At close inspection, Constantinos Parthenis’s painting “The Little Church of Cephalonia” offers a glimpse of the artist’s key creative elements. There’s the idea of sketching as a means of outlining the world as well as his absolute perception of color. There’s also the notion of intellectual space and the boundaries that surround it. Above all, however, is that intense, hard to define, yet very clear feeling which accompanies major works of art.
The painting is currently on display at the B&M Theocharakis Foundation in Athens, part of an exhibition dedicated to the artist that will remain on display through June 1. “Art and Spirit” explores Parthenis’s oeuvre via subject matter, landscapes, allegories, portraits, still lifes and religious works. The latter category, which takes up one of the exhibition halls, is of particular interest as it reveals the artist’s distinct intellectual level, his dedication to tradition, as well as his rejuvenating perspective on religious iconography. A comparison of some of his most traditional work, such as that carried out at Aghios Alexandros Church in Palaio Faliro, southern Athens, with his modern depiction of the Annunciation, is an example of this kind of coexistence. Penned by Nikos Zias, Marina Lambraki-Plaka and Spyros Moschonas, a series of texts provide insight into both the artist’s work and his life and also feature in the catalog.
A leading figure and pioneer of the Greek Modernist movement, Parthenis (1878-1967) was born in Alexandria, Egypt. Following stints in European cities such as Paris (where he became acquainted with the Impressionists’ palette) and Vienna (where he was influenced by Gustav Klimt and the rest of the Austrian Secessionists), Parthenis arrived in Greece in 1903. With the influences of his European peers and his mature use of Greek folk tradition, his talents were soon recognized both socially and creatively through a series of major exhibitions as well as his prestigious appointment at the Athens School of Fine Arts. What happened next, however, was less auspicious.
“During Parthenis’s time Greece was not up to date with developments in the rest of Europe,” noted Athens University art history professor Dimitris Pavlopoulos. “He cited the art of Cezanne, for instance, a figure practically unknown to his Greek colleagues, while his own teaching methods were also foreign compared to the local teaching establishment.”
As a result Parthenis gradually distanced himself from the art school before finally handing in his resignation in 1947 and permanently withdrawing to his home, also his studio, until his death.
“Figures like Parthenis are like meteorites,” noted Pavlopoulos. “His distinct and deeply cerebral work was left with no descendants, while including him in trends and art movements would be a mistake.”
Indeed, despite the fact that his School of Fine Arts teachings attracted the interest of a number of artists who subsequently gained wide acclaim, among them Yannis Tsarouchis and Nikos Engonopoulos, they did not adopt his creative style.
The legacy of Parthenis – Costis to his family and friends – are his paintings, and the Theocharakis Foundation exhibition will surely bring pleasure to every art lover who appreciates the work to which this man dedicated his life.
B&M Theocharakis Foundation, Vassilissis Sofias & Merlin, tel 210.361.1206, www.thf.gr