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Manolis Vlachos, Greek Painters after the War of Independence

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Excerpts from the Origins of Modern Greek Painting

Born in northern Europe, impressionism was a medium for plein air painting conceived for the light atmosphere of the North. The subjects depicted, shrouded by the broken brushstroke of the impressionist style, lost their sharp outline and pureness of color. On the other hand, the Mediterranean light is bright and strong. This quality is faithfully transposed by Greek artists in paintings with sharply diffused surfaces, bold shapes, a lack of detail, and a flattening of the chromatic surface. This style and technique is distinctly different from the Impressionists’ with the dilution of shapes, fragmentation of the chromatic tone, and array of pure colors. The uniqueness of the Greek landscape called for an adaptation that came closer to the post-impressionist currents, such as the Nabis, fauvism and expressionism.

The Greek artists born around 1900 are known as the Generation of the Thirties. Receptive to new European trends, this generation was influenced by a number of new currents (such as fauvism, expressionism, cubism, metaphysical painting, abstract art, and surrealism). The importance of the opening decades of the twentieth century does not, however, lie only in this influx of new currents from Europe. It lies also in the freedom and subjectiveness of the choices of style and technique with which the artists expressed purely Greek themes. What is valued in their work is the degree of differentiation from academic tenets and the freedom of personal expression.

The Generation of the Thirties stood mainly for a return to Greek tradition and for an interpretation of this tradition through the channels of modern art. After the Asia Minor disaster, finding refuge in the life and art of Hellenism, including folk art, once more became a standard with which modern art should be reconciled.

The opening of Greece to Western European influences and art trends after the War of Independence also permitted the introduction of printmaking and its many possibilities for secular themes. The first engravings produced in Greece date back to the late eighteenth century. Intended for religious purposes, they were printed on Mount Athos, usually by anonymous monks, and offered to pilgrims. They depict famous monasteries and churches as well as the figures of Christ, the Virgin and various saints.

During the 1930s, a century after Greek independence, the Generation of the Thirties succeeded in fusing western and eastern idioms. The painters of that group turned to the Hellenic past, and drew inspiration from Byzantine and folk art traditions. They combined the languishing influence of German style and technique with innovative French trends, placing particular emphasis on the treatment of light and color. By the second half of the twentieth century, modern Greek painting had achieved a prominent position in European art.

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