Ioannis Poulakas (Greek, 1864-1942) Sailing ship and steamer 85 x 121 cm.
Lot 7
Ioannis Poulakas
(Greek, 1864-1942)
Sailing ship and steamer 85 x 121 cm.
£ 150,000 - 200,000
US$ 200,000 - 260,000

The Greek Sale

18 May 2010, 14:00 BST

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
Ioannis Poulakas (Greek, 1864-1942) Sailing ship and steamer 85 x 121 cm. Ioannis Poulakas (Greek, 1864-1942) Sailing ship and steamer 85 x 121 cm. Ioannis Poulakas (Greek, 1864-1942) Sailing ship and steamer 85 x 121 cm.
Ioannis Poulakas (Greek, 1864-1942)
Sailing ship and steamer
signed in Greek (lower right)
oil on canvas
85 x 121 cm.

Footnotes

  • A stamp of 1969 class represents I. Poulakas' painting.

    PROVENANCE:
    Private collection, Athens.

    EXHIBITED:
    Piraeus, Hellenic Maritime Museum, Greeks at Sea-Piraeus, organized by Christie's Hellas, 1999 (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, p. 97).

    LITERATURE:
    Spyros Markezinis, Political History of Modern Greece, volume 2, Constitutional Monarchy 1863-1909, Papyrus Publications, Athens 1966, vol 2, pp.368-369 (illustrated).

    This beautiful painting by Poulakas
    is a combination of the past and the future.

    S. Markezinis


    Epitomising the grace and glory of such history laden brigs as Tsamados' legendary 'Aris', which sailed triumphantly through the enemy lines in the Battle of Navarino and was portrayed by Volanakis (National Gallery, Athens), or Tombazis' heroic 'Leonidas', which fought in the Greek War of Independence and was portrayed by Poulakas in his painting Sailing ship 'Leonidas' (Leventis Collection), this stately and proud brig, sails gently and gracefully off the coast of Salamis.

    One of the most refined and accomplished seascapes ever to appear on a Greek sale, this serenely luminous painting, rich in rhythm, realistic description and supplementary themes, is a display of superior skills in draughtsmanship, composition, paint handling and symbolic connotations, showing Poulakas coming as close as few other Greek artists ever did to the achievements of C. Volanakis, matching or even surpassing many of the great master's Greek period seascapes. In the recently published collection catalogue of the Municipal Art Gallery of Larissa - G.I. Katsigras Museum it is noted that Poulakas' academic realistic idiom is so akin to Volanakis that many of his works are attributed to the Greek master,1 while in his book Thessaloniki Painting (1500-1980), F.N. Voyiatzis states that "certain unscrupulous art dealers erased his signature from his works and forged Volanakis' name in its place." 2

    Virtuoso brushwork, remarkable precision of detail, delicacy of touch and harmony of proportion come together to create a composition of austere beauty. In the vein of the seventeenth century Dutch masters, Poulakas depicted the seascape with great aptitude, descriptive accuracy and finesse, using mature drawing and wise colouring to bring out its character and incorporate its various themes into a well-balanced composition and homogeneous whole. Note for example the loving care with which he portrayed the fishing scene in the foreground -a lovely vignette that could qualify as a separate work, and the diligence with which the small vessel and the fishing nets are rendered, reflecting the painter's ability to capture everyday life on the seacoast and endowing his picture with lyrical overtones.

    Moreover, this engaging picture is loaded with symbolism. While the sailing boat's striking presence dominates the picture plane, lending the painting its strong visual appeal, the steamer, which enters confidently the scene from the far right, advocates the values of innovation and progress in an era when sails were gradually being replaced by steam-power. Discussing late 19th and early 20th century economic developments in his seminal Political History of Modern Greece, S. Markezinis included a two-page illustration of this painting with a side caption reading: "Sailing ship and steamer. This beautiful picture by the painter Poulakas, depicts a paron (brig) off the coast of Salamis and a steamer in the background. It is a combination of past and future." 3

    In the 1850s wind-powered sailing ships, which until then had carried the bulk of passengers and cargo across the seas, started loosing their edge. Steamships, which had been successfully tried and became widely used in the early 19th century, started vying for the international shipping trade based on their technological advantages. As noted by A. Lemos, "the steam engine, this triad of 'iron with steel and coal' according to the popular saying, is becoming a threat to the sailing vessel's dominance of the seas. Undoubtedly, its demise was not imminent, given that the coexistence of the old with the new for a certain while, until the latter is in a position to fully replace the former, is a law of life. ...In the Greek maritime trade steam started slowly but steadily supplanting sails and after 1866, which marked the heyday of our sailing ship fleets, it became obvious that wind-powered shipping could not compete with steam. Despite their initial hesitation, Greek ship owners did not take long to be convinced that their sailing ship fleets would not be able to maintain their leading role in the maritime trade from the ports of the Danube and Southern Russia to the ports of Europe, and in general could not successfully compete against advanced technology. In their majority they all turned decisively and confidently to steam shipping which, after a period of coexistence with sailing ships, finally predominated during the second decade of the 20th century." 4

    As noted by Athens National Gallery curator N. Misirli, "the great tradition of seascape painting that was launched in the 19th century was carried on into the 20th c. by A. Prosalentis, I. Koutsis and I. Poulakas who abandoned sailing ships for steamers, drastically changing the look and atmosphere of marine paintings." 5 In the Bonhams picture, the beautiful sailing ship, portrayed gently gliding in the fresh breeze, is a graceful brig, a two-masted sailing vessel that is square-rigged on both masts, as opposed to the lighter brigantine, which is square rigged on the foremast and fore-and-aft rigged on the mainmast. (Compare C. Volanakis, The sailing boat Sevaston approaching the Corinth Canal, Bonhams Greek Sale 10.11.2008, lot 16).

