“Konstantinos Volanakis: the Father of Greek Seascapes”, curated by Takis Mavrotas, presents important works by the great 19th century maritime painter rarely seen together in one place. “We have brought together works of Volanakis from the National Gallery, the National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank, the Hellenic Maritime Museum, the Averoff Gallery, the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation, the Municipal Art Gallery of Piraeus, the Museum of Cycladic Art, and many more collections,” says Mavrotas.
Several paintings are also on loan from private collections such as those of Panos Laskaridis of the Laskaridis Foundation, Evangelos Angelakos, Marianna Latsis and many others.
Among the most outstanding pieces is the “Naval Battle of Salamis”, which depicts the famous ancient naval battle between an alliance of Greek city states and the Persian Empire. It belongs to the Hellenic Navy and traditionally hangs in the office of the prime minister (Volanakis first presented the work at the Royal Palace in 1883).
Mavrotas writes about the painting’s history in the exhibition catalogue: “Until 1974 the painting was believed to illustrate the battle of Actium, but its true identity was proven by the University of Athens professor of history and art, Manolis Vlachos”.
Vlachos, a researcher on Greek art of the 19th century and an expert on Konstantinos Volanakis’ works has written a new, detailed text for the exhibition’s catalogue, drawing on his extensive volume dedicated entirely to Volanakis that was recently released by Peak Publishing. Volanakis, as Mavrotas notes, never engaged in portraiture or depicting other aspects of life in the nascent Greek state, dedicating himself entirely to maritime painting. His love for the sea and ships lead him to depict all facets of maritime life: from tranquil seas and idyllic harbors and beaches, to intense naval battles and raging tempests.
An Imposing Yet Tragic Figure
Born in Irakleio, Crete, in 1837, Volanakis began his studies in Ermoupolis on the island of Syros, before moving to Trieste, Italy, and then to Munich, Germany’s artistic capital. His many years in Germany shaped him as an artist, exposing him to a range of influences: from the Dutch School which, as a rule, was a font of inspiration for 19th century maritime painters, to German romanticism and the great French artists of the time.
Volanakis, with his unrivaled talent, created works with a dramatic intensity and effectively gave birth to the Greek branch of western maritime painting.
“Let us not forget,” says Takis Mavrotas, “that Volanakis was also a teacher, and that, aside from his own influences, he himself impacted the next generation of Greek painters such as Michalis Oikonomou, Nikolaos Othonaios, and Vasileios Hatzis.”
As an individual, Volanakis was himself both an imposing and tragic figure. His decision to return to Greece in 1883, despite his close friend Nikolaos Gyzis’ advice against doing so, ultimately had a negative impact on his quality of life, and often his painting. His wife’s health problems, his financial woes, and his limited social life ultimately led him to attempt to take his own life.
But despite all this, Konstantinos Volanakis remains a painter who expressed beauty and faith in life like few other creators of his time.