É. GIANNOULIS CHALEPAS
Giannoulis Chalepas is for Modern Greeksculpture its great tragic myth. The talented young artist with the tremendous recognition, the tragic fate, the madness and the solitariness, the mother who destroyed his works, forbade him to sculpt and who is seen as tantamount to Medea; last, the discovery of the now old Giannoulis, his comeback, with the extraordinary works of the final years, and the acclaim. Dithyrambic critiques of his Sleeping Girl and emotion over his tragic fate. This is Chalepas for Greeks as a whole, a figure from a novel with attributes of a saint, who continues to move specialists, artists as well as the man in the street. And yet it is little known that the greater part of Chalepas oeuvre was created on Tinos and in Athens after his discharge from the Corfu Mental Hospital, that this oeuvre is of special importance for Modern Greek sculptures and that it is linked closely with the island of Tinos. The twenty-one sculptures by Chalepas in the permanent exhibition of the Cultural Foundation of Tinow, in the Chora of Tinos, comprise a unique ensemble which presents precisely this side of his work.
Giannoulis Chapepas was born in 1851 at Pygros on Tinos, a place with a particular tradition in art and especially sculpture in the 19th century; Philippotos, Chalepas Vitalis, Sochoi and others, to mention only the best-known names, hailed from Pygros, Ysteria, the area of Panormos on Tinos. Gianbnoulis was the eldest of the six children of Ioannis Chalepas, architect and marble-sculpture , who created one of the most important marble-carving workshops in the second half of the nineteenth century, active in Aegean , Smyrna and the Asia Minor littoral, on Mount Athos, in Bucharest, Syros, Athens, Piraeus and elsewhere (Goulaki-Voutyra 1989). This was the environment in which Giannoulis grew up and got to know his art. He studied sculpting at the school of Fine Arts in Athens, under the tutelage of Leonidas Drisis (1869-1872), and in 1873, with a scholarship from the holy foundation of the Evangelistria in Tinos, he continued his studies in the Academy of Munich, under Max Windmann. In 1874, he was awarded first prize by the Academy for his work Fairy Tale of Sleeping Beauty. His scholarship was cut in 1876, obliging him to return to Athens, where he began to work in the paternal workshop. In 1877, the year he sculpted the Sleeping Girl, the first symptoms appeared of the illness which led to his committal to the Corfu Mental Hospital in 1888. After the death of his father (1901), his mother brought him to Tinos, where he lived in the family home from 1902 until 1930. His mother died in 1916 and dated works by Chapels survive from 1918. In 1925 an exhibition of his works was held in the Academy of Athens, which institution awarded him its highest prize for artistic excellence in 1927. In 1928 a second exhibition was organized in the Greek capital, in the Art Asylum. In 1930, his niece Irene V. Chalepas brought him to Athens, were he lived for the last creative years of his life in warm bosom of her family, having earned general acclaim. He died in September 1938.
One hundred and fifteen sculptures by Chapepas survive today, while testimonies exist for a further thirty, which destroyed or are of whereabouts unknown. A large number of his drawings survives too, on single sheets or in sketchbooks. The V. Chalepas family possesses a considerable collection of sculptures and drawings and drawings, while there are other important holdings in the National Gallery in Athens, in the exhibition of the Cultural Foundation of Tinos - which are presented here -, in the Giannoulis Chapelas Museum at Pygros and in many private collections.
Chalepas’ oeuvre can be divided into three periods: The first period (1870 – 1878) covers his youthful years until the onset of his illness; the second period (1902 – 1930) the years when hi was living and working on Tinos, after his discharge from the Corfu Mental Hospital; the third period (1930-1938) the years when he was living and creating in Athens.
The work of his first period belongs in the conservative spirit of nineteenth-century Classicism and is influenced by academicism, with emphasis on realistic rendering. His attention to composition is accompanied by a flawless technique, a remarkable skill in executing details and in working marble. To this first period belongs the most famous sculpture in Modern Greek art, his wonderful Sleeping Girl, which is in the First Cemetery of Athens. The Satyr with Eros and the Head of a Satyr, in the National Gallery, as well as Medea Slaying Her Children, a work he himself destroyed, are the best-known works by the young Chalepas.
Virtually no work from the second and the third period of his oeuvre was completed in marble. Maquettes in clay have survived, while most works were transferred to plaster. The subjects he studied correspond to those of the first period: mythological, Satyr and Eros, Medea; recumbent female figure; allegories; religious themes; portraits; genre scenes.
