Constantinos Maleas (Greek, 1879-1928)

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Lot 19
Constantinos Maleas
(Greek, 1879-1928)

£ 35,000 - 55,000
US$ 49,000 - 77,000
Constantinos Maleas (Greek, 1879-1928)
Boats on the Nile
signed in Greek (lower right)
oil on board
24 x 29cm

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE:
    E.Maleas;
    Themistocles Tsatsos, Athens, a gift from the above;
    Sotheby's Greek sale, 18 October 2001, lot 33;
    Private collection, London.

    EXHIBITED:
    Athens, Kalitheaton Artist Exhibition, December 1934 - January 1935, no.90;
    Athens, National Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Konstantinos Maleas, 1980, no.127 (illustrated);
    Athens, Metamorhoses of the Modern, The Greek Experience, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum, May 14 - September 13 1992 (Illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, p. 37).

    LITERATURE:
    Antonis Kotidis, Konstantinos Maleas, Athens 2000, pp.345 & 383, no. 240 & 335 (illustrated).

    An audacious work which owes its seductive strength to a rhythmical interplay of zesty colours and linear patterns, Boats on the Nile recalls van Gogh's Fishing Boats on the Beach at les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum), a beautifully composed still-life of boats whose tall, slender masts and rigs look like stems of flowers tangled in a vase.

    Tilted at an angle of forty-five degrees to the vertical, the enormous yards of the mainsails undercut the severe horizontality of the Egyptian landscape with powerful diagonals. Note how the three strong lines in the centre slash the surface like lion claw marks, recalling the drawing audacity of such 'wild beasts' as the fauves Vlaminck or Derain and reverberating as far a field as the iconoclastic knife-slit canvases of Lucio Fontana in the 1960s.

    This alluring work, painted by Maleas in 1923 during his second trip to the Orient, belongs to his last and most mature period (1918-1928), when, according to A. Kotidis who prepared the painter's monograph, "all the defining features of his stylistic and ideological identity were fully developed. With these works, Maleas carved his niche in history as one of the 'fathers' of 20th century Greek art."1 Explicit in such work is the philosophy adopted by van Gogh and fundamental to expressionism: the artist's reaction to the subject is more important than any attempts at objective representation. Line and colour are freed from their obligation to describe the world and become vehicles of intense feelings and emotional states. In a sense, linear pattern and bold colour, such as the fiery yellows in the background, become the subject of the painting.

    For Maleas, the real challenge here was not only to analyze light and colour but to employ bold resources of his palette and design agency in order to create rhythms of line and form without becoming implausible in his rendering of the actual scene. The boats and men in them are still easily recognizable as such, but the artist's vision is not to faithfully represent the world of appearances but to translate a landscape view into a purely visual language by relying on purely painterly means. The sharp, expressive outlines, flattened space, stylised handling of the vessels and overall visual dynamics of this captivating work betray the influence of Japanese woodblock prints, which had become a source of inspiration for impressionist painters and eventually art nouveau and cubism. As noted by A. Kotidis, after 1918, Maleas' art was enriched with the lyrical schematisation of Japanese painting, the intricate design of art nouveau motifs and the robust figures in Gauguin's later output. 2

    With works such as Boats on the Nile, 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, took 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 around the same time as Maleas. The artist's trip to Egypt 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.K(otidis) in Dictionary of Greek Artists [in Greek], vol. 3, Melissa publ., Athens 1999, pp. 31-32.
    2. ibid, p. 32.
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