From Tinos to Munich: The art of Nikolaos Gyzis

The late 19th century is admittedly one of the most highly thought of periods in the history of Greek art. The reason for this can be largely traced to the work of a group of artists who studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts and, as a consequence, became known as the ‘School of Munich’ group. Modeled after the aesthetics of the canonized, academic Western style, their works are seen as a link between Greek and Western art; they help place Greek art in the much-valued echelons of Western academic art and they do so in relevance to the sensitive time of post-liberation Greece. Nikolaos Gyzis, who was one of the eldest of the group, has since then occupied one of the most acclaimed positions in Greek art history. Like several of his colleagues, Gyzis spent most of his life in Munich where he arrived after his studies at the Athens School of Fine Arts. It is there that he matured as an artist and it was at the very Academy where he studied that he later became professor. Although Gyzis visited Greece only three times since his initial departure, it seems he never lost sensitivity for his Greek roots. Themes and human figures drawn from Greek rural life provided subjects for many of his paintings and though this was not unusual in the midst of Orientalism, some of it must be attributed to Gyzis’s own heritage. It is therefore most appropriate that an exhibition on the artist’s work is currently taking place on the island of Tinos, Gyzis’s birthplace, (as well as that of the sculptor Yiannoulis Halepas), especially since the organizing institution, the Panhellenic Sacred Foundation of the Evangelistria in Tinos, is the very institution that more than a century ago provided the artist with a scholarship to study at the Munich Academy. This and other valuable, scholarly information on the artist’s life and work are found in the catalog supplementing the exhibition. Both the exhibition and the catalog mark the centenary since the artist’s death (a large retrospective on Gyzis is expected next month at the National Gallery) and are the outcome of research by Constantinos Didaskalou, a leading scholar on Gyzis. Freely structured along categories of subject matter but with no prescribed viewpoint, the exhibition allows the viewer to make comparisons of Gyzis’s works across different time periods and themes. The large number of preparatory drawings and sketches also allow the viewer access to some unique moments of artistic experimentation in which the artist freely tests his skills and vision. As is the case with any exhibition dealing with Gyzis, the current display reveals the artist in all his complexity and richness. It suggests how open Gyzis must have been to many influences, some more directly than others, but all a vital part of his distinct style. There is for example, the continuation of a long tradition of genre painting, the attention to rural life that in a sense can be traced to realism, the fluid lines of his allegorical figures (many of them featured in compositions which were public commissions) bringing to mind the early experimentations in Art Nouveau and the mythological themes that may suggest a link with the art of the Nazarenes. As an artist living in the later part of the 19th century, Gyzis lived at a time of artistic plurality and vivid experimentation. Although much of this experimentation was taking place in Paris, and despite the fact that Gyzis himself was somewhat ensconced in an academic environment, he was still an artist of his times. What these times were like and what status the art we nowadays consider as avant-garde occupied back then, are issues not that easily resolved. So, if by contemporary standards, Gyzis is considered a competent artist working in an academic style but still outside art’s more innovative developments, such an appraisal should still be placed within the context of his time. The shipping industry tapped the US junk bond market extensively between 1997 and 1999.

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