Constantinos Volanakis (Greek, 1837-1907) Sunset promenade with ships in the distance     56 x 100 cm.

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Lot 25
Constantinos Volanakis
(Greek, 1837-1907)
Sunset promenade with ships in the distance 56 x 100 cm.

Sold for £ 56,312 (US$ 70,806) inc. premium
Constantinos Volanakis (Greek, 1837-1907)
Sunset promenade with ships in the distance
signed in Greek (lower left)
oil on canvas
56 x 100 cm.


  • We are grateful to Professor M. Vlachos for his assistance in authenticating this lot.

    Private collection, Athens.

    It is in such paintings as Sunset promenade with ships in the distance that Volanakis' greatness can be fully appreciated. Dating probably from the artist's early Greek period (1883-1885)1, this outstanding work is a fine rendering of the mellow warmth of atmosphere, strongly reminiscent of the great 17th century Dutch seascape masters. Light and colour animate the scene in the spirit of Willem Van De Velde the Younger, whose Calm Sea (1639) Volanakis is certain to have seen at Munich's Alte Pinakothek.

    Though the influence of the Munich School is evident, Volanakis, raised on the islands of Crete and Syros and having experienced the open horizons and the constantly changing sea, could not limit himself to the cerebral conceptions and standardised recipes dictated by academic teachings.2 Moreover, his decision to give up a solidly established career in Bavaria to return to Greece in 1883, and his choice of taking permanent residency in the seaside town of Piraeus, facilitated him in accurately rendering atmospheric changes, delicate nuances of the seascape and soft gradations of light and shade, capturing the poetry of his scenes. 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."3

    Here, his depiction of the tranquil surface of the sea, intersected by the vertical mast of the beached boat in the foreground, combines realistic and romantic elements to capture the absolute stillness of the hour in a harmonious composition and lyrical interpretation of the seascape (compare C. Volanakis, Phaleron Seashore, Bank of Greece collection, Athens). "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."4

    Moreover, the soft gradations of light and shade, his loose handling of the moored ships in the background, the transparency of the water and the reflections that play on its surface indicate that Volanakis had absorbed the new artistic currents without abandoning the tenets of academic painting. The depiction of the sun, a motif often found in Greek folk art but rarely encountered in Modern Greek and European painting, endows the atmosphere with transient gleams of light and golden luminosities, accentuating the romantic feeling and recalling not only Claude Lorraine's masterful 17th century renditions (compare Marine, Soleil Couchant in the Louvre) but also the attempts of the pioneer impressionists to break away from concrete form and object (compare Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, Musée Marmottan, Paris).

    The unity of effect, the sense of space and the loving delicacy with which Volanakis observed every nuance of the seascape are the artist's means of conveying a feeling of peace and expressing his view of the transience of life. "His romantic soul seeks inner peace in the beauty of a dreamworld full of light and colour, where reverie is a kind of prayer. He is simply interested in a vertical and a horizontal to create a metaphysical stillness. That's why he prefers calm seas and spring or summer skies. Rarely do his clouds warn of a coming storm."5 The feeling of peace conveyed by such seascape views inspires the viewer to adopt a dreamlike attitude towards life. "The sea is revealed as a metaphor for the infinite and the ungraspable, the ship as a fleeting presence on the volatile, unfathomable sea, like man faced with eternity."6

    1 The jagged wooden fence surrounded by white wildflowers in the extreme left foreground is also found in Sailing ships by a beach at the A.G. Leventis collection, painted after the artist's return to Greece, while the diagonal, rather than frontal handling of the seaside house in the left middleground is a formal development introduced around the same time (compare Poros and Village in Mt. Pelion, both at the National Gallery, Athens). See M. Vlachos, Volanakis [in Greek], Peak Publishing, Athens 2016, p. 97.
    2 S. Lydakis, Constantinos Volanakis [in Greek], Adam, Athens 1997, p. 64.
    3 M. Vlachos, The Painter Constantinos Volanakis (doctorate thesis) [in Greek], Athens 1974, p. 105.
    4 D. E. Evangelidis, Greek Art [in Greek], Athens 1969, p. 128.
    5 Lydakis, Volanakis, a Pioneer [in Greek], Epta Imeres (Kathimerini), 22/02/1998, p. 14.
    6 Lydakis, Volanakis, p. 175.
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