Tag Archives: Athens

The must-see art museums of Athens

23-hamish-bowles-guide-to-art-in-athens-greeceVogue’s Hamish Bowles visits the Must-See art museums of Athens.

This year I sandwiched a blissful break on a remote Greek island in between trips to Athens—a city that, although beleaguered by the country’s economic travails, remains a hotbed of creative activity and cultural excitement.

As ever, it is the pluperfect place in which to explore millennia of creative achievement. My first stop was the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and its embarrassment of treasures, along with the Acropolis Museum (with a surprising and stirring exhibition, “εmotions”). I also explored the fascinating Byzantine and Christian Museum for the first time—and found it to be still further testament to Greece’s many layerings of cultural influences.

Hidden away in the basement galleries, I might almost have missed the Techni Group exhibition, a tribute to the centenary of the group show of artists led by Nikolaos Lytras and his friends (among whom I particularly admired the work of Pavlos Mathiopoulos, Konstantinos Parthenis, and Lykourgos Kogevinas) that established modernism in Greece under the patronage of the visionary prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos. Thank goodness I managed to see it, because the work of the artists—evoking by turns the fashionable swagger portraits of Boldini and Sargent, the theatrical drama of Bakst, and the charm of the plein air painters of late-19th-century France—comes together as a powerful statement for a new national identity through art.

Onward to the Benaki Museum—one of my favorite museums not only in Athens but in the world. After my first visit a decade or so ago, I was so inspired by its beautifully displayed collections of vernacular Greek costumes (among many other treasures that span the millennia) that I raced to Paris to tell John Galliano about it. He sent a posse from his design team to research—and subsequently based one of his eponymous collections on the pieces (think: stiff wool dirndl skirts and rich embroideries). The museum has recently expanded its displays, so there are even more treasures to admire in its intimate rooms, and on this latest visit I was also lucky to catch the exhibition “Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: Charmed Lives in Greece,” which is centered around the friendship of the artists John Craxton and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, whose spiky, highly colored works exemplify mid-century style, and the brilliant travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who met one another in the 1940s after the war and were drawn together not least by their love of Greece.

The show, elegantly curated by Evita Arapoglou, Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith, Ian Collins, and Ioanna Moraiti (and in collaboration with the Leventis Gallery and the Craxton Estate), brings together not only their work but also images of the remarkable houses that they created: Nikos and Barbara Hadjikyriakos-Ghika’s Baroque colonial finca on Corfu and Neoclassical mansion on Hydra; the ineffably stylish stone house that Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor built above the craggy coastline of Kardamyli in their beloved Mani region of mainland Greece; and Craxton’s modest fisherman’s house on the Venetian harbor of Chania in Crete. Video—along with still images of these enduringly inspiring places and interviews with friends of the late artists—brought their worlds of fecund imagination brilliantly to life and created a moving tribute.

Thence to the truly astonishing Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, the inspiring new home to the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece. Difficult as it is to imagine without the photographic evidence, the original site was apparently grim—a flat expanse of wasteland and concrete latterly used as parking for several of the stadiums built for the 2004 Athens Olympics and hemmed in by motorways that blocked the view of the Bay of Phalerum and the sea beyond. With a flourish of his pen and a giant bound of his imagination, master architect Renzo Piano envisaged the plot as a verdantly planted hill rising in a gentle slope the length of the site, and at its 33-meter peak it now soars far above the choking Athenian traffic below and offers heart-stopping views not only of the Aegean waters but a panorama of the city itself, along with its famed hills and the Parthenon. Beneath the slope, Piano placed the National Library of Greece and a sprawling, soaring cultural complex of performance and concert, dance, and operatic rehearsal spaces to house the Greek National Opera. (The ensemble that Piano has planned is meant to evoke the cultural meeting place of an ancient Greek agora.) The heart of the opera house is the 1,400-seat Stavros Niarchos Hall. The theater’s cherrywood and its scarlet fabrics evoke a classic 19th-century theater, but its state-of-the-art acoustics and Platinum LEED rating, along with Susumu Shingu’s mobile (which rises before performances much like the Swarovski Sputnik chandeliers at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera), place it firmly in the 21st century.

Social spaces and terraces on the upper floors, meanwhile, provide breathtaking panoramic views of the sprawling city itself and of the newly created park, the work of landscape architect Deborah Nevins, whose spectacular plantings of Mediterranean cypress, olive, almond, and pomegranate trees and stalwart maquis vegetation—including the sage, laurel, and rosemary that give the Greek islands and mainland landscapes their unique fragrance—have created a throbbing green heart in the city. I cannot wait to see a performance here.

