalis Tombros’ bust of Nicolaos Mantzaros, we see the new directions of the Modern Greek Sculpture as well as the transition to realism by an attempt to document the real and the movement from the external to the internal. With an accurate depiction of the figure’s facial features, the artist achieves the internal qualities liberation of the portrayed, while eliminating the distance between the spectator and the figure carved in the cold white marble.
EngravingThe art of engraving developed almost simultaneously with sculpture and painting in Corfu. It seems that it was the Ionian artists again who impose secular subjects, initiating this new chapter in the history of modern Greek engraving. The possibilities opened up by the School of Fine Arts of Pavlos Prosalentis in Corfu, the private School founded by another Corfiot, Antonios Villas, who even advertised private engraving lessons, as early as 1814, the public’s familiarity with engravings, since many were in circulation in the Ionian Islands, and a need for the diffusion of art created the conditions for an admittedly timid start during the 19th century, which, nonetheless, constituted a breakthrough for Greek art. The subjects of the first secular engravings were defined, as might be expected, by the needs of the times. Works like the “Republic of the Seven Islands” by Gerasimos Pitzamanos, the portraits of Georgios Karaiskakis, Lord Byron and Ioannis Capodistrias by Georgios Papageorgiou or Kalarrytiotis, originating from Epirus, who emphasizes his Corfiot training by mentioning it next to his signature, and the figure of Pavlos Prosalentis, engraved on stone by his student Ioannis-Vaptistis Kalosgouros, reveal thematic pursuits centered around symbolic representations and figures related to the Greek War of Independence. However, notwithstanding their importance, efforts in the field of engraving remained rather isolated. Not only was the mid-century decline temporary, but it eventually led to the simultaneous emergence of three prominent figures of modern Greek engraving. The triumvirate of artists born within the last 20 years of the 19th century, Zavitsianos in 1884, Kogevinas in 1887 and Ventouras in 1899, marked the culmination of the art of engraving in the Ionian Islands. Their breadth of pursuits and quality of expression marked indelibly not only Corfiot art, but also the course of modern Greek engraving. The coincidence of two major figures of modern Greek art, Konstantinos Parthenis and Dimitrios Galanis living in Corfu at that very time is certain to have also played its part. This group of artists and cultural figures1, the “Group of the Nine” , in their peak during the 1920s, shaped a new environment favourable to intellectual and artistic endeavours and initiated truly pioneering pursuits in both the morphoplastic and the technical fields. In this context, Markos Zavitsianos (1884-1923), the oldest of the three, inspired by the socialist ideals to which he had been introduced during his stay in Munich and by his contact with Kostas Hatzopoulos, devoted himself to an art characterized, on the one hand, by a realism with an obvious aspect of social criticism and, on the other hand, by a desire to produce work addressed to a wider public. The illustration of Konstantinos Theotokis’ books offered him the opportunity to fulfil this latter goal. While still alive, he saw the publication of the novel “Honour and Money”, but his other illustrations for Theotokis’ “Mrs Kerkyra’s belongings”, “Short Stories”, “Corfiot Stories”, as well as for the “Shadow of the fig-tree” by Petros Vlastos were published after his death, with many problems in matching illustrations to the texts. His preferred technique was that of copperplate enabling him to translate texts into images by using his powerful drawing and detailed representation, characteristics he considered to be essential. Lykourgos Kogevinas (1887-1940), second of the three and also a member of the above-mentioned group of eminent cultural figures, had a different starting-point. Fascinated by the achievements of French landscape painting which he came to know during his stay in Paris, he concentrated on the depiction of monuments and landscapes of Greece. He published many albums with engravings, among them “Mount Athos’ Monasteries”, “Landscapes from Ancient Greece”, “Byzantine and Frank-occupied Greece”’ “Corfu” and ‘Greek Ships from the Independence War”, which display his entire course in engraving and show his particular interest in landscapes. He, as well, had a predilection for the technique of copperplate, which enabled him to fully display the drawing elements of his work and the narrative power of his images. Youngest of the three, Nikolaos Ventouras (1899-1990), the so-called “hermit of Corfu”, transformed his art into an internal experience and vision. A self-taught engraver, living isolated in Corfu and totally dedicated to his art, he was the boldest of them all. Visual reality was always his starting-point, but he never confined himself to its simple depiction. He “felt” the image, tried to find its inner harmony and recreated his vision. He took common subjects, mostly ships, spots in the town of Corfu and landscapes of its countryside, and transformed them into images full of poetry. In his early works he was still attracted to realistic depiction and he also often used cubism in his own highly personal manner.
1.Members included Konstantinos Theotokis, Markos Zavitzianos, Lykourgos Kogevinas, Nikos Leutheriotis, Kostas Hatzopoulos, Irini Dendrinou, Lambros Porfyras, Petros Stamatopoulos and Antonios Mousouris.