Tag Archives: Benaki Museum

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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The Benaki comes out fighting – progress at Paddy’s house

In late September the Benaki museum carried out an extraordinary publicity drive in London in an attempt to counter the ongoing criticism of its tenure of the house and progress with renovations. On 26 September I attended an event at the Hellenic Centre which was, I am told, similar in content to an exclusive evening held the night before at the Traveller’s Club.

by Tom Sawford

After an extraordinary period of silence, like an old boxer absorbing the body-blows of criticism for many rounds, the Benaki came out with all guns blazing in an attempt to explain how things were now really moving with the house project. No less than two of Her Majesty’s former Ambassadors to the Hellenic Republic were on the five person panel to ensure that we agreed it must be so.

To make sure we were in the right mood, we were first treated to the Benaki promotional video which portrays the museum as one of the most important cultural institutions in Greece, and indeed it certainly has a fine collection and many responsibilities including looking after the house of Nikos Ghika, which must be where Paddy and Joan got the idea in the first place. I encourage you to watch it here.

Irini Geroulanou, a member of the Executive Board of the Benaki, explained the details of the bequest and ran us through the events that have taken place since Paddy’s death six years ago. We do have to appreciate the serious financial circumstances that have existed in Greece and some of the tortuously slow bureaucratic steps that needed to be taken to secure permission to work on the house. Key events were the 2015 business plan for the house produced by AEA Consulting which outlined how the Benaki could make it self-funding, and the 2016 donation by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation which at last made money available to commence the works.

Ms Geroulanou went on to show glimpses of plans but, curiously, only a very few photographs of work on the house. The intention is to create five independent “units” including a work area and en-suite facilities to foster privacy, focus and creativity. A Common area will be centred on the “world’s room”. Winter will be a maintenance period; in the spring there will follow two months of academic residence; there will be two periods in the late spring and early autumn for “Honorary fellows” to use the house as the writers’ retreat that Paddy foresaw; in the summer, three months will be set-aside for holiday rentals, this forming the main part of the annual income. The house will become known as The Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre, and the Benaki plans to start a charity in the UK to create a dedicated endowment fund.

This was all very encouraging. But, as I say there were very few pictures showing actual progress at the house. Apparently the roof is being replaced but workers were reluctant to be photographed. The museum would do itself a lot of favours if it were to publish regular updates, with a few photographs on the House section of its website.

Ms Geroulanou also made time to counter the criticism made against the Benaki. She was passionate and very detailed in her rebuttal – countering the reports that had apparently appeared in newspapers (so not this blog then!) that donations had been turned down – giving us a detailed breakdown of all three or so donations which seemed to add up to the value of a good night out at a taverna in Kardamyli. There were other mentions of criticisms on “websites and blogs” (OK – guilty) which seemed to have struck hard at the Benaki, leading to “an unpleasant climate of suspicion”. I stand by the criticism I made a year ago about a lack of care of many of the smaller items in the house, but that is all now in the past.

It is encouraging to report that things are now happening. It is also good to know that the Benaki is a distinctly reputable and experienced organisation, and now with the funding it has, Paddy and Joan’s vision may be achieved within 18 months or so. I look forward to updating you on progress, as I also look forward to the Benaki sharing plans, reports, updates and photographs on its website so that the nasty “unpleasant climate of suspicion” does not return.

PS – apologies for the delay in posting this update. I have been working very hard, and away for a time on a personal pilgrimage on foot from Winchester to Exeter via Salisbury, Wells and Glastonbury. I encourage others to go! I can supply my route information.

Benaki report on progress with Paddy’s house

Although there are no new updates on the Benaki website, there does appear to be progress. Some readers have been in touch to report that work appears to have started, and indeed, the house has been closed to visitors to permit the work to commence.

On 26 September, the museum will report to interested parties in London at an invitation only event. I’ll try to update you immediately afterwards on progress.

A recent visit to Paddy’s house

An update on the house from blog reader Nigel, who was recently in Kardamyli with his wife and visited Paddy and Joan’s house.

I still greatly enjoy your e-mails. Keep them coming.
Just a brief note to say that my wife and I were in Kardamyli as usual in May this year and went to visit Paddy and Joan’s house.
We have walked past for years, including when he lived there, and always wanted to see it.
The house is of course stunning as indeed are the gardens.
The Benaki museum will make it into a wonderful centre I am sure but it was good to visit before the changes start whilst it is still as he left it and retains the atmosphere of his time.
We were shown round by Elpida Beloyianni who is in charge of the restoration and was charming and most hospitable.
I just thought that you would be interested to know that all of Paddy and Joan’s effect have now been moved to Athens and the house is empty. Restoration can now start!
The exception is the amazing table in the main room, which I’m sure you know. It is too heavy to move.