Read the full article and look at the lovely images here.

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Herberts & Herbertinas

Steven Runciman at Cambridge in 1925, photographed by Cecil Beaton

Steven Runciman at Cambridge in 1925, photographed by Cecil Beaton

Following up on the book review about Steven Runciman that we published in September, I have found this really enjoyable and in-depth article about Runciman and the new biography. Worth some of your time. It starts brilliantly “I met Steven Runciman several times towards the end of his long life. On one occasion he told me, as he told many people, that as a young man he had danced with a friend of his mother who, in her own youth, had danced with Prince Albert. He seemed slightly disconcerted when I insisted that he dance a few steps with me so that I could say I had danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince Consort, but he did it and our little turn round the room made me feel in some psychic way closer to the court of Queen Victoria.”

By Rosemary Hill

First published in the London Review of Books

Of course Paddy gets a small mention

Maurice Cardiff, the army officer who ran the council temporarily before Runciman arrived, recalls him vividly dealing with his improbable staff as they all gamely muddled through. ‘He had two kinds of yesses, one short, even clipped, was a true affirmative; the other, long drawn out with a dip in the middle, signified “no”. The distinction was lost on Paddy, who on the strength of the longest of drawn out “yesses” would set out on a six-week tour of the islands or a trip round the Peloponnese.’ No doubt Runciman was not displeased to have Leigh Fermor, always something of a loose cannon, out of the office for a while.

Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman

birdman-runciman

Birdman – a portrait of Steven Runciman by Cecil Beaton (1920’s)


A new book which may be of interest to some. Runciman and Paddy worked together at the British Council in Athens after the second world war.

By the time he died, in 2000 at the age of 97, Sir Steven Runciman knew that he was a “‘relict of a past age’”, the “embodiment of a…nearly mythical era.” Minoo Dinshaw’s brilliantly entertaining biography of the great historian of Byzantium restores him to public view and provides a vivid picture of many aspects of 20th-century Europe that now seem almost as remote as the crusades and religious schisms he described in his books.

First published in The Economist, 9 September 2016

Runciman was not aristocratic by birth—his grandfather, a shipping magnate, had established the family fortune—but he was immensely grand and well connected. His parents were the first married couple to sit together in the House of Commons. And his father, who was part of Lord Asquith’s cabinet before the first world war, survived the declining fortunes of the Liberal party to lead the doomed mission to Czechoslovakia in 1938. He could claim in 1991 to have known every 20th-century prime minister except Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who died when he was a toddler, and Bonar Law, “‘whom nobody knew’”. Introduced by his governess to French, Latin and Greek by the age of seven, he won scholarships to Eton—in an era of clever men like George Orwell, Cyril Connolly and Anthony Powell—and to Cambridge, where he lived in the “scornfully beautiful Great Court” of Trinity College. Through his friend Dadie Rylands (they were named the Tea Party Cats “for their velvety urbanity”) he met Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes and other members of the Bloomsbury group.

Despite frequent trips to London to socialise with the “bright young people” (and be photographed with his budgerigar by Cecil Beaton), Runciman won the first-class degree and prize fellowship that were to launch his academic career. Of the Cambridge spies recruited in the 1930s, Guy Burgess was a pupil and friend and Anthony Blunt a “supercilious” colleague. Employing political and diplomatic connections to the full, he travelled in style to Romania, Bulgaria and Asia. He established his reputation with histories of the emperor Romanus Lecapenus, the first Bulgarian empire and Byzantium. When he inherited wealth from his grandfather in 1938, he gave up his university fellowship.

Unfit for military service, Runciman spent the war in the Balkans and the Middle East: in Sofia as press attaché to the British Legation, Jerusalem, Cairo and Istanbul. There he narrowly escaped a bomb blast, spent three years as professor of Byzantine history and art, and became an honorary Dervish. Between 1945 and 1947 he led the British Council in Athens. Osbert Lancaster, a witty cartoonist, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, who would become a glamorous writer, were there. Greece was lurching towards civil war and Runciman gained an abiding love for the country, pleasure from upstaging the British ambassador and the position of Astrologer Royal.

