A Munich School masterwork hidden from the public eye for over a century and discovered in a private collection in Athens, Peek-a-boo is most probably the lost Jakobides exhibited in Munich's prestigious Glaspalast in 1896 under the title Versteckspiel and shown at the Zappeion Hall in Athens three years later by the title Kryftoulaki. 1 According to Professor C. Christou, in the 1890s Jakobides produced some of his finest works2 and towards the end of the decade he was highly esteemed and recognised by both the Greek state and the German public. In a critical review of the Athens show published in the 30.3.1899 issue of the Embros daily, it is perceptively noted that "Jakobides incorporates two distinct qualities. That of the realist who faithfully depicts the world of appearances and that of the idealist who glorifies it. This duality is readily revealed in Peek-a-boo. Few rays of sunlight streaming though the window sufficed, without distorting truth, to add grace and contribute to poetry."3
In the sparse interior made famous by his Children's orchestra, with the characteristic bench along the wall and the potted plant on the window sill, two young girls play peek-a-boo. The sturdy dark brown Bavarian chair, which features prominently in a photograph of the artist's Munich studio,4 as well as in two versions of his First steps (National Gallery, Athens and E. Averof Gallery, Metsovo) dominates the picture plane, while the two girls, bathed in warm sunlight, full of energy and vigour, breath life to the scene. Light plays a crucial role in building up form and capturing the children's firm bodies, as well as in creating an atmosphere of domestic warmth. As noted by Mentzafou-Polyzou, in the 1890s light acquired a very specific character in Jakobides' work. The intense contrast between shady and bright parts became dominant and the outlines were stressed in the areas where light fell. As his German contemporaries, notably Fritz von Uhde (compare Young woman at the window, c. 1891, Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt), Jakobides used natural light spilling from the window into the room to invest his figures with a corporeal presence and an underlying sense of structure, lending them a leading role in the composition. No longer the knee-length, close-up images of the previous decade, they are recessed to a less extreme foreground and, captured in full-length and lit from all sides, pulsate full of life and rhythm.5 The richness of effects of interacting colour and light, as well as the important role of descriptive detail and the emphasis given to facial expression, gesture and body language, all achieve their pictorial realization in a truly personalized and affecting way.
Works by Greek painters that record children playing, studying or doing their chores are quite rare.6 The overall orientation towards rural genre and the predominance of folklore or ethnographic subjects, resulted in a very limited number of works depicting children in the Greek urban environment. However, Greek painters who had an established career abroad, such as Pericles Pantazis and Nikolaos Gysis, often painted children with their toys (Compare P. Pantazis, L'enfant au cerceau, Bonhams Greek Sale, 10.11.09 and N. Gysis, Eros and the painter, Bonhams Greek Sale, 23.05.06). As far as Jakobides is concerned, the baby depicted in The first music lesson (Bonhams, Greek Sale, 11.06.02/10.11.09) is eager to play the horn, while the child in Playtime (Bonhams, Greek Sale, 18.05.10) is totally wrapped in stuffing his boots with pretzel pieces. In Peek-a-boo, a porcelain doll, together with a piece of bread and an apple, are lying discarded on the floor, the children having decided to use their imagination and play another game. As Plato used to say, when two children get together, a new game is automatically invented!
A keen observer of human nature and one of the most sensitive and perceptive painters who delved into childhood's psyche,7 Jakobides managed to look beyond sentimental stereotypes and capture not only a wide variety of childhood expressions but also the moment of transition from one expression to another. As uniquely put by the great writer Pavlos Nirvanas, "the miracle of childhood is not something that anybody can capture on canvas. The painters who have managed to capture this miracle and fix it on a flat surface, as we do with butterflies, careful not to disturb a single scale from their colourful wings, are but few. One of them is Jakobides." 8
1. See O. Mentzafou-Polyzou, Jakobides [in Greek], Adam publ., Athens 1999, p. 343 and A. Kouria, 'The Painter of Children' [in Greek], Kathimerini daily, Epta Imeres, 27.2.2000, p. 18. See also M. Papanikolaou, Works by 19th Century Greek Painters at Munich's Art Exhibitions [in Greek], Thessaloniki 1978, p. 341, C. Christou, 'Georgios Jakobides' [in Greek] in Greek Painters, vol. 1, From the 19th Century to the 20th, Melissa publ., Athens 1974, p. 238 and K. Baroutas, The Art Scene and Art Education in 19th Century Athens [in Greek], Smili publ., Athens 1990, pp. 154, 191, 222. 2. Christou, 'Georgios Jakobides', p. 238. 3. Embros daily, 30.3.1899. 4.See L. Iakovidi, Georgios Jakobides [in Greek], Diogenis publ., Athens 1984, p.30. 5. See Mentzafou-Polyzou, Jakobides, pp. 138, 184. See also Georgios Jakobides (1853-1932) The Painter of Childhood, 2006 Calendar, National Gallery-A. Soutzos Museum. 6. See Mentzafou-Polyzou, Jakobides, p. 140 and Kouria, The Child in Modern Greek Art (1833-1922) [in Greek], Dodoni publ., Athens-Yannina 1985, pp. 88, 95, 96. 7. See 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. 8. P. Nirvanas, 'The Painter of Children' [in Greek], Pinakothiki journal, 12 (1912-13), pp. 100-101.