Monasteries, Mount Athos signed in Greek (lower right) oil on card 27.5 x 33 cm.
Painted c. 1923-24.
Provenance: Given as a wedding present from the artist's close friend Stratis Doucas to his brother Doucas Doucas.
Ranking among the greatest and most enduring achievements of modern Greek art, Papaloukas' Mt. Athos output is a key chapter in the development of the painter's own aesthetic and in the evolution of Greek art in the early decades of the 20th century. As perceptively noted by art critic A. Kouria, "The works of Spyros Papaloukas with subjects taken from Mt. Athos constitute a comprehensive statement on painting and a substantial contribution to modern Greek landscape. Moreover, beyond their purely pictorial values, they are repositories of a certain ethos, an attitude of broader import. With these works Papaloukas provided a composed yet daring answer to some of the period's foremost issues, such as those related to tradition and the nation's self knowledge." 1 The painter himself once questioned how an artist can create the Greek future if not thoroughly familiar with the Greek past?
In Monasteries, Mount Athos, painted during his one-year stay in the Holy Mountain in 1923-1924 accompanied by his close friend Stratis Doukas, 2 Papaloukas undertakes to fuse the rich Byzantine tradition of town description with the doctrines of modern art. As if he were making a Byzantine mosaic, he emphasizes the flatness of the surface and endeavours to liberate colour from its obligation to describe reality. This perception, which is also of pivotal importance to the art of the Nabis, Cezanne and the early 20th century cubist experiments, is reminiscent of the famous saying by Maurice Denis that a painting is first and foremost a flat surface with colours which have been arranged in a certain order. As Papaloukas himself once said "up there, in Mt. Athos I clearly saw that art in all its great manifestations through the ages has always been about form and colour." 3
The complex architecture of the monastic compound with its unexpected variety of colours is captured in soft and cool tonalities, without intense gradations, bathed in an ethereal, diffused light. One almost believes that the buildings are loosing their structural integrity and material substance. The slanted rooftops and slender chimneys emerge from a field of pink and violet hues, as if wanting to break out from the painting's narrow confines and reach the heavens. Dematerialized, the holy landscape no longer represents a specific place but reflects the infinite from whence ideal forms originate. As noted by the director of the National Gallery in Athens M. Lambraki-Plaka, "Papaloukas's expertly trained eye reveals the 'eternal becoming' of the world." 4
1. A. Kouria, 'Spyros Papaloukas' Athos' in Spyros Papaloukas /Apprenticing in Mt. Athos [in Greek], Athos 2003, p. 22. 2. See S. Doukas, 'The Painter Spyros Papaloukas in Mt. Athos' [in Greek], Epitheorisi Technis journal, no.31, July 1957, pp. 44-47. 3. See G. Gavalaris, 'Spyros Papaloukas: Longing for Infinity' in Spyros Papaloukas, Apprenticing in Mt. Athos [in Greek], Athos 2003, pp. 23-30. 4. See M. Lambraki-Plaka, 'Papaloukas' Painting' in Spyros Papaloukas, Painting 1892-1957 [in Greek], Athens 1995, pp. 33-48.