On his return to Britain, Runciman split his time between London and the Hebrides, and wrote the books that were to make his name: the ground-breaking three-volume “History of the Crusades”; and a succession of works on Byzantine history that drew on a wide variety of sources, Muslim and Greek, most notably “The Sicilian Vespers” and “The Fall of Constantinople”. Francis Birrell, a Bloomsbury acquaintance, had greeted Runciman’s first book with the acknowledgment that fewer than “half a dozen people were really competent” to review it (and that he was not one of them). There were no such reservations about later volumes, which were lively, authoritative and well received.

Runciman was not to everyone’s taste. He loved to tease, possessed a “queenly persona”, snubbed people who failed to interest him and “had a tongue like a viper if he wanted to use it”. He was a gossip who adored royalty; he entertained the Queen Mother to lunch at the Athenaeum Club every year; four queens are said to have attended his 80th-birthday party.

Despite being able to compose an alphabet of lovers with every letter except Q (“I shall die Qless”), he was to claim that he had “never been in love”. He retained a wide circle of loyal friends and was a popular laird of the Isle of Eigg, not least because he would invite his musical friends to stay and perform at the village hall. (Yehudi Menuhin was “memorably described” by the ferryman as “a handy man for a ceilidh”). He gave his name and time to numerous public bodies and causes, at home and abroad. A final apotheosis, three months before he died, for his service as Grand Orator to the Patriarch of Constantinople, was a descent by helicopter on the Holy Mountain of Athos.

Mr Dinshaw’s choice of subject for his first book is an inspired one. He interweaves the strands of a long and variegated life with sympathy, elegance and awareness of the wider picture. In recognition of Runciman’s fascination with the supernatural, chapters are headed with quotations from Arthur Waite’s “The Key to the Tarot”. He refers frequently to novelists such as Evelyn Waugh and Olivia Manning, authors of trilogies about the war. And his turn of phrase is as arresting as Runciman’s own—one family friend is “unceremonious, crapulous”. Mr Dinshaw has done Runciman proud. To whom will he turn his attention next?

Buy Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman. Click the link.

Art of intellect and emotion: A Retrospective of Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas

Patrick Leigh Fermor by Nikos Ghika

A retrospective first published in Kathimerini 20 December 2006 about Paddy and Joan’s very good friend, the reknowned artist Nikos Ghikas.

By Alexandra Koroxenidis – Kathimerini English Edition

Retrospective exhibition on the work of Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas shows the unity in his work

If one was to name the one element that pervades the work of the distinguished Greek painter Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas (1906-1994) throughout its course, it would probably be light. Much has been written about the Cubist-inspired aspect of his work, yet the luminosity and the radiance of Mediterranean light is what will mostly strike the visitor to “Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas: The Apollonian – The Dionysian,” a large retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work which is curated by his friend art historian Dora Iliopoulou-Rogan and is being held at the Pireos annex of the Benaki Museum on the occasion of the centenary anniversary of the artist’s birth.

For an artist who perhaps more than anything else painted the Greek landscape – its essence and not its surface – this is perhaps to be expected. “Ghikas seeks light and the truth,” Henry Miller – one of the artist’s friends – wrote in his novel “The Colossus of Maroussi.” As an artist of the so-called “Thirties Generation,” Ghikas revealed the essence of “Greekness,” the archetypal notions that were believed to pervade the entire civilization of Greece. Harmony and light were two of them.

Light and its reflection are among the elements that, according to the exhibition’s curator, link the Apollonian and the Dionysiac aspects of the artist’s work, the tectonic, geometric paintings and the more expressionistic, free compositions of labyrinthine, swirling shapes.

“When they say that in my painting I have many different periods, I answer what Ingres said when he was told the same thing. ‘I have sir, many paintbrushes,’” Ghikas once said. Accordingly, instead of examining the work of Ghikas in terms of distinctive stylistic traits which lead from one to the next, Rogan examines the work of Ghikas as an undivided whole, as both Apollonian and Dionysiac, intellectual and emotional at the same time, as equally contained as it is extroverted.

This is a new approach to the work of Ghikas which the exhibition’s curator presents in a voluminous book (of the same title as the exhibition) published by Livanis. A well-designed publication (the book helps counterbalance the effect of a dense yet slightly disorderly exhibition), it is a thorough, fully illustrated book that includes earlier published texts on Ghikas’s work, essays by Kimon Friar, Henry Miller, Christian Zervos and Patrick Leigh Fermor among them. It also unfolds the work of Ghikas across different media: Painting is the focus, yet sculpture, photography and the artist’s work for theater and costume design help show what Rogan has called Huomo universalis, an artist whose work was too broad in scope to fit into a single category and an intellectual – he was also professor of freehand drawing at the National Technical University – who wrote about the art and culture of different civilizations.

