Girl reading signed 'G.JAKOBIDES' (upper left) oil on canvas 53 x 40 cm.
Painted c. 1882.
Provenance: Private collection, Athens.
Exhibited: Munich, Exhibition of Artists Club, 1882.
Literature: Jakobides Notebook. Estia, 7th year volume 14, Deltio Estias, 12 September 1882, no 298, p. 2. Calendar of the National Bank of Greece, 1986 (illustrated). O. Mentzafou-Polyzou, Jakobides, Adam Editions, Athens 1999, p. 71, no 52 (illustrated). O. Mentzafou-Polyzou, G. Jakobides-Retrospective, National Gallery and Alexander Soutzos Museum, Athens 2005, p. 156, fig. VIII (illustrated). Dictionary of Greek Artists, vol. 2, Melissa publ., Athens 1999, p. 36 (referred).
One of the auction discoveries of the decade and an exquisite example of Jakobides finest work, Girl reading is a museum-quality jewel by the quintessential painter of young children. A great late 19th-early 20th century Greek artist and a leading exponent of the Munich School, Georgios Jakobides was one of the most sensitive and at the same time perceptive painters who delved into childhoods psyche. This insightful psychologist and keen observer of human nature was also an unsurpassed draughtsman. This rare combination enabled the artist to render what he saw and felt with unmatched verisimilitude.1
The year Girl Reading was painted marks a milestone in Jakobides career with the emergence of his first renditions of children that would soon establish his reputation as the quintessential painter of kindermalerei. In her monograph on the artist, Athens National Gallery curator O. Mentzafou-Polyzou discusses the work at length: In 1882, Jakobides exhibited Girl reading at the Munich Art Society, receiving favourable comments for both its subject and style. A young girl holds a newspaper with utter seriousness and pretends to read in imitation of adult behaviour, directing her gaze through a pair of eyeglasses perched on the tip of her nose. The painter lends the figure a commanding presence through meticulous observation and detailed description. The fine handling of detail in the girls garments and the concentration of light and shadow effects on her face and hands endow the picture with a sense of genuineness and lively presence. Without abandoning the narrative, humoristic aspect ofkindermalerei, in this work Jakobides closely adheres to realist principles in the vein of W. Leibls2 truthful figuration, a kinship promptly noted by contemporary critics: The painting Girl reading exhibited by Jakobides is very attractive and beautiful. The harmonious unity of effect and the excellent draughtsmanship are reminiscent of the subject matter and style of the famed Leibl. The girl is completely absorbed in reading; the viewer forms the impression that, though silent, her glowing lips are vaguely moving. The overall handling is impeccable. Such naturalness should appeal to everybody.3 And it is not just the supreme clarity of the rendered figure that recalls 16th and 17th Flemish art and can be related to the work of Leibl, nor the painstaking realism in rendering detail, achieved through the concentrated lighting of specific areas, that bring out the works superior pictorial quality. It is mainly the isolation and presentation of a simple everyday story which stands on its own right without having to depend on complementary themes.4
For Jakobides, childhood hardly ever represented an idealized world. The artist has been recognized as a leading painter of children precisely because he managed to look beyond beautified sentimental stereotypes and capture a wide variety of childhood expressions, from the most contorted, as in Combing Out, to the most subtle and evocative, as in Girl Reading.
Against a neutral, monochromatic background, rooted in ancient Greek relief sculpture and Byzantine icon painting, which underscores and highlights the young sitters elegance and simple grandeur, Jakobides produced, with astonishing wealth of detail and tender minuteness of touch, a masterful rendition of the childs expression and facial characteristics. His greatness is reflected in his ability to observe and record not just an expression, not even the slightest change in expression, but the hint of an expression, one that has not yet become but is on the verge of becoming apparent. Without resorting to intense gesticulations, as in the various versions of the Bad Grandson, the artist captured on canvas the essence of childhoods incessant energy lurking under a seemingly cool surface and the subtle juxtapositions between the seriousness of learning and the instinctive tendency towards play.
1. M. Lambraki-Plaka, Georgios Jakobides, the Noble of the Munich School [in Greek] in Georgios Jakobides Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery-A. Soutzos Museum, Athens 2005, p. 12. 2. Wilhelm Leibl (1844-1900) was a Cologne painter, the leader of German Realism in the late 19th century, who exerted a great influence on the School of Munich. (P. and L. Murray, Dictionary of Art & Artists, Penguin books, 1985, p. 228) 3. Estia (1882) vol. 14, 12.9.1882, issue no. 298, p. 2. 4. O. Mentzafou-Polyzou, Jakobides [in Greek], Adam publ., Athens 1999, p. 72. See also Mentzafou-Polyzou, Jakobides, the Painter of Children [in Greek] in Georgios Jakobides Retrospective, p. 146.