CULTURE

Odessa artists made known in new album

Out of the thriving Greek community that lived in Odessa in the early part of the 20th century there came a group of painters loosely connected by their choice of favorite subject matter, mostly landscapes and scenes of rural life. Kiriak Kostandi was one of the most prominent, a painter and educator who also played a vital role in highlighting the presence of Odessa’s artistic community by founding, in 1890, the Society of Southern Russian Painters. His work, and the art produced by the artistic milieu of Odessa, is the subject of a bilingual book (in Russian and English) titled «Kiriak Kostandi and Greek Painters in Odessa in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries.» The book was recently published by the Odessa Branch of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture in collaboration with the Odessa Museum of Fine Arts and with the help of the M. Gorky Library, the Archives of the Ukraine Security Service, the Odessa Museum of Local History as well as several art collectors in Odessa (the Greek construction company Hephaistos, which is mainly active in Odessa, partly subsidized the book). Kostandi, like most other Greek artists in Odessa, painted landscapes in a recognizably impressionistic style, a style which, as a teacher at the school of fine arts, Kostandi also transmitted to a generation of younger painters. Kostandi enjoyed high status in Odessa’s art world; the fact that the greater part of the permanent collection of Greek art owned by the Odessa Museum of Fine Arts consists of his works testifies to his importance. (Many works were donations made to the museum by Kostandi’s family.) The Museum of Fine Arts in Odessa was founded in 1899 at a former palace which Grigory Grigorievich Marazli, the son of a rich merchant, a benefactor and mayor of Odessa at the time, had bought and donated to the city for the purpose. (Marazli also helped build Odessa’s public library.) Initially, it housed a small collection of paintings that had been brought together at the Odessa School of Drawing as well as works donated by the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg. Through the Society of Southern Russian Painters, Kostandi helped support the museum. In 1916, a few years before he died, he was appointed the museum’s director. The museum helped boost the cultural life of Odessa but the city’s painters also helped the museum build a permanent collection. To this day, the Museum of Fine Arts in Odessa is a reminder of this history. It has organized exhibitions that have celebrated Odessa’s cultural heritage and the work of the painters that supported the museum since its foundation. The current publication, which is largely based on an exhibition organized by the Odessa Museum in 1996 on Kostandi and his pupils, joins the history of the museum and the cultural heritage of Odessa together and makes it known to a broader public.