COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Konstantinos Maleas
Konstantinos Maleas. Attika, 1923. Collection of the Greek Parliament, Athens.

Konstantinos Maleas. Attika, 1923. Collection of the Greek Parliament, Athens.

Empty storefronts and bankrupt businesses indicate the depths of the financial crisis in Greece.  Art sales that take place on Athenian sidewalks make the crisis even more palpable at least to those with a knowledge and sense of history. Parting with a beloved work of art, especially one from the promising period of the 1920s and 1930s when the Greek aesthetic made an impact on European Modernism, speaks volume of the human desperation and the inability to make ends meet.

Konstantinos Maleas (Istanbul 1879- Athens, 1928) was a Greek painter who, upon the completion of his studies at the Phanar Greek Orthodox College, left for Paris to study architecture. The Parisian avant-garde seduced him into spending at least six years in the studio of Impressionist painter Henri Martin, through whom he was introduced to the work of Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh and their works in symbolism and fauvism.

The culmination of these experiences was expressed in Maleas’s own work in Greece where he returned after 1913. There, and for the remainder of his life, he painted primarily landscapes and scenes of the local folk in bright, intense colors and vibrant brushstrokes in sharp contrast with the Greek academic painting of the 19th century, also known as the Munich School of Athens. The latter, while based on a colorist tradition, would primarily feature expressionless figures in grand, theatrical settings, with a moralizing effect. Contrary to this backward looking, and partly foreign tradition, Maleas reconciled his newly acquired modern aesthetic with this of his native land, where landscapes are steeped in color and formed in varied, undulating surfaces, precursors to the more deliberate rendering of forms in cubistic works of the same time.

My encounter with one of Maleas’s landscapes in an open-air market in Athens was bitter sweet. I was both astonished at what one may discover when looking closely and saddened by the unexpected knowledge that times are really tough. For those who have the luxury of acquiring works of art under such conditions, vigilance is paramount. If there is a silver lining, it comes with the realization that no assets are devalued by these unregulated, impromptu, and most probably low-priced sales because they are private and not recorded.

© Thomaï Serdari