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Spectacular Paintings by Volanakis, Ralli and Gysis lead Sotheby's Sale of Greek Art in November
Alecos Fassianos, Petite Suite Anachronique ou la Vie D’Anastasios en 24 Heures, oil on canvas heightened with gold, estimate: £200,000-300,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s has led the field in Greek Art auctions since its inaugural sale in 2001 and its sale in April this year realised a record-breaking £9.5 million, a figure which still represents the highest total for any sale of Greek Art at any auction house. Its forthcoming sale, on Tuesday, November 11, 2008, is set to be equally as strong with all the leading names of 19th and 20th centuries represented - many by works from private collections which have not been seen in public for many years. The undoubted star of the show though will be a rare masterpiece by Constantinos Volanakis entitled The Arrival of Karaiskakis at Faliro, which is estimated at £1.5-2 million. The sale overall is expected to fetch in excess of £8.5 million.

Constantine Frangos, Senior Director and Specialist in Charge of the Greek Sales at Sotheby’s, comments: “2008 has already been a strong and exciting year for Greek Art at Sotheby’s - with our April sale achieving £9.5million and setting 18 new auction records - and the strength of recent sales has drawn some exceptional works on to the market. This has enabled us to put together a tightly curated sale for next month, which will – once again – present an impressive group of paintings and in particular, Constantinos Volanakis’ The Arrival of Karaiskakis at Faliro, which is arguably the most important 19th Century Greek painting to ever appear on the international market.”

In addition to Constantinos Volanakis’ (1837-1907) The Arrival of Karaiskakis at Faliro, the forthcoming sale will be led by seven works by Theodoros Ralli (1852-1909) and the most important of these are two recent re-discoveries: Les Confitures de Roses a Magara and Marionnetes in the Harem. Both paintings rank among the most significant works by Ralli ever to come to the market; neither have been offered at auction before having remained in private collections since the 19th century.

Les Confitures de Roses a Megara is a quintessential example of Ralli’s celebration of and fondness for the culture and customs of Greece. It depicts women dressed in traditional Greek costume gathering in a room, industriously sorting and cleaning rosebuds to be crushed and made into rose-petal jam. Ralli spent most of his working life in France and Egypt and his genre paintings, as a result, were often nostalgic reflections of the life and customs of his homeland. The painting, elaborated with great attention to detail, is estimated at £600,000-800,000. The importance of the painting was such that Ralli exhibited it in the Paris Salon of 1892 and Exposition Universelle of 1900.

Marionnetes in the Harem, estimated at £400,000-600,000, was exhibited by Ralli at the Royal Academy in London in 1881 and it shows the artist at the peak of his powers in his depictions of Orientalist subjects. It captures an afternoon’s amusements in a near-eastern harem. The painting’s vibrant colours, rich and varied textures and quality of shadow and light culminate to describe a scene of opulence and exoticism. Ralli was intimately familiar with the culture, architecture and decoration of North Africa and the Middle East, and Marionnetes in the Harem shows the breadth of his knowledge. He travelled extensively throughout Greece and the Middle East during his life and trained in the studio of leading pompier painter, Jean-Leon Gerome.

Nicholas Gysis (1842-1901) – considered by many as the father of 19th Century Greek painting – will be represented by The Neighbours (The Gossips), a work that he painted in the early 1880s, the pinnacle of his career. The painting, estimated at £300,000-500,000, captures the rapt attention with which two neighbours gossip and chat and it celebrates the importance of community and domestic life. Inspired by the artist’s village on the island of Tinos, it is a tribute to the artist’s birthplace and the daily rituals of his countrymen.

Ioannis Altamoura’s (1852-1878) Sailing Along the Coast, Skagen dates from 1876 and is the largest and most important of Altamoura’s works from this period to ever appear at auction. It was painted while the artist was in Skagen on the northern coast of Denmark, a region known for its unique natural beauty, and has an estimate of £200,000-300,000. Altamoura’s landscapes, portraits and naval battles of the Greek War of Independence paved the way for the marine works of fellow artist, Constantinos Volanakis.

Highlights among the 20th Century works on offer will be Nikos Kessanlis’ (1930-2004) Large Figures (illustrated overleaf), a work which uses the angles and planes of layered figures and objects that derive from the formal vocabulary of Cubism. Radical and innovative, Kessanlis belonged to a generation of Greek artists who were first to attempt a dynamic change in art – the opening up to the contemporary international scene. Large Figures, estimated at £100,000-150,000, is one of 13 works by Kessanlis in the sale.

12 works by Alecos Fassianos (b. 1935) will be other notable highlights of the 20th Century offerings and, in particular, his Petite Suite Anachronique ou la Vie D’Anastasios en 24 Heures, an ambitious narrative of monumental scale depicting life in post-World War II Greece. Executed in 1970 and exhibited at the 1971 Sao Paulo Biennale, this work is of great importance within the oeuvre of Fassianos and it is an exciting rediscovery given that its forthcoming exhibition will be the painting’s first public reappearance since the Biennale in 1971. In this historical work of epic proportions (it measures 160cm by 350cm), Fassianos creates an all-encompassing, dynamic atmosphere of hope, rich with symbolism. It is a celebration of Greek resilience in the face of adversity. Petite Suite Anachronique…is estimated at £200,000-300,000.

The sale will also include six further paintings by Constantinos Volanakis as well as significant works by Polychronis Lembessis (1849-1913), Mario Prassinos (1916-1985), Yannis Kottis (b. 1949), Yannis Gaitis (1923-1984), Pavlos (1914-1973), Georgios Bouzianis (1885-1959), Spyros Vassiliou (1902-1985), among others.

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