Ghikas was as equally deft in line as he was in color. In the exhibition, an entire section presents just a fragment of the hundreds of drawings that Ghikas made. Among them a series of sensual nudes. There are also studies that Ghikas made for set and costume design and drawings that are the artist’s visual memoirs of his travels around the world.

Ghikas was one of the few truly cosmopolitan Greek artists, a man who not only traveled the world but who was part of an international artistic milieu from early on. The only son of Alexandros Hadzikyriakos, an officer in the Greek Royal Navy, he was educated in Paris (this included his final school years) where, at the age of 21, he had his first solo exhibition prefaced by the well-known critic Maurice Raynal. Ghikas’s involvement in the artistic and intellectual elite of Paris in the interwar period (he was friends with Henri Laurens, Fernard Leger, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse and became associated with Le Corbusier, Hans Arp and many others), helped to bring many intellectuals into contact with Greek art and culture. It was largely thanks to Ghikas that the 4th International Congress on Modern Architecture (CIAM IV) was held in Athens instead of Moscow in 1933.

In the mid-1930s Ghikas moved to Greece. Together with Dimitris Pikionis, Socratis Karantinos, Spyros Papaloukas and Stratis Doukas, he published the seminal review “To Trito Mati,” a journal on art and culture that resembled the French “Cahiers d’Art.”

During that period, Ghikas worked intensively in Hydra, the island of his family home (which was later destroyed in a fire), and became inspired by its landscape, light and architecture. In later years, Corfu, where Ghikas and his second wife Barbara Warner had a summer home, also inspired the artist.

None of those landscapes are identifiable. They are semi-abstract renditions that capture a mood and atmosphere, structure and light rather than any realistic description. In many paintings, the Greek landscape is combined with subjects taken from mythology.

Among Ghikas’s broad range of interests, poetry was one of the most pronounced. In the late 1930s, he began the illustration of Nikos Kazantzakis’s “Odyssey.” Twenty years later, in 1958, these illustrations were included in the US edition of “The Odyssey” which was translated by Ghikas’s friend Kimon Friar. Ghikas also illustrated C.P. Cavafy’s poems and Nikos Gatsos’s “Amorgos.”

The work of Ghikas is filled with the tranquility and harmony of the Mediterranean, the resonance of Greek art and history. Ghikas appreciated everything that was Greek but was also deeply curious and sensitive to other, non-Western cultures. He had the open-mindedness of a cosmopolitan, refined man and was one of the few Greek artists to have been recognized internationally.

In 1987, the same year that he was elected honorary member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Ghikas donated his work and home on Kriezotou Street in Kolonaki to the Benaki Museum. Held as an expression of appreciation on the part of the Benaki to Ghikas, the retrospective exhibition is also a tribute to one of the most esteemed modern Greek artists.

“Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas: The Apollonian – The Dionysian,” at the Pireos annex of the Benaki Museum (138 Pireos & Andronikou, 210.345.3111) through January 15.

Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas Wikipedia page

Fermor Honoured by Gennadeion Trustees

Sir Patrick sings mantinades with Cretan musician

In 2004, Paddy was honoured for his life and work and links with Greece by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. A report of the evening appeared in the summer 2004 edition of the Gennadius newsletter.

War hero and renowned writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor was honored in June at the Gennadeion Trustees’ Second Annual Awards Dinner. Knighted this past February, Sir Patrick published his latest book, Words of Mercury, earlier in the winter. Regarded by many as one of the finest writers of the twentieth century, in Greece Sir Patrick is famed as the war hero who parachuted into Nazi-occupied Crete in World War II, capturing its German commander. After the war, Sir Patrick eventually settled in Greece near Kardamyli, where he has lived ever since. His love for Greece has infused much of his writing.

The evening began with cocktails in the new lobby of Cotsen Hall, followed by tributes presented in Cotsen Hall itself in an unofficial baptism of the new facility. Among the speakers were former Prime Minister of Greece Tzannis Tzannetakis, Alan L. Boegehold, Dimitris Daskalopoulos, Haris Kalligas, and, in response, Sir Patrick himself. The award was presented by Edmund Keely, the 2003 winner. After the tributes, guests sat down to dinner in the terrace in front of Cotsen Hall, transfigured by tents, lights, and flowers. Halfway through the evening, a pair of Cretan musicians serenaded Sir Patrick and guests with mantinades.