    A fast, easily maneuverable and well sailing rig, which was still in use up to the very end of the great age of sail, the brig was used as both cargo vessel and naval warship and it was especially popular among 19th century marine painters throughout the Mediterranean. The fact that they required large crews compared to their relatively small size led to their eventual decline, replaced in commercial traffic first by schooners and later by steamships. Brigs displacing 200 to 350 tonnes dominated the Greek shipping trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, while during the Greek War of Independence, the brig was the main type of vessel used, usually referred to as paron. The first Greek brig was built by P. Kokkinis, while the renowned 'Leonidas' of M. Tombazis, along with Tsamados' famed 'Aris' and Voulgaris' 'Achilles' are still fondly remembered.6

    Poulakas captured the brig's likeness in all her splendour and intricacy, lovingly delineating every detail of masts, sails and rigging with an expert's knowledge of the maritime world, producing an accurate and convincing picture which belongs to the great nineteenth century European tradition of ship portraiture. As noted by Professor M. Vlachos, a marine painting scholar and author of Volanakis' first monograph, "Poulakas, coming perhaps from the ranks of the Navy, had a good knowledge of the sea and of ships, while his work shows order and method." 7 This glorification of the actual, of the visible world of things in their particularity, so ably carried out with clarity and precision, acknowledges the intrinsic value and beauty of the observable when seen with a sharp eye. "Observe a ship at sea!" the 19th c. American sculptor Horatio Greenough used to say. "Mark the majestic form of her hull as she rushes through the water, observe the graceful bend of her body, the gentle transition from round to flat, the grasp of her keel, the leap of her bows, the symmetry and rich tracery of her spars and rigging, and those grand wind muscles, her sails!" 8

    This outstanding work, however, is more than a visual record of a specific class. Besides concentrating on formal and pictorial issues, such as the placing of a smaller ship in the distant open sea to help the viewer map the deep space and be reminded of the expanse that stretches to the horizon and beyond, the artist set up a dialogue between the established 'star' in the centre and the ambitious 'newcomer' stepping onto the stage from the right amid shiny luminosities, lending the work buoyancy, undercurrent tension and spirited flavour. While heralding man's invention, which would liberate seafaring from the whims and vicissitudes of wind and water, Poulakas also contemplates the passing of the age of the great sailing ships, offering the dignified old timer the opportunity to make a triumphant last exit.

    The dialogue between the two seductive rivals is heightened by the strong diagonal generated by their sidelong depiction, while a less conspicuous but equally structural compositional line defined by the portscape in the far left, the sailing boat just off the port's mouth and the fishing scene in the foreground creates a sense of movement and syncopated rhythm that animates the picture. The point at which the two diagonals intersect draws the eye to the human activity inside the ship and the wonderful reflections that play on the still waters. Besides playing a compositional role, the inclusion of the portscape hints upon the growth of shipping, the development of port cities and the strengthening of the seafaring class during the last quarter of the 19th century. A combination of landscape and city view, the port has acquired the special features of both these realms, a place where the natural world meets the man-made environment, a connecting link, a point of departure and arrival, 9 as so perfectly illustrated by the opposite courses of the two ships in Poulakas' picture.

    Born in the Mt. Pelion village of St. Georgios near the city of Volos, Ioannis Poulakas studied stage design in Constantinople and then moved to Athens where he studied seascape painting under C. Volanakis. Following that he returned to Volos and was appointed Professor of Calligraphy, which he taught for 25 years. His students included the painter A. Angelopoulos. Around 1927 he returned again to Athens, where he taught at the city's First Gymnasium (secondary school) and at the Parnassos Literary Society. He died at the age of 78 during the disastrous winter of 1942. 10 A monumental seascape of his depicting the Naval Battle of Volos in 1827 graces the mayor's office in Volos. Besides marine subjects and while in Volos, Poulakas also took on church painting commissions, including the iconostasis of the metropolitan church of the town of Karditsa. 11

    1. The G.I. Katsigras Collection [in Greek], Municipal Art Gallery of Larissa - G.I. Katsigras Museum, Larisa 2005, p. 308.
    2. F. Voyiatzis, The Painting of Thessaly (1500-1980) [in Greek], Athens 1980, p. 171.
    3. S. Markezinis, Political History of Modern Greece [in Greek], Papyros publ., Athens 1966, p. 369.
    4. A. Lemos, The Navy of the Greek Nation [in Greek], vol. 1, Athens 1968, pp. 146-158. See also V. Kardasis, From Sail to Steam, Greek Merchant Marine 1858-1914 [in Greek], ETBA Cultural Technological Foundation, Athens 1993.
    5. N. Misirli, 'Modern Greek Marine Painters' [in Greek] in Greek Merchant Marine(1453-1850), National Bank of Greece, Athens 1972, p. 306.
    6. See A.I. Tzamtzis, 'Seamen, Ships and Ports' [in Greek] in Greek Merchant Marine (1453-1850), National Bank of Greece, Athens 1972, pp. 117.
    7. M. Vlachos, Greek Marine Painting, Olkos publ., Athens 1994, p. 178.
    8. See H. Tuckerman, A Memorial of Horatio Greenough, Benjamin Blom publ., New York 1968.
    9. See Vlachos, The Painter Constantinos Volanakis, p. 125, and T. Christou, 'Portscapes by Greek Artists from the Late 19th to the Mid-20th Century' in The Ports of Hellenism, Aenaon publ., Athens 2004, p. 69.
    10. Thessalia daily, Volos, 25.2.1942.
    11. See Voyiatzis, pp. 170-171, D. P(avlopoulos) in Dictionary of Greek Artists [in Greek], vol. 4., Melissa publ., Athens 2000, p. 59.
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