There will be a huge amount to do to upgrade the house for its future role. I commented on the lovely but ruined wooden windows and Elpida said that all they needed in the past was painting now and then but Paddy never bothered!

A Friendship Hymn to Life in Greece

From the left: Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, John Craxton, Barbara Hutchinson-Ghika, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Joan Leigh Fermor, 1958

Especially for those who are Greek or read Greek an article from Protagon about the Craxton, Ghika, Fermor exhibition, but worth a view by all as there are some fine Ghika pictures and new photos of the friends. If you do not read Greek and wish to find out what has been written, I have a Google Translate version for you here.

First published in Protagon 7 June 2017

Γκίκας, Κράξτον, Λι Φέρμορ: Μια φιλία ύμνος της ζωής στην Ελλάδα
Mία ανασκόπηση της ζωής και του έργου τριών σημαντικών προσωπικοτήτων της Τέχνης και των Γραμμάτων του 20ού αιώνα παρουσιάζεται στο Μουσείο Μπενάκη. Η έκθεση διερευνά τη φιλία που ένωσε τους Νίκο Χατζηκυριάκο-Γκίκα, Τζον Κράξτον και Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ, και την αγάπη τους για την Ελλάδα.

Η έκθεση «Γκίκας, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: η γοητεία της ζωής στην Ελλάδα» που παρουσιάζεται εφέτος στο Μουσείο Μπενάκη αντανακλά τις μαγευτικές εξερευνήσεις των τριών μεγάλων δημιουργών στην Ελλάδα του περασμένου αιώνα. Πρόκειται για ένα αφιέρωμα στη ζωή και το έργο τους αλλά και στη φιλία που τους συνέδεσε για σχεδόν 50 χρόνια καθώς και στον «διάλογο» που ανέπτυξαν μεταξύ τους.

Read More here ….

From Google Translate.

Gikas, Cracton, Li Fermor: A Friendship Hymn to Life in Greece

A review of the life and work of three important personalities of Art and Literature of the 20th Century is presented at the Benaki Museum. The exhibition explores the friendship that brought together Nikos Chatzikyriakos-Ghika, John Krasson and Patrick Li Fermore, and their love for Greece

The exhibition “Gikas, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: The Charm of Life in Greece” presented this year at the Benaki Museum reflects the magical explorations of the three great artists in Greece of the past century. It is a tribute to their life and work, but also to the friendship that has been associated with them for almost 50 years, as well as the “dialogue” they have developed among themselves.

It was organized by the Leventis Art Gallery in collaboration with the Benaki Museum and Craxton Estate and was first presented in Nicosia for the first time in the Leventis Art Gallery. It is now going to Athens and the year will be transferred to the British Museum of London (March – July 2018).

The tribute includes paintings and watercolors by Ch. Ghika and Cracton, and texts by Livermore, many of which come from unpublished material found by curators of the exhibition in personal records or in the archive of the author in the National Library of Scotland.

In addition, letters, pages of visitors’ books, notes, sketches, publications and dedications, as well as many rare photographs from the life of the three creators, revealing their love for Greece, history, myth, countryside and Greek Lifestyle, while reflecting their fascinating quests, their interactions and devotion to the joy of life.

The early years
The works come from the Benaki Museum Gallery, the Craxton Estate in London, the Leventis Art Gallery in Nicosia and many private collections, libraries and museums in Greece and abroad.

The first section of the report refers to the first years of their acquaintance with the events and the atmosphere of the era, which would then have an interdependent influence on their creativity.

The three artists met for the first time in the years 1945 and 1946. Nikos Chatzikyriakos-Ghikas met John Krasson and Patrick Livermore in London. Shortly thereafter, the two last met in Athens, and between the three, as well as between the two of them, Barbara Ghika and Joan Lee Fermor, a friendship was developed with a common reference point, the love of all of them for Greece. This friendship was going to prove highly resistant, since it would last for about fifty years.

Places of inspiration and happiness

The next sections of the exhibition revolve around the four places – Hydra, Kardamili, Chania and Corfu – that have been stamped over their work and friendship.

Hydra. There was an important chapter in the life of the three friends, but also a pole of attraction for Greeks and foreigners, intellectuals and artists. For Ghika he was the home of his childhood and later his refuge, his place of inspiration. For Livermore, “a source of happiness”, as he said, a retreat for the writing of his book “Mani” and for Craxton, a place of creation shortly before discovering his own paradise in Crete.