The artist’s illness decisively affected his work, so that in the second period he appears with a different conception, turning his back on academicism, casting off every excess-anecdotal element and seeking out the essence of the subject. The difference between the second and the third period is less striking and is more a continuation of the artist’s course to maturity, in which his principal concern is to work on synthesis, creations in the round, values of plasticity, a pulsating matter, with economy in the treatment of the subject, aiming at immediacy and expressiveness in the final result. His goal is the absolute sculpture, without voids or holes interrupting the unity: ‘The unsupported stature is supported upon the general matter of the clay, because it is destroyed by the anatomical osteology’, he wrote in a note in his hand. That is why he avoided ‘armature’ in his works. He wanted to apply in his creations Michelangelo’s principle for the ideal sculpture, which ‘if it tumbles down from above on a ramp, will not break anything, and even if it does break something of its outermost members, what remains is a true sculpture’ (Doukas 1878, 120). Thus his constant research and inquiry focused on the synthesis, the structure, the relationship and the balance of volumes; his habit of correcting works of his own or by other artists is due to this obsession.
In addition to the sculptures, numerous drawings by Chalepas have survived, all from the second and third periods of his creativity. Known from the Tinos period are the drawings he made in the account of his father’s workshop, after his return from Corfu, ten of which have survived. Eight belong to the V. Chalepas family, one to the Costopoulos Collection and one to the National Gallery (Papastamos 1981; Goulaki-Voutyra 1986; eadem 1986a). The drawings from the second period are more troubled, superimposed, often featuring symbols of playing cards, confessional. They allow us to penetrate the world of Chalepas’ creative experience, to see his ideas taking shape and form, as they leap from his brain. The drawings of the third period, clearer and more easily legible, help us to see which subjects were not completed in three dimensions, his persistence in returning to subjects of the first period, to correct, to wrestle with the composition, reveal to us his astonishing visual memory, his observations, his humour – sometimes sarcasm -, his difficulties.
Chalepas in Modern Greek sculpture
Chalepas occupies a unique place in Modern Greek sculpture. With the oeuvre of his youth he belongs to the nineteenth century, with that of the second and third periods of creation he belongs to the twentieth, as a lone voice without precursor and without continuer.
His family background, with a tradition in marble-carving, links him more directly to the progress of Modern Greek sculpture in the nineteenth century, which developed in the newly-founded capital of the state and was associated with its reconstruction. The first large public buildings in Athens, the royal palace (pres. House of Parliament), the university, the academy, the library, the Zappeion, the metropolis (Greek Orthodox cathedral), as well as the host of Neo-classical urban residences, provided employment, attracting to the capital the Tinian marble-carvers, who worked on doorframes, consoles, architectural sculptures and all the carved decoration on the buildings of this period. From their ranks emerged the first sculptors who created works in public places, in the First Cemetery, as well as outside Athens, throughout Greece. Many of these talented marble-craftsmen were taught sculpting by the Classicist Christian Siegel, the first professor in the ‘School of Arts’, and passed rapidly from the folk tradition with highly baroque traits to the new domain of Classicism.
Classicism was imposed on nineteenth-century sculpture as the ideology of the fledgeling Greek State, since it confirmed the direct connection with the ‘ancient heritage’. After Siegel, the teachers in the ‘School of Arts’, Leonidas Drosis and Georgios Vroutos, as well as the sculptors of the Kossos, Malakates and Phytalis families, Georgios Vitalis, Vitsaris, remained oriented towards Italian and German Classicism, the academicism of Munich, whereas Philippotis introduced realism and a certain change in the thematic repertoire, with works representing activities from daily life (Harvester, Fisher-boy, Woodcutter etc.). At this point the youthful work of Chalepas, particularly the Sleeping Girl, takes academicism to its utmost limits, revealing concurrently the special quality of its creator, his insistence on the issue of composition.
Forty years of Chalepas’ absence from artistic production (1878-1918) elapsed, in which Greek sculptors gradually and increasingly oriented towards Paris, to Rodin, to Symbolism, as well as to Bourdelle or Maillol, without liberating themselves from the anthropomorphic direction of classical tradition. Lazaros Sochos, Bonanos, Thomopoulos, K. Dimitriadis, Stergiou, Doukas, hover between the teachings of classical tradition and the style of Rodin, with works that are often inconsistent and problematical.