Among the 150 guests were former Prime Minister George Rallis and Mrs. Rallis; Lady Madden, wife of the British Ambassador to Greece; Mrs. Kelly Bourdara, Vice-Mayor of Athens; Mr. and Mrs. George David; Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Egon; Mr. Sture Linnear; Mrs. Theodoti-Artemis Mandilas; Mr. and Mrs. Dimitri Marinopoulos, Mr. Panagis Vourloumis, and both the Mayor and the former Mayor of Kalamata, where Sir Patrick is an honorary citizen.

Co-organizers for the evening were Mrs. Margaret Samourkas and Mrs. Lana Mandilas. Thanks to underwriting from The Samourkas Foundation, the evening raised $29,000 for the Library’s gardens.

A copy of the newsletter with more pictures can be found on the American School of Classical Studies at Athens website, or downloaded from the blog archive here.

Related article:

Artemis Cooper “Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece.” – webcast online at the Gennadius May 2012

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece – a talk by Artemis Cooper

Paddy’s biographer and good friend, Artemis Cooper, will talk about his life in Greece at the Gannadius Library in Athens at 7.00 pm on 24 May 2012. 

Full details of the event can be found here.

Biographer Artemis Cooper, who is preparing a biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, will trace his life, experiences, and legacy in Greece from his early travels to the end of his life, on 10 June 2011. She will talk about what drew Patrick Leigh Fermor to Greece in the first place; his ‘participation’ in the Venizelist rebellion of 1935; his early travels in Thrace and Macedonia, and first encounters with the Sarakatsani; his experiences in the war on the Albanian front and Crete, as well as the post-war explorations of Greece that produced Mani and Roumeli. She will also touch on the Cyprus years; his friendship with George Seferis, George Katsimbalis, and Nicos Hadjikyriacos Ghika; how he and his wife came to settle in Kardamyli, and built their house with the architect Nicos Hadjimichalis; how the Greek translation of Mani was undertaken by Tzannis Tzannatakis, while he was in exile in Kythera under the Junta of the Colonels. She will also reflect on his position in the village of Kardamyli and how he is seen in Greece today.

PS – I have been told that there will be a webcast available after the event. I will post the details when I have them.

New Benaki wing to change cultural landscape

The upcoming opening of a one-of-a-kind museum has been billed as unexpectedly good news, a ray of light with regard to local cultural affairs hard hit by the ongoing crisis. The sixth annex of the Benaki Museum and former residence of prominent modern Greek artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, is scheduled to open its doors to the public in early April. Located at 3 Kriezotou Street in Athens, close to Syntagma Square, it will showcase the Ghika Gallery as well as the Interwar and 1930s Museum. The building was donated to the Benaki Museum by the artist himself.

by Spyros Yannaras

First published in ekathimerini.com

The new Benaki wing, developed thanks to the persistent efforts of the museum’s director Angelos Delivorrias, offers a panorama of leading examples of modern Greek culture, beginning in the 1920s and continuing up to the 1970s.

The museum will be inaugurated on Monday, April 2, while the following day will be dedicated to the numerous donors who have contributed to its development with a guided tour of the premises.

Meanwhile, news of the opening has been greeted with relief, given that only recently the Benaki Museum had launched an appeal with local visual arts fans to contribute to its financing by suggesting a new program for sponsorships and attracting new members.

On the Kriezotou building’s top floor, visitors can take a look at Hadjikyriakos-Ghika’s fully restored atelier, complete with his library and brushes. The artist’s unaltered living quarters, including the living room, dining room and his office, are situated on the fourth floor, where his triptych piece, “Kifissia,” is also on display. Furniture and personal items have also been restored, creating the feeling of a lived-in space. The third floor is divided into two areas: The first section includes the artist’s art gallery and the last section of the Interwar Museum, which also takes up the first and second floors. The final touches on the second and third floor are set to take a work-in-progress form in the presence of the audience.

The ground floor, which is also divided into sections, is home to the Litsa Papaspirou Hall, a restored interwar residence showcasing 17th-and 18th-century furniture as well as works by various European artists.

The Ghika Gallery is expected to change the city’s cultural landscape.

Related articles:

Obituary Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas (Nikos Ghika)

British Philhellene author, Patrick Leigh Fermor, donates Kardamyli home to Benaki