The painter's family signed 'D. Galanis' (lower left) oil on canvas 170 x 130 cm.
Painted in 1920-1921.
Provenance: Girardin collection, France. George Stringos collection, Piraeus.
Exhibited: Paris, Galerie La Licorne, 'L'Artiste en famille', Group Exhibition, 1921. Paris, Galerie La Licorne, Exposition D. Galanis, 3.3- 18.3.1922, no 22. Athens, Iliou Melathron, D. Galanis Retrospective Exhibition, 26.5 - 9.6. 1928, no 11.
Literature: Avenir, 21.2.1921 (referred). Le Temps, 16.11.1921 (referred). G. Gabory, Galanis, Les peintres francais nouveaux, no 25, NRF, Paris 1926 (illustrated). D. Evangelidis, Great Greek Encyclopaedia (Galanis entry), vol.8, Makris publ., Athens 1926, p. 39 (illustrated), 40 (discussed). G. Petreas, Galanis, Difros publ., Athens 1955, p. 53 (illustrated). F. Yofyllis, History of Modern Greek Art 1821-1941, vol.2, To Elliniko Vivlio publ., Athens 1963, pp. 403-404 (referred). M. Kalligas, 'Dimitris Galanis', Epoches journal, no 37, May 1966, p. 458. A. Tassos, 'A Stroll with Galanis' Zygos magazine, no V-66, May 1966, p. 31, reprinted in Zygos magazine, no 39, January-February 1980, p. 40 (referred). A. Kourtikakis, Album of Greek Artists (1800-1978), vol. 1, Thessaloniki 1981, p. 22 (referred). D. Athanasopoulos, D. Galanis 1879-1966, To Ochima publ., Athens 1982, pp. 30,47 (referred). E. Mavromattis, The Engraving and Painting of Dimitris Galanis 1879-1966 (doctoral dissertation), Athens 1983, p. 69 (illustrated), pp. 116-117 (discussed). A. Kouria, The Child in Modern Greek Art (1833-1922), Dodoni publ., Athens-Yannina, 1985, p. 133 (illustrated). Evangelia Bafouni-Nikos Melios, George Stringos, Institute for the Study of Local History and the History of Enterprises, Piraeus 2006, p. 120 (painting appears in the photograph of the salon of the house).
The best picture Galanis ever gave us is his Family D. Evangelidhes
Where might The painters family, this Galanis masterpiece, be today?1, Ambassador D. Athanassopoulos wondered in 1982 in his book D. Galanis 1879-1966, referring to this monumental work that was exhibited in Paris along with paintings by Picasso and Bonnard and was included in the major 1928 Galanis retrospective at the Iliou Melathron (Schliemann Mansion) in Athens.2 This definitive Galanis, which was highly praised by critics and collectors alike, was a rare jewel in one of the most prominent interwar collections of Modern Greek art that survived the 1941 and 1944 Piraeus bombings and the dark days of German occupation. It was then lost for decades before being rediscovered at the Stringos mansion in Kifissia, its appearance at Bonhams marking the first time it is seen publicly in 80 years.
The flagship of Galaniss entire oeuvre and one of the most important works in the history of Greek art that redefines monumental portraiture, The painters family reaped praise and wonder from art critics as early as the mid 1920s. Professor D. Evangelidhes deemed it the best picture Galanis ever gave us. Its power of rich plasticity, solid and encompassing composition and deep-felt spiritual expression are combined in admirable unity and timeless harmony.3 Art historian F. Yofyllis noted that one of Galaniss works that stands out is The painters family in which the figures are rendered with honesty of design and character4, while M. Kalligas, former Director of the Athens National Gallery made the following incisive remark: The painters family will remain a work of lasting value because it brought us a new atmosphere, a novel expression. Without being ostentatious, these figures were revolutionary for that time.5
Professor E. Mavrommatis, who wrote the artists monograph, remarked: One of the most important works of Galaniss first one man show in Paris in 1922 was The painters family, also exhibited in Athens at the Iliou Melathron in 1928. Since then we lost all track of this work. We were unable to locate it. Painted in 1921, it was exhibited the same year in Paris in a group show entitled The painters family along with works by Picasso, van Dongen, Bonnard, Vuillard, Valadon and Zadkine. In a pyramid-like structure the posing figures -Galanis, his wife and son- adhere to an austere geometric organisation, which is highly complex and extremely interesting. Galanis creates a symbolic image in which the figures, each looking in a different direction, project an additional geometric system superimposed over the existing compositional structure. In this work, Galanis, relying on his deft draughtsmanship, has captured the reflection of profound inner contemplation with great intensity. At the same time he painted the contoured areas with circular brushstrokes which lend a certain plasticity and harmony to the otherwise firm and austere geometrical design. This creates a sense of balance between line and colour. An internal balance in which both the actual and projected geometries are integrated with colour as a structural element. Colour gradations and local hues, in balance with the geometric organization of the overall chromatic scheme shape the deeper, inner unity of this work. In The painters family the lines are so liberally structured so as to convey the impression that the line formed by the womans left hand extends to Galaniss shoulder, while her right arm seems to extend to her sons shoulder, being, at the same time, in parallel with her husbands right hand. Never before had Galanis handled the interrelation of forms with such balance and harmony in a system in which this interrelation plays a dominant role in the works overall organisation. We no longer perceive specific figures or individual facial features but solely the effects of interacting formal systems.6
Indeed, the viewer is engaged principally with the formal rather than the personal aspects of the image: the curves of Mme Galaniss chest are echoed in the rounded shapes of the chair and the casually thrown garment beneath her right elbow; the crossing of her legs is repeated in the folding of her sons hands; and the colour and brushwork used for her dress are variations on the tones and patterns of the background. An intricate web of rhythms and harmonies and a rich pattern of confident brushstrokes, volumetric shapes and tubular forms modified to a gentle simplification, come together in the creation of a highly advanced figure composition in which all pictorial elements are vibrantly and inevitably connected.