In the decade of 1920-1930, Chalepas, isolated on Tinos and out of touch with Greek reality in the capital, struggled with his own proposal, his fixation on composition, which is why he chose to work on the same subjects as of old – for him the subject was simply a pretext for investigating form – and boldly attempted solid volumes, contrasts, expressionisms, daring combinations of volumes-shapes. And in Athens too, until his death, Chalepas remained the great loner of his time, without precedent and without subsequent, but with inquiries which through the authenticity of research confront contemporary sculptural issues, such as the study of the female nude and its metaphysical dimension or the transformation of themes of the past by different handling of the form and treatment of the surface, meeting avant-garde inquiries of the early twentieth century, such as Cubism (schematization, geometric motifs), Expressionism (distortions, expressively dynamic linear elements) or even Surrealism (dreamy subjects, audacious changes of scale, etc.).
His contemporaries discover him, recognize him, but do not follow him. After 1935 Tombros was to proceed to an abstractionist sculpture, while Bourdelle, who married the Greek girl Cleopatra Sevastou, was to support and to influence many Greeks, Apartis, Antonis Sochos (the only one who was influenced by Chapelas in terms of primitivism), Kastriotis and others. Zongolopoulos, Loukopoulos, Kapralos, Lameras and even Pappas, who tried essentially to unshackle Greek sculpture from its Classical past, were always directly dependent on European currents, such as Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstractionism and so on.
Today, more than ever, Chalepas’ work seems to move and to inspire artists, researchers, scholars, who evidently now have the maturity to approach it. ‘If the Sleeping Girl is an elegy for the young woman who has passed away’, notes Chronis Botsoglou, ‘the Resting Girl is a question about her existence’. Chalepas’ work, admirable before his illness, amazing after it, symbolizes and epitomizes the adventure of modern Greek art. As G. Psychopaidis has said, ‘Chalepas reveals vividly, with his tragic fate, the momentous passage of the artistic consciousness from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. In his person, Greek art of his time experiences with painful self-awareness the tardy, traumatic transition from European academicism to the sage, Doric austerity of a Greek Modernism’. Although Chalepas was not in direct contact with foreign parts, he seems to have followed in some way (from printed matter, information, colleagues’ comments), consciously or unconsciously – it is not easy to say – contemporary concerns. Today we can distinguish increasingly Chalepas’ contact with contemporary production, through the pages of the Cahiers d’Art or other volumes he had access to in the house in Daphnomili Street (Matthiopoulos 2000; Idem in Bolis – Pavlopoulos 2004, 32-43), and recognize his peculiar visual memory.
Chalepas’ oeuvre, his sculptures and his drawings, reveal the creator’s liberation from the structures of academicism and the conquest of a personal expression that was won with many difficulties torturously, through a tragic fate.
Almost inevitably this emotive change leads to the identification of Chalepas’ fate with that of Modern Greek art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: the stable relationship with Classical art, the academicism and the longing of the intellectuals of the day to be linked with modernity, which in the case of Chalepas emerges furthermore through constant values, the localism, the authenticity fo the tragic fate, the expressiveness in the place of skill.
II. THE WORKS BY CHALEPAS IN THE CULTURAL FOUNDATION OF TINOS
The works by Chalepas that are exhibited in the Cultural Foundation of Tinos and are now presented to the public as an integral ensemble, represent mainly the second period of the artist’s creativity. To the first period belongs the relief Affection, which he himself gifted to the Evangelistrias Foundation in 1920. The sculptures of the second period (1918-1930) are dated and identified thanks to the following references:
1. Catalogue of six works, prepared by N. Moraitis and published in the newspaper Astir Tinou, 10.3.1918 (Doukas 1978, 21).
2. Catalogue of thirteen works of the years 1920-1923, prepared by Alexandros Alavanos and published by Th. Vellianitis in the newspaper Ethnos, 19.5.1924 (Doukas 1978, 125).
3. Catalogue of fifteen works of 1924, prepared by N. Lytras (referring to the previous thirteen plus another two).
4. Catalogue of six works, prepared by Ph. Politis and published in the newspaper Politeia, 14.4.1925 (Kalligas 1972, 73-74).
