Symeon Sabbides, a painter and theorist

Of the late 19th Greek painters who belong to the generation of the so-called School of Munich artists, Symeon Sabbides is one of the less known, yet he was one of the most original and unconventional. He did not align himself with a conservative, academic style and explored different genres (he began with Orientalist works and moved to naturalistic paintings) as well as theoretical issues in painting. A retrospective exhibition on the artist’s work that opens tomorrow at the National Gallery and is curated by an expert on the work of Sabbides, Marilena Kassimati, shows a broad creative range and points out the artist’s searching, unconventional orientation. It is a densely arranged exhibition with a total of 200 works (some presented to the public for the first time), most of them oil paintings and numerous drawings. It is also the first large exhibition on the artist’s work held since 1931 and the first that covers his entire oeuvre. Noticeably, many of the oil paintings are small-scale images, many of them esoteric depictions of the Orient. They are not the kinds of paintings which will immediately arrest the viewer’s gaze; they are not impressive or glowing in an obvious way but have a subtler, more indirect effect. The works of Sabbides do not have that instantly pleasing or recognizable quality of academic painting. This is where they differ with the art of his contemporary Giorgos Iakovides, another great artist of the School of Munich painters, whose work is presented at a separate exhibition (on for several more days) at the National Gallery. Visitors to the museum have the chance to make telling comparisons between the two artists. Iakovides was a genre painter who became mostly known for his depictions of children and scenes from domestic family life. He was an artist who enjoyed commercial success and great reputation. Sabbides was not part of the establishment. According to Kassimati, Sabbides was also the first Greek artist to explore theoretical matters in painting and draw connections between the natural sciences and the role of color in painting. He was an artist with a distinctive vision, which the current exhibition hopes to communicate to the public. The Iakovidis exhibition runs through March 27 and «Symeon Sabbides» to June 26, at the National Gallery (50 Vassileos Constantinou, tel 210.723.5937).