This magnificent group portrait pictures the painters family in Galaniss famous studio in Montmartre at 12 rue Cortot, which had been the legendary abode of such illustrious artists and intellectuals as Utrillo, Raul Dufy and Susan Valadon. His studio-home in which Galanis lived continuously from 1910 to 1964 -with only a brief break during World War I- was frequented by avant-garde painters and members of the French intelligencia, including Picasso, Braque, Rouault, Utrillo, Derain and Matisse, who often played the violin.7 The inclusion of an open music notebook on the table behind his son underscores Galaniss passion for music.
The pictures foreground is occupied by the likeness of the artists wife, Stephanie-Julie Bouvier from Aix-en-Provence, sitting restlessly at the edge of a lavish armchair, her dark, almond-shaped eyes staring out from her surroundings, her hands and posture faintly reminiscent of Picassos legendary Portrait of Gertrude Stein. Galanis and Stephanie (Fanny) were blessed with a son, Jean-Sebastien, born in Paris in 1910. This boy, depicted here at age 10-11 standing behind his mother and holding a book, was the subject of many of Galaniss portraits (compare Boy with book, Y. Perdios collection, Athens), including the well known Boy with wooden horse c. 1914-19. When he grew up, Jean-Sebastien studied at the National Merchant Marine School of Le Havre and became a merchant marine captain like his grandfather. (Two portraits of Jean-Sebastien as an adult in uniform are included in the Y. Perdios collection.) At the outbreak of WWII and following Frances capitulation, he joined General de Gaulles forces and participated in the fight against the Nazis as a French naval officer. On 27.11.1940 the thirty year old Capitaine au long cours, ensegne de vaiseau, de 1ère classe de réserve, and father of Catherine Monloup, a daughter he had with his wife Sylvie, perished when his ship sank after being torpedoed by a German submarine in the Atlantic. After the war he was posthumously honoured by the French state and proclaimed Chevalier de mérite pour la France.8 In light of Jean-Sebastiens premature demise, his youthful portrait is charged with a strong emotional, even spiritual content.9
Galanis himself sits in front of his barely suggested easel, his delicately held brush linking him with an image that cannot be seen, a work hidden from view. This pictorial devise of the hinged canvas, which almost coincides with the left edge of the picture frame, is an enduring convention of self portraiture favoured by 16th and 17th century artists, such as Allesandro Allori and Artemisia Gentileschi, and still surviving today in the work of prominent figurative painters like Leon Kossoff.10 Holding his palette, the painter gazes out with a smoothly groomed composure but his body language and over-the-shoulder stare convey a sense of relaxed confidence. In an unusually oblique view, he casually leans forward, seeming to get closer to and more intimate with his family and by extension the viewer. This sensitive depiction, which demonstrates a bold direction for male portraiture in suggesting mood and meaning beyond mere likeness, reflects not just the artists inner world but also something of each individual viewers own image of selfhood (compare C.F. Watts, William Bowman, private collection, London.)
