Summer table signed and dated 'Ghika 78' (lower right) oil on canvas 72 x 92 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, Athens.
Caught in the clear air like flies in amber, these wonderful and irresistible still-life objects seem fixed and immovable yet even less solid than the atmosphere that contains them. Highly silhouetted, evenly distributed in a frieze like manner and set in a shallow space, they recall relief sculptures crystallized on the pediment of an archaic Greek temple. Yet, their iridescent and sensitive colours in daring combinations and juxtapositions animate the pictorial surface reflecting the artists upbringing in an age-old tradition of dazzling light and pure colour. I suppose that the colourist in me is the real Ghika, something that I derive from my Greek heritage, as opposed to all that I owe to Cubism and to the School of Paris.1
This display of enthrallment with colour, along with the linear arrangement of objects, the symmetry and rhythm of the composition and the projection of all elements into a continuous, uniform and evenly illuminated plane where everything is clearly shown, are akin to the pictorial world of folk art and reminiscent of the powerful immediacy and disarming sincerity of Theofilos paintings. The whole picture is enchantingly beautiful, speaking to us in a lyrical idiom of quietude, contentment and the joie de vivre.
Moreover, on a deeper level, this peaceful work also displays an intricate lacework of sophistication, reflecting Ghikas fascination with still lifes capacity for transcending time and space constraints, as well as moving across different levels of reality and artifice - the latter being the basis of its interest to Cubism. For example, the angular treatment of the tablecloth echoes the fragmented planes and spatial distortions cultivated by cubism, while alluding to an enduring convention of Greek art through the ages. The character of the Greek schema, whether in antiquity, the Byzantine era or folk art, is by and large geometric.2
Paying tribute to the early 20th century cubist masters, Ghika included on the lower left a wood grain motif that features in many of Picassos and Braques still life paintings and collages from the 1910s. In the same vein, Ghika also took what is usually the one element that lies outside visual representation, the artists signature, and made it part of the composition as a decorative, embroidered motif, alluding to the cubist Juan Gris who playfully included his name in his pictures as a fragmented still life element.
Besides cubist and post-cubist concerns, which account for many of Ghikas stylistic choices throughout his career, there is also a host of additional direct or indirect references to the various histories and meanings of still life. The brilliant expanse of the white tablecloth, which occupies half the composition, had been especially popular in the 1860s as the ideal field for the display of still-life elements and was nowhere manifested to greater effect than in the work of Manet. Moreover, the two baskets resting on the tables right edge - an homage to Caravaggios and Zurbarans fruit or linen baskets that were signs of grace and purity, are effectively counterbalanced by the suggestive eroticism of the sliced watermelon on the left, while the teacup, a standard still life motif implying human presence, the porcelain bowl with orbs of fruit, a revered theme from Galizia in the early 17th century to Cezanne in the late 19th century, and of course the cut lemon, ubiquitous in Dutch still life and versatile in its meanings, demonstrate Ghikas extremely broad and varied range of interests, expressing a mature and creative integration of the artists intellectual and emotional relationship to the world.
1. E. Roditi, An Interview with Ghika, Charioteer quarterly, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 1960, p. 56. 2. N. Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, On Greek Art [in Greek], Neon Kratos journal, no. 5, January 1938.