Chania. In 1947 Krassont visited Crete for the first time. One year later he returns and draws paintings on Cretan shepherds. The place and the people charm him and so in 1960 he decides to follow his dream and live in Chania, “in my beloved city, on my favorite island”. The house above the Venetian harbor became its main place of work. Many of his most famous paintings, with typical figures, scenes from everyday life, as well as landscapes of Cretan land, are created there.

Kardamyli. It is the place where Li Fermore will discover their own haven of paradise in the Peloponnese. Attracted by the nature of the area, his friend, Ghika, draws landscapes of Kardamili and creates works for decorating the house. Here Paddy, as he was his affectionate, will dedicate himself to the writing: “At last I could walk through the olive trees for hours, forming phrases and dissolve them in pieces again,” he writes.

Corfu. An old olive press at Sinias, Corfu, will be the new meeting and creation place for the three friends in the seventies. There, Ghika and Barbara’s wife will create a new “idyllic setting”, a welcoming “shelter of unique atmosphere and charm” that will inspire all three artists.

Leading the charmed life in Greece

Patrick Leigh Fermor and his wife Joan on the veranda of their home in Kardamyli, in 1967.

This article from Ekathimerini focuses on the new exhibition “Ghika – Craxton – Leigh Fermor: Charmed Lives in Greece” which opened recently at the Benaki Museum in Athens. It runs to 10 September so if you are in the city do drop by. Never fear, if you can’t make a trip to Athens, the exhibition moves to the British Museum in the Spring and we will update you all.

by Margarita Pournara

First published in Ekathimerini 14 June 2017.

I have often asked myself how an exhibition ultimately affects its audience. What kind of trace does it leave on the collective memory? The answer, I find, is that it depends on the show’s content and the circumstances under which it takes place. In these troubled times, so laden with insecurity and silent resignation, the exhibition that opened at Athens’s Benaki Museum on June 6 on a great friendship is like balsam to the soul.

“Ghika – Craxton – Leigh Fermor: Charmed Lives in Greece” is like a piece of precise needlework using the threads of history to take the audience back to 1945, when Greek painter Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika first met British writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and painter John Craxton. The three became firm friends and over the ensuing 50 years drew inspiration from the Greek landscape, their readings on the country and the virtues of life here, leaving behind enduring impressions in their art and writings. The lives of the three became entwined in four different parts of the country, which is the exhibition’s departure point.

From the Ghika family home on the ridge of a hill on the Saronic island of Hydra, where the friendship was first cemented, to Paddy’s haven in Kardamyli in the southern Peloponnese, Craxton’s house with its unexpected view over the port of Hania on Crete and an old olive mill in Corfu that Ghika transformed into a home after his Hydra property was destroyed by fire, their relationship was defined by an almost constant and highly creative toing and froing between the personal paradises each man had created for himself.

“Each of these houses was a small universe that embodied their love for Greece, its countryside and the warmth of its people. Beyond these three and the wives of Ghika and Fermor, these homes were enjoyed by many others, Greeks and Britons and other guests, who came from abroad to get their own taste of the charms of life here,” says one of the exhibition’s four curators, Evita Arapoglou. Paintings, photographs, letters and drawings illustrate this 50-year journey.

How did the three men meet? It was shortly after World War II had ended and Greece was making an effort to promote its culture, literature and art abroad, with the help of the British Council and its offshoot, at the time, the British Institute.

Athens happened to be home to a group of Greek and British intellectuals – among them Lawrence Durrell, Steven Runciman, Rex Warner, as well as Giorgos Seferis, Giorgos Katsimbalis and Ghika – who helped spearhead the golden age of cooperation between the two countries, organizing soirees and exhibitions. One of the many things the Britons had in common was their attraction to the Greek people and countryside.

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika’s ‘Pines and Blue Chair in the Afternoon,’ oil on canvas, from 1979.

Ghika, who spent most of his adult life in France, also lived in London for a few years during this period. Fermor already knew Greece very well and Craxton, who was a close friend of Joan Leigh Fermor, was hooked from his first visit to the country.

The house on Hydra, which held a lot of childhood memories for Ghika but needed extensive renovations, was a revelation to the Fermors, who spent around two years there in the mid-1950s and which is where Patrick wrote the bulk of his book on Mani. Craxton was also a familiar figure there, where he would paint views of the small Saronic island. Ghika and his wife Barbara were indeed the perfect hosts.

When the house was destroyed by fire in the early 1960s, Ghika couldn’t bear to set foot on the island, so it fell to Craxton to go and see what could be salvaged from the ashes. That fire marked the end of the first chapter of three men’s friendship, which was rekindled when the Fermors moved to Kardamyli and Craxton to Hania. Toward the end of the decade, the Ghikas built their house in Corfu.

