Boat signed and dated 'GHIKA 31' (lower right) oil on canvas 81 x 100 cm.
PROVENANCE: Gift of the artist to Tériade and then given to the present owner.
LITERATURE: To Trito Mati magazine, no. 1, May 1977. N. Petsalis-Diomidis, N. Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Catalogue raisonné, Athens 1979, p. 148. Jean-Pierre de Rycke, N. P. Paissios, Ghika and the Avant-garde in Interwar Europe, Athens 2004, p. 219, image 54 (illustrated). C.C. Valkana, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, His Painting Oeuvre, Benaki Museum, Athens 2011, p. 272 (illustrated).
Lost for decades and recently discovered by Bonhams, this historic Ghika painted in the artist's Rue du Laos studio in Paris in the early 1930s, belonged to the collection of the prominent art critic and Ghika's close friend E. Teriade (Stratis Eleftheriadis). At the time, Ghika, who was residing in the French capital since the mid 1920s, was already an accomplished painter associated with some of the most prominent exponents of the Parisian avant-garde, including Matisse, Braque and Leger, as well as the influential critics Raynal and Tériade. According to E. Mystakas who prepared his doctoral dissertation on the artist, in October 1931 Ghika participated in the Salon des Superindependants in Paris with seven works, of which five have been lost.1
Starting in 1931, a series of travels in northern Italy (Trieste, Venice, Milan, Lake Maggiore) offered Ghika a long-awaited opportunity for artistic renewal. As noted by J.-P. De Rycke, something of the transalpine serenity and harmony he found there can be felt in the tranquil canvases he created as a record of his visit.2 The famous architect Le Corbusier was so impressed by the formal purity and disarming simplicity of these works that he purchased one of them -now in the Le Corbusier Foundation in Paris.
Referring to the Bonhams picture, De Rycke notes that "In Boat, a recollection of an excursion he made to the harbour of Trieste, the geometric and patterned features favoured by the artist are now integrated in an overall conception of space."3 The choice of Italy for this new artistic embarkation was by no means fortuitous, as the artist himself explained in an interview by German critic Hans Heilmaier: "Although highly 'sculptural', the Greek landscape is hardly 'pictorial'. The Greek light is so penetrating and implacable that it breaks though form and colour. On the contrary, in Western Europe, artists never have to wonder whether the landscape before them is 'pictorial' or not. They just have to interpret its 'atmosphere'. Especially in Italy, the softer light favours the appearance of colours."4
As noted by C.C. Valkana who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Ghika, from the mid 1920s to the early 1930s, the artist's kinship with Matisse and Picasso became more evident. After his trip to Italy, in 1931, he enriched his work, taking advantage of the innovations of cubism and the freedom offered by abstraction. His interests focused on issues related to the organisation of space and the interpretation of light, adopting mainly a synthetic cubist approach. Besides his direct references to Picasso's post-cubist inventions, he also looked to Matisse, preferring works by the great French master with an overall cubist feel.5
Echoing the fragmented planes and spatial distortions cultivated by cubism, Boat can be read as a stunning field of abstract lines and shapes, which, nonetheless is still easily recognisable as a docked boat floating on shallow waters and set against a portscape with buildings and cranes. As noted by writer Christian Zervos, "from 1930 on, Ghika's perpetual expenditure of strength and boldness of freedom diverted him gradually from any intention of disintegrating the object in order to reassemble it in accordance with his plastic vision."6
1. E. Mystakas, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika and Pictorial Space in his Work [in Greek], doctoral dissertation, Athens 2005, p. 204. 2. J.-P. De Rycke, The European Model in Ghika and Avant-garde in Interwar Europe, Benaki Museum - N.H. Ghika Gallery, Efesos editions, Athens 2004, pp. 76-80. 3. Ibid. 4. H. Heilmaier, Mit Kyriako Ghika, Neue Pariser Zeitung, Paris, 9.5.1931. 5. See C.C. Valkana, Henri Matisse - Pablo Picasso: the Outline of a Much Discussed Relationship through the Work of N. Hadjikyriakos-Ghika [in Greek], Benaki Museum magazine, no. 6, 2006, p. 146; C.C. Valkana, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, His Painting Oeuvre [in Greek], Benaki Museum, Athens 2011, pp. 66-69. 6. C. Zervos, Ghika and his Art in Ghika, Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, Boston Book and Art Shop, Boston 1965, p. 2.