The subject of the painting is rare, since family portraiture is a sub-genre infrequently taken up by Greek painters in the 19th and early 20th century, partly due to the inherent difficulties in depicting images of children. (Most notable exceptions are The artists family, c. 1864-65 by N. Kounelakis, National Gallery, Athens and Family by N. Xydias, private collection, Athens.)11. As noted by art historian A. Kouria in her treatise on the representation of children in Modern Greek art, in the hands of a lesser artist, this subject becomes an artificial, conventional image reminiscent of old family portrait photographs. A gifted artist, however, when handling the same subject manages to transcend mere likeness, creating an image that ventures beyond the superficial and suggests a state of being. Such an approach is manifested in Galaniss atmospheric The painters family which was exhibited in a group show of family portraits in Paris. The fruit of a blessed artistic inspiration and worthy example of the artists masterly draughtsmanship, this painting also pulsates with inner energy. Wise linear systems in an intricate game of structure articulate an intensely rhythmic and vibrant image, in which formal values are not limited to the surface of appearances but dig deeper to reveal its inner content.12
The painters family was eventually acquired by Georgios Stringos (1878-1956), a leading personality in the history of Modern Greek commerce who opened new vistas in terms of trade, industry and related chambers. He was also one of the first and most prominent collectors of Modern Greek art, demonstrating considerable insight and keen aesthetic criteria. According to A. Kouria, G. Stringos was one of the major, enlightened Greek collectors in the first half of the 20th century, along with A. Benakis, A. Antonopoulos and Ch. Loulis.13 Until the early 1950s when the Stringos family moved to the suburb of Kifissia, the collection was housed in the famed neoclassical Stringos mansion in Pasalimani, Piraeus, depicted by Tsarouchis in one of his brilliant watercolours (Heracles Group collection, Athens.)
As mentioned in the book Georgios Stringos, the Stringos mansion, until recently the French Institute of Piraeus, was purchased in 1917. One of the reasons Stringos dearly loved this house was because his collections could be better displayed. During the German occupation the building was commandeered and used as an officers club. The owners were allowed, however, to leave one of their people inside, a trusted caretaker, thanks to whose ingenuity and resourcefulness part of the collection was salvaged. Following the German retreat, the house was first commandeered by the British forces and then by the Greek Navy and used as an officers club. Up until 1955, when the Greek Navy ceased using it, the Stringos mansion hosted memorable festivities and magnificent receptions.14
1. D. Athanassopoulos, D. Galanis 1879-1966 [in Greek], To Ochima publ., Athens 1982, p. 30. 2. The Galanis retrospective met with unprecedented critical acclaim and commercial success. Proceeds from the sale of 14 oils, 20 sketches and 22 etchings reportedly reached 200,000 drachma, a sum equivalent to the purchase price of a two-story house in the centre of Athens. See Yofyllis, p. 403; A. Tassos, A Stroll with Galanis [in Greek], Zygos magazine, no. V-66, May 1966, p. 31, reprinted in Zygos magazine, no. 39, January-February 1980, p. 43; Mavrommatis, p. 34. 3. D. Evangelidhes, Great Greek Encyclopaedia (Galanis entry) [in Greek], vol. 8, Makris publ., Athens 1926 p. 40. 4. F. Yofyllis, D. Galanis [in Greek], Filologiki Protochronia annual, v. 5, 1948, p. 209 and F. Yofyllis, History of Modern Greek Art 1821-1941 [in Greek], vol. 2, To Elliniko Vivlio publ., Athens 1963, pp. 403-404. 5. M. Kalligas, Dimitris Galanis [in Greek], Epoches journal, no. 37, May 1966, p. 458. 6. E. Mavrommatis, The Engraving and Painting of Dimitris Galanis 1879-1966 (doctoral dissertation) [in Greek], Athens 1983, pp. 116-117. See also p. 567 (no. 204). 7. See Mavrommatis pp. 31, 33. See also F. Frantzeskakis, A Conversation with Galanis in 1938 [in Greek], Techni magazine, no. 3, February 1938, reprinted in Zygos magazine, no. 39, January-February 1980, p. 32. 8. See Frantzeskakis, p. 35; Nea Estia journal, 1.5.1949, pp. 592-594; Y. Koutsocheras, My Friends Hands, speech delivered in Patras [in Greek], 1952, reprinted in Syllektis magazine, no. 61, April 1980, p. 170; Mavrommatis, p. 38. 9. In his sons portraits Galanis showcased his creative prowess. Here, the depiction of the childs face foreshadows the sorrow of his early loss -who cannot see it? Athanassopoulos, pp. 50-51. 10. See A. Bond and J. Woodall, Self Portrait - Renaissance to Contemporary, National Portrait Gallery, London 2005. 11. See A. Charalambidis, Greek Portraiture of the 19th Century [in Greek], dissertation thesis, Thessaloniki 1976, p. 121. 12. A. Kouria, The Child in Modern Greek Art (1833-1922) [in Greek], Dodoni publ., Athens-Yannina, 1985, pp. 130-132. 13. Kouria, Michalis Economou [in Greek], Adam publ., Athens 2001, pp. 125 14. E. Bafouni - N. Melas, Georgios Stringos [in Greek], Institute for the Study of Local History and the History of Business Enterprises publ., Piraeus, 2006, pp. 17-21.