The wonderful exhibition at the Benaki is all about serendipity in another respect too, as the idea emerged from the meeting of four people with deep knowledge and admiration for the three friends. Arapoglou is the curator of the Greek collection at the Leventis Gallery in Nicosia and is an expert on Ghika, as well as having known Fermor and Craxton personally. Former British ambassador to Athens, historian and writer Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith knew Fermor and the archive he left behind very well, while Ian Collins wrote a monograph on Craxton, with whom he was friends. The fourth curator of the Athens show is Ioanna Moraiti, the Benaki’s archive director, and she was instrumental in helping the other three pool their knowledge and expertise.

When they were first brought together in 2014 thanks to Edmee Leventis, it became clear that the subject of Ghika, Fermor and Craxton’s close friendship and their relationship with Greece would make a wonderful theme for an exhibition. The project was funded by the Leventis Foundation and the show was first held at the Leventis Gallery in spring. After Athens, the exhibition will be shown at the British Museum.

The friends

A painter, sculptor, engraver, writer and academic, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (1906-94) was the eldest of the three. He moved to Paris at the age of 17 to study art and soon developed a large intellectual and artistic circle of friends and acquaintances. While he was influenced by the trends and movements in Europe, like architect Dimitris Pikionis, his contemporary, Ghika also became increasingly interested in Greek folk art and tradition. He emerged as one of the greatest figures of the Thirties Generation and Hydra played a huge role in his work. Barbara was his second wife.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was a restless scholar with a love of adventure. He discovered Greece while crossing Europe on foot at the age of 18. He returned in World War II, where he became a hero of the resistance and the mastermind behind the kidnapping of German General Heinrich Kreipe. He moved to Athens after the war, before the house in Kardamyli was built. He is the author of several wonderful books, including “Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese,” “Roumeli” and his three books about his journey across Europe, among others. His wife Joan was a photographer.

John Craxton in his studio in Crete in 1983

John Craxton (1922-2009) was the youngest of the bunch, a free spirit with a definite wanderlust. He found his ideal haven in Greece, and Crete in particular, where he was impressed by the people and their way of life. During his time there, he was regarded as one of Hania’s most recognizable personalities.

The exhibition is accompanied by a bilingual book with texts by the curators and an abundance of photographic material pertaining to the three friends’ lives.

“Ghika – Craxton – Leigh Fermor: Charmed Lives in Greece” runs through September 10 at the Benaki Museum’s main building (1 Koumbari & Vassilissis Sofias, tel 210.367.1000).

Benaki update on Paddy’s house

The Benaki museum have provided an update on Paddy’s house. You can visit the webpage on their website. The highlights are as follows:

– the Benaki Museum has applied for the necessary permits to the Greek State (Structuring Service – Municipality of Kalamata) and is waiting for their issuing so that the works can start.

– the informative event planned for November 2016 in London has been rescheduled for early 2017, so that the availability of the speakers of the event is confirmed. The final dates of the event will be announced soon.

– discussions with educational institutions regarding collaboration in the future operation of The Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre are progressing.

– a book in honor of Patrick Leigh Fermor, dedicated to his life and work, is in preparation and will be completed within the first semester of 2017. Another publication on the house in Kardamyli is also scheduled to be published soon.

The scope of the repair works:

According to the study and the proposal of the future and considering that the PLF house can provide ideal accommodation for up to 5 people/couples at a time, minor building interventions will be carried out without altering the form of the house. More specifically, the 5 guestrooms will each include a bedroom, an independent workplace and bathroom. (Basic kitchen equipment will be provided in the guesthouses located outside the main house). This setting ensures that all guests will be offered a large separate living space, perfect for isolation and uninterrupted concentration. Moreover, common spaces will be used as places of assembly and not as workplaces. All spaces created – apart from the basement, which may be considered the least privileged – will include large openings, a view and plenty of light and ventilation.

Apart from the fireplaces in some of the rooms, the house hasn’t had any other form of heating up till now. A heating and cooling system will be installed underground or through the roof, in order to keep the façades intact. The plans also include the full replacement of the electrical, plumbing and sewerage system, as well as the repair of the bathrooms and kitchen. Furthermore, repair and partial replacement of the roofs as well as reconstruction of the hencoop are also planned.

Along with the construction works, the garden shall be thoroughly cleaned, properly pruned and any damaged plants will be replaced. The current form of the garden will not be altered. Members of the Mediterranean Garden Society, who have visited the house, have expressed their interest in helping with the works in the garden.

Visit the Benaki website here.