|The exhibition "Mythologies
of the Book. Contemporary Greek Artists" aims to present the entire spectrum
of the contribution of Greek artists to book production. The first part
of the exhibition includes a series of representative publications which
epitomise certain periods, promoted some special traits or served as models
within the relatively short history of modern Greek illustrated editions.
The important books
illustrated by Greek artists from 1900 to 1950 –the period included in
the first part– are certainly a lot more. These editions were selected
in such a way as to demonstrate the principles, underline the continuity
and showcase some landmark editions from that era.
There is no parallel
in Greek art of the European tradition of illustrated books, unbroken from
the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages to the current electronic
publications. Historical circumstances led to the Greek centres’ isolation
from the cities of Europe. Such publications were only addressed to Church
circles and the small expatriate communities in Central European cities.
Unable to keep up
with the proliferation of illustrated books in Europe during the 18th and
19th centuries, Greece only makes its debut in this field in the early
20th century, at first timidly and then experimentally adopting various
illustration techniques. Not surprisingly, the early attempts are influenced
by the widely accepted aesthetics of Symbolism and the traditional notion
of books of the late 19th century rather than the radical trends of that
time which shaped book aesthetics in the 20th century.
In Paris the illustrated
de luxe –printed on quality paper with more than one suites, mostly
etchings– had already appeared since 1880, with the collectible
d`artistes following in the first years of the 20th century. These
editions combined the work of painters with the visions of ambitious art
publishers like D.H. Kahnweiler and A. Vollard, introducing a subversive
aesthetic not always acceptable to bibliophiles, who turned to more traditional
forms of illustration.
In Greece such editions
arrive in the early 1920s, coming from foreign publishers or from the artists
who illustrated them; they appear only occasionally and are addressed mainly
to book collectors. It is more than a decade later that Athens-based publishers
begin to commission artists –engravers, mostly– to illustrate albums published
in very limited numbers.
and fall silent, 1951
France, Sur la Pierre blanche, 1924
Kogevinas and Yannis Kefalinos are three Greek artists who lived
in Paris since the beginning of the century and got to know the interests
of French bibliophiles. They turned to illustrating books and worked with
French publishers for the production of mostly common editions; in order
to publish an album with a content of particular interest to them, they
would often finance the production themselves.
Galanis became a
naturalised French from early on and lived in Paris to the end of his life.
He made the personal acquaintance of Derain, Maillol and Matisse and got
to know their illustration work. For his own work he embraced the aesthetic
of Maillol rather than the innovative techniques and the fauvist aesthetic
of Matisse. The compositions he favoured were associated mostly with traditional
illustration and expressed through elaborate headpieces and tailpieces,
impressive initial caps, full-page frontispieces and full-page narrative
pictures in editions that were painstakingly executed as a whole (Carmen,
Nourritures Terrestres, Terre Natale). He produces etchings
and manière noire engravings and more rarely end grain woodcuts
(Oedipus the King). His album Histoire Naturelle is considered
to be of unsurpassed aesthetic and is included among the most accomplished
illustrations of similar texts, along with J. Renard’s
with illustrations by H. Toulouse-Lautrec (1899) and P. Picasso’s Histoire
Naturelle (1942) again by Buffon. It is worth noting that Galanis did
not illustrate texts by Greek writers, and it was only in very few cases
that he was inspired by classics (Idylles de Theocrite).
On the contrary, the
painter and engraver Lycourgos Kogevinas opted for themes which promoted
the historical Greek landscape and combined them with texts on Greece written
by French scholars in editions with superbly executed and detailed etchings
(Grèce Paysages antiques, Le Mont Athos, Corfu etc).
Gide, Les Nourritures Terrestres, 1930
Aspiotis & René Puaux, Corfu, 1930
During the period
he lived in Paris Yannis Kefalinos illustrated French literary texts (Sur
la Pierre blanche), but mostly he studied the aesthetics of books and
was subsequently led to design a new Greek font. Upon his return to Greece
he edited two magnificent editions. In the album Ten White Lecythi in
the Athens Museum the superimposed impressions of different printing
techniques on the same page (burin engraving, etching, aquatint and coloured
woodcut) faithfully reproduce the feel of the delicate compositions on
these ancient Attican vessels, in an edition of unique aesthetic value
which successfully reproduces the lost atmosphere of classical painting.
Peacock, a pioneering educational album with unusual diagonal compositions,
continuous colour surfaces and clear forms, remains to this day a perfect
example of lucid writing and austere illustration.
After the mid-1930s,
illustrated publications and limited editions of albums, mostly with woodcuts,
are produced in Athens and find a steadily responsive public. However,
the time when this form of art saw an unprecedented growth was the war
years (1940-1945). The need to communicate, the lack of painting materials
and the urge to protest made most Greek artists turn towards all kinds
of publications. Some engraved works to illustrate hand-written texts (From
within the walls), while others formed clandestine groups, engraved
and printed small woodcuts and distributed them in albums (The Shrine
of Freedom). In the material collected from those years one can trace
the hidden potential of many artists who became heavily engaged in book
illustration but only during that specific period.
Papadimitriou, Solomon, Song of Songs, 1938
The 1950s was a period
when illustrated books flourished more than any other time in Greece. Large
albums were published, using coloured woodcuts for the most part and illustrating
texts of the ancient and historic literature and, to a lesser extent, contemporary
literary works. The austere images point to influences from ancient and
Byzantine imagery and, selectively, from the contemporary European trends.
Taken as a whole,
the Greek editions illustrated with original prints managed to create a
tradition within a few decades and become known to a wider public. There
is no doubt that the combination of printmaking and books allows the expansion
of the text through visual elements which become definitive means of "visual