Excerpts from the Origins of Modern Greek Painting

Modern Greek painting, whether evolved from late Byzantine or Italian art, is rich in religious and secular works, in which one can discern influences from the late Renaissance as well as from artists from the Greek islands, particularly Crete and the Ionian Islands. From the outset, modern Greek art broke with its Byzantine past and defined itself as purely European. The shift toward Europe was bold, yet circumspect. Early in the twentieth century, Greek artists would turn to their past, in their quest for an identity and a source of inspiration.

The Greek artists producing paintings immediately after the Greek War of Independence, which ended in 1829, drew their subjects from Greece’s recent heroic past: battle scenes from the struggle against the Ottomans and portraits of famous fighters in the war. Scenes of battle are not numerous at this time and, unlike such scenes by contemporary philhellene artists, do not depict extreme violence.

When Otto, son of the fervent philhellene Ludwig I of Bavaria, was placed on the Greek throne in 1833, Greek artists turned their attention to Munich. This focus was reinforced by the founding in 1837 of the Athens School of Arts, which based its teaching methods on the German model. Though several Greek artists chose to study in other European capitals, such as Copenhagen, Brussels and Paris, Munich had the strongest appeal. Greek art would be permeated by German artistic currents during the second half of the nineteenth century.

At the Munich Academy, Greek students were imbued with ideas about art from academically conservative professors. The style in which most of the students expressed themselves-a high degree of attention to texture and detail-and which they brought back to the School of Art in Athens, became known as academic realism.