Lebanon signed in Greek (lower left) oil on cardboard 31.5 x 40.5 cm.
Painted in 1910.
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Athens. Bonhams, London, Greek Sale of 23 May 2006, lot 100. Acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
LITERATURE: Antonis Kotidis, Maleas, Adam Editions, Athens 2000, p. 67, no 34 (illustrated).
A great master of Greek landscape painting and one of the most important figures in modern Greek art, Constantinos Maleas entrusts his subjects to the truth of vision, venturing to penetrate into the inner world of the landscape, become part of its reality and then recompose it with freedom, creativity and paganistic fervour.
In 1908 he started a series of travelling expeditions to the Near East and in 1910 he visited Lebanon, in search of the land's unique character and the alluring atmosphere of the Orient. In December of the same year Maleas had his first solo exhibition in Istanbul, showing works completed during his travel.
This particular view of Lebanon offered at auction is commented upon by Professor A. Kotidis in his seminal monograph on the artist: "In this painting, much more intensely than in a similar view included in the collection of the National Gallery in Athens, Maleas focuses on texture, emphasizing the material substance and plastic properties of paint. In supremely harmonious coexistence, cool and warm tonalities charge the composition with a dream-like quality. Its rhythm is so intense that upon first impression one might think it represents a fire. Dense foliage, resembling blazing flames spread out in all directions and reflected on the slopes of the nearby hills, literally embraces the building. The cool greens and grey-blues glow, lit by the yellow in the foliage, the ochre on the slope and the rose in the sky, to such a degree that the painting, though it depicts the same landscape as the Lebanon at the National Gallery, acquires a powerful temperament, which its sibling completely lacks. In its celebration of the curvilinear, the painting reveals its Nabis influences, while its explosive feel recalls Van Gogh's landscapes."1
In a 1910 article, Maleas describes the Lebanese landscape as a verdant song. Most probably referring to the painting offered at auction, he noted: "There, at the merging of the hill slopes, a cubical little house, peaceful and unpretentious, almost primitive in its simplicity, radiates serenity on the surrounding mountains."2 With works such as lot 100, where the subject serves as a pretext for the artist to induce an emotional response, Greek Orientalism, as represented after 1870 by the paintings of Gysis, Lytras, Rallis and Sabbides, takes on a completely different direction. Here the Orient is rendered though the eyes of a dedicated modern painter, like Matisse, Macke or Klee who also travelled to the Near East roughly the same time as Maleas. The artist's trip to Lebanon essentially ushers in a new evolutionary stage, during which modern Greek painting challenged the academic doctrines of the Munich School and engaged in productive discourse with the avant-garde trends of early 20th century European art.
1. A. Kotidis, Constantinos Maleas [in Greek], Athens 2000, p. 70 2. Neon Pnevma [in Greek], B' 1/11/1910, p. 512