5. Catalogue fo fifty-six works from the period on Tinos, prepared by Doukas (Doukas 1978, 123-126 and 212-214).
Preserved in PIIET Archive is the letter from the sculptor Thomas Thomopoulos to the Directorate of the School of Arts and dated 19 May 1922 (see document 1, p. 30), which was written after his visit to Pyrgos on Tions and his meeting with Chalepas. It is obvious that Thomopoulos was impressed by the solitary sculptor’s new creations and he notes characteristically:’… found the artist working with dedication under the most adverse circumstances, in a badly-lit basement, without easels or any such facility. I examined attentively his new works and I consider these notable from all viewpoints, independent of technical imperfections. I believe unreservedly that the craftsman’s demon has led him to a new creation of pure archaic art, totally opposite to his known classical style. I consider it moreover a sacred duty towards a great creator, as is Giannoulis Chalepas, that our School recommend to the responsible authorities the rescuing of these primary works as a bright flash for the renaissance of modern Greek Sculpture’. A few days later, on 28 March 1922, the Director of the School of Fine Arts in Athens, Georgios Iakovidis, forwarded this document from Thomopoulos to the ‘Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs and Public Education’, with the request that a special technician be sent to Tinos, in order to cast Chalepas’ works in plaster and to bring them to Athens for exhibition, the intention being to support the artist (see document 2, p. 32). Unfortunately, however, the precious catalogue of the principal works, which Thomopoulos mentions that he encloses in his letter (document 1) and which Iakovidis forwarded to the Ministry of Education, has been lost (see also Doukas 1978, 131).
Nonetheless, very important with regard to this issue are the testimonies brought to light in the document of the Brotherhood of Tinians, of 1926 (protocol no. 248/5.6.1926), which is also kept in the PIIET Archive and is published for the first time here (see document 3, p. 34). This document refers to twelve plaster models by Chalepas, which are in some ‘archive’ space of the Polytechneion in Athens, and which Chalepas donated to the Brotherhood of Tinians. These are the models that had been made in 1922 by technicians of the Archaeological Museum, at the behest of the sculptor Thomopoulos, as proposed in his letter of May 1922 (document 1), and were presented in the exhibition of works by Chalepas, held in the Academy of Athens in 1925. In this document the Brotherhood of Tinians takes care of the packing of these in 14 crates, their safekeeping and storage in an apartment in Athens, and their dispatch tot eh Evangelistria Foundation in Tinos. Thus, this document constitutes the most important source for Chalepas’ works in the exhibition in the Academy, as well as for their dating. They are the following: 1. Fairytale of Sleeping Beauty. 2. Alexander the Great. 3. Head of Athena. 4. Bust of Irene Kouvara. 5. Bust (K. M.). 6. Sleeping Ariadne. 7. Eros Vanquishing Giant. [7a. Same]. 8. Herodias. 9. Dante and Beatrice. 10. Milk-seller. 11. Medea. The Brotherhood of Tinians gifted these works to the PIIET, for the creations of a Museum of Tinian Artists. Numbers 4 and 5 were not found among the works in the museum and their fate is unknown. Number 9 is perhaps identified with the work Couple with Seated Man. Number 10- most probably renders one side of the double-faced work Aphrodite and Peasant Girl. The same document also mentions three sculpture by Lazaros Sochos, two releifs of the pedestal of Kolokotronis and the bust of Zarifis (Goulaki-Voutyra 1990, 50-53).
In 1936 Theresia Politou presented to the Museuim of Tinian Artists the maquette of the relief of the monument for I.N. Politis in the First Cemetery of Athens (work of 1931), whose whereabouts are also now unknown. Likewise, it is not known what happened to one of the two reliefs donated in 1955 by Vasileios and Irene Chalepas, which represented the artist’s self-portrait and his niece Irene Chalepa (I owe this information to the sculptress Kaerina Chalepa-Katsatou). The second relief of this donation is the Annunciation, of 1936. We do not know which works K. Kaparias donated to the Evangelistria Foundation, since their titles are not given in the thank-you letter of 16.2.1971. They should be sought among the remaining works in the permanent exhibition. Last, in a document dated 13.3.1968, protocol no. 419/746, which is published here for the first time (see document 4, p. 36), it is mentioned that Nina Mariolopoulou donated three small bronze sculptures numbers 17, 18, and 19 in the catalogue. The Panhellenic Holy Foundation of the Evangelistria in Tinos recently donated to the Giannoulis Chalepas Museum in Pyrgos, ten plaster casts of works in its collection (Sofianos 2004, 11).