A superb example of the artist's finest output from his years in Munich -as indicated by his signature in Latin characters (Bolanachi)- painted before 1883 when he moved permanently to Greece, Sunset at the seashore showcases the defining elements of Volanakis' art: virtuoso brushwork, immediacy of execution and harmony of proportion. The low horizon, reminiscent of the great 17th c. Dutch seascape painters, gives full value to the spaciousness of the sky, while the superb rendering of the atmosphere's mellow warmth is made more impressive by the foreground silhouettes of a beached boat and nearby figures.
The loving delicacy with which Volanakis observed every nuance of the seascape and cloudscape extends to the scene as a whole, capturing the absolute stillness of the hour. His depiction of the still surface of the sea intersected by the vertical masts, is a combination of realistic and romantic elements in a harmonious composition and a lyrical interpretation of the seascape. "Often not even a ripple breaks the surface of the sea and only the sails and tall masts chant the harmonies of subdued colours and bring life to the scene." 1 As noted by M. Vlachos, a leading authority on the artist, "Volanakis is in constant communion with nature, in a composite relationship from which poetry emerges." 2
As in many of his most characteristic works, the beached fishing boat, which is highlighted by bold colouring, is portrayed with great love, blending in with the surroundings and the natural environment. Though low brow, Volanakis' seaside is often visited by elegant gentlemen and well-dressed ladies, exuding the romantic, laid-back attitude of his time. Indeed, Sunset at the seashore includes two of Volanakis' favourite scaffage themes: The genteel strollers and the man with yellow hat and cane -perhaps the painter himself- who turns his gaze towards the sea, suggesting the manner in which this beautiful scene should be contemplated. 3
Though the influence of the Munich School is evident, especially in the cultivation of a mere monochrome, Volanakis, raised on the islands of Crete and Syros, had an inborn sense of light and colour, taking more note of atmospheric effect, of colour nuances and of natural elements as possessing their own pictorial value. Here, his masterly handling of the strollers in the middle ground, rendered in a delightfully abstractive manner, the transient gleams of light, the transparency of the water and the reflections that play on its surface are reminiscent of Boudin and indicate that Volanakis, this great master of Greek seascape painting, absorbed the new artistic currents without abandoning the tenets of his academic training.
1. D. E. Evangelidis, Greek Art [in Greek], Athens 1969, p. 128. 2. M. Vlachos, The Painter Constantinos Volanakis [in Greek], doctorate thesis, Athens 1974, p. 105. 3. Reverie by the sea is a recurrent motif featured in a variety of ways by many artists, in particular Caspar David Friedrich and Courbet, whose work Volanakis was acquainted with. See M. Vlachos, The Emergence of Modern Greek Painting 1830-1930 From the Bank of Greece Collection, Athens 2002, p. 50.