Casting the nets signed in Greek (lower left) oil on canvas 44 x 71 cm. (17 3/8 x 28 in.)
Provenance: Private collection, Athens
A lyrical poet of the calm sea, Volanakis perceived the seascape as a complex entity with unlimited expressive potential, allowing him to penetrate into its inner world while providing an outlet for the freer exercise of his technical abilities. Volanakis studies his themes in detail, brings out their character and, ultimately, incorporates them into a homogeneous whole.1 The scholars who have studied the artists work agree that he is at his best when rendering peace and calm2, as in Casting the nets. Volanakis is interested in creating a metaphysical stillness. Thats why he prefers calm seas and spring or summer skies. Rarely do his clouds warn of a coming storm.3 According to M. Vlachos, a leading authority on the artist, he is in constant communion with nature, in a composite relationship from which poetry emerges. Especially his love for and familiarity with small vessels produced works of pure lyricism.4
A serenely luminous painting that belongs to Volanakis Greek period (1884-1907), Casting the nets combines all three of the artists favourite themes (the sea, the vessel and the sky) and showcases the defining elements of his art: virtuoso brushwork, immediacy of execution and precision of detail (note his masterly handling of the moored ships in the background), harmony of proportion, exceptional compositional structure and colour sensitivity. The paintings central theme is fishing. As in many of his most characteristic works, the artist selects this subject in order to exploit its lyrical elements and not because it portrays lifes toil and struggle.5 The sidelong depiction of the boat creates a powerful diagonal that intersects with the equally strong diagonal defined by the floating net corks (compare Trawl boat, Tinos, Panhellenic Holy Institution of the Evangelistria Monastery). The point of intersection draws the eye to the human activity inside the boat and the wonderful reflections that play on the still waters (compare Caiques, Athens, Benaki Museum), while the standing figure wearing a white shirt establishes a central vertical set against the long horizon. The tranquil scene is charged by this masterly exertion of skill that truly enlivens the whole composition.
The fishing boat and the life of the fishermen in it are portrayed with great love. Note the diligence with which the nets are rendered (compare Sunset over the bay auctioned by Bonhams, Greek Sale 13.12.2005, lot 48, Fishing Boats, Athens, E. Koutlidis Foundation and Fishing Boats, Athens, National Bank of Greece Collection). One would assume that the insistence on netting is a result of a decorative intent. However, the wealth of detail and the interesting highlights of expressive colour are integral parts of the whole, while the human figures blend in with the surroundings and the natural environment. After all, for Volanakis the human form is but a detail of Creation.6
In this moving work, the suggestion of the atmosphere and the low horizon that gives full value to the spaciousness of the sky, are reminiscent of the great 17th century Dutch masters. In this vein, Volanakis depicts the seascape with descriptive accuracy and finesse, adding nonetheless, a Mediterranean feel that differentiates him from the western manner, endowing his work with a highly personal and unique style. Though the influence of the Munich School is evident, Volanakis, raised on the islands of Crete and Syros, had experienced the open horizons and the constantly changing sea. As Professor S. Lydakis notes, he could not limit himself to the cerebral conceptions and standardized recipes dictated by the academic teachings of the School of Munich. As a son of the Mediterranean, he had an inborn sense of light and colour and was fascinated by their expressive potential.7
The undisputed father of Greek seascape painting, Volanakis gave up a solidly established career in Bavaria to return with his family to Greece in 1883, partly on account of his wifes frail health. His choice of taking permanent residency in the seaside town of Piraeus, where his fathers family ran a profitable business, facilitated his observations and served as a constant inspiration in accurately rendering atmospheric changes, delicate nuances of the seascape and soft gradations of light and shade, capturing the warmth and poetry of the scene. According to M. Vlachos, one of Volanakis major achievements was the fact that he successfully used drawing - the greatest merit and one of the most prominent tools of the Munich Academy - to pursue lyricism.8
1M. Vlachos, The Emergence of Modern Greek Painting 1830-1930 From the Bank of Greece Collection, Athens 2002, p. 50 2Volanakis finest moments are those of absolute calmness and reverie, captured in works of exceptional compositional structure and colour sensitivity. (S. Lydakis, Constantinos Volanakis [in Greek], Adam, Athens 1997, p. 174), In his best pictures, the translucence and poetic atmosphere are reminiscent of Tiepolo (M. Vlachos, The Painter Constantinos Volanakis (doctoral thesis) [in Greek], Athens 1974, p. 125, note 2), The fine tones and luminosity of his painting, its reassuring and idyllic style, are akin to the work of Corot. (E. K. Frantziskakis, 19th Century Greek Painters [in Greek], Commercial Bank of Greece, Athens 1957, p. 20) 3Lydakis, Volanakis, a Pioneer, Kathimerini newspaper (Epta Imeres), 22.02.1998, p. 14 4Vlachos, The Painter Constantinos Volanakis, p. 105 and Constantinos Volanakis in Greek Painters [in Greek], vol.1, Melissa, Athens 1974, p. 202 5Vlachos, The Painter Constantinos Volanakis, p. 117 6Lydakis, Volanakis, p. 64 7Lydakis, Volanakis, p. 64 8Vlachos, The Emergence of Modern Greek Painting, p. 54