Σάββατο, 5 Ιανουαρίου 2019

Nikos Hatzikyriakos-Ghikas

Nikos Hatzikyriakos - Ghikas    ΝΙΚΟΣ ΧΑΤΖΙΚΥΡΙΑΚΟΣ - ΓΚΙΚΑΣ
Born 1906                                                     Died 1994

 “Ghika’s canvases are as fresh and clean, as pure and naked of all pretense, as the sea and light which bathes the dazzling islands. Ghika is a seeker after light and truth…It was Ghika’s painting which roused me from my bedazzled stupor.” Henry Miller


Athens Houses 1927-8                                    

Hydra 1938        

Paris Roofs 1952          

 Mystras 1974                                         


View from Number 3 Kriezotou Street 1983

Nikos Hatzikyriakos-Ghikas’ life and contribution defy a short narration. He was a giant. His long and distinguished international career included group and solo exhibitions in Paris, London, and America.  Recognized in the 30s as one of Greece’s most important new painters, he remained a vital force until his death in 1994. Close friendships with fellow artists like John Caxton and Ioannis Tsarouchis, with architects like Demitris Pikionis and Le Corbusier, and with literary giants like Henry Miller, George Seferis, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Lawrence Durrell have become an inextricable part of his legend partly because his literary friends immortalized their encounters in memorable prose. (1)

  His Art

Along with Theophilos, Fotis Kontoglou, and  Ioannis Tsarouchis,  Ghikas defined the art of a generation. Clarity of style, geometric designs, brilliant use of light and dark along with meticulous draftsmanship characterized his work and brought what his friend John Caxton called a ‘revitalized’ cubism to the Greek art scene, an approach which freed a generation of Greek painters from the restrictions of representative art. Ghikas was talented in so many media: painting, sculpting, book illustration, design (theatre sets and costumes) and more.  And although greatly influenced by European trends, he could nonetheless argue that, in his work, he was, in fact, bringing the style ‘home’ because so many techniques considered new and avant garde in Paris, were already present in the Greek cultural continuum. 

Ελληνικότητα’ or  The ‘Greekness’ of Things

 For Xatzikyriakos-Ghikas the underlying Greek character and shape of western art and architecture was self-evident. He saw Greek inspiration as the basis of all European art forms. Cubism was no exception. Its reversed perspective, lack of a horizon line, emotive use of colour, and highly symbolic representations were already present in Greek iconography, just waiting to be rediscovered and tapped.

His Life:
Ghikas was born in Athens into a wealthy Family. His father, Alexandros Hatzikyriakos hailed from the Aegean island of Psara. His mother was a Ghikas from the well known Ghikas family of Hydra. 

His talent was recognized early and his father saw to it that he had excellent tutors, including Constantinos Parthenis. In 1923 he arrived in Paris to study French literature and aesthetics at the Sorbonne. At the same time he studied at the Academie Ranson and at the engraving studio of Demetris Galinis. At the young age of 17, he had already participated in a group show at the Salon des Indépendants and by 1927 he had his first one man show at the Gallerie Percier in Paris.

 Ghikas claimed that his real artistic awakening occurred when he saw the work of Matisse:  At first I was influenced by the Renaissance. I attribute my baptism into modern art to Henri Matisse’s “Tea” (1) 

In 1928 he had his first show in Athens along with sculptor Michalis Tombros at the Stratigopoulou Gallery. A stint in the army followed and then marriage to the poetess and sculptress Antigone ‘Tiggiei’ Kotzias in 1929. The marriage displeased his father. Nonetheless, they immediately embarked for Paris where they were surrounded by like minded artists whose lifestyle and ideas were in tune with their own.  Antigone, or Tiggie, as she was known, had her own artistic connections within the Paris art scene; her encouragement was a great help to her husband’s development.

Ghikas had a wide circle of friends all during his life, friends whom he influenced and who, in turn, were influenced by him. He met Le Cobusier in 1933 on a boat to Piraeus. At the time, Le Cobusier was in the process of writing an architectural manifesto concerning how cities should be built which he would later publish as “The Athens Charter”. With a nudge from Ghikas, he gave two lectures at the Athens Polytechnical School. Le Corbusier’s style was influenced by the pristine white geometrical buildings he encountered on the Greek islands. He would take these designs a step farther thanks to reinforced concrete but their Greek roots are still unmistakable.

 Ghikas and The Third Eye

With Stratis Doukas, Ghikas edited an art magazine  called The Third Eye  from 1935 -37. The aim was to promote and develop new ways of perceiving art.  Its contributors would all became famous: DemitrisPikionis (architect) , Spyros Papaloukas (painter) , Socrates Karantinos (stage designer) , Takis Papatsonis (poetry), Michalis Tombros  (sculpture) and Angelos Theodoropoulos (engraving).


 Demitris Pikionis and Ghikas became close friends. In his autobiography Pikionis would say of the periodical:  What seminal lessons came from that clash of spiritual natures that each one represents! Frankly, I do not know what I offered to them, but I am conscious of what I owe to each of them. (2)

In 1942, Ghikas became a professor of drawing at Athens’ National Metsovian Technical University, a post he would hold until 1958. Together with Pikionis, he even designed the symbol of the school.  

Ghikas and Hydra 

The 18th century Ghikas mansion on Hydra 

 All of Ghikas’ homes were important to him and his work but the 40 room house on Hydra was close to his heart because of the holidays he had spent there as a child. Its imposing bulk towered over the village of Kamini and the sea. He hosted his many friends there. Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote most of Mani there and later referred to the house as “a perfect prose-factory”.  

Ghikas’ 1955 version of his Hydra house

A Sea Change

In 1958 Ghikas met Barbara Hutchinson Warner (then married to the classicist Rex Warner) and ended his 30 year marriage to Antigone to marry her. They had met in the United States and subsequently travelled together to India, Tibet, Japan, and Hawaii.  Antigone retained an apartment in the Ghikas home in Athens and they apparently remained friends.  What ripples and/or waves were created by the ending a 30 year relationship and the beginning of a new one were not subjects that his literary friends chose to tackle publicly. 

Nikos, Barbara, John Caxton, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Joan in Hydra, 1958
Life on Hydra carried on as before until 1961 when one night the house burned to the ground (3). Ghikas never returned. 

The sixties were productive years. 

          Το 1963-5:   Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas converses with the poetry of C.P.  Cavafy

1964:  ‘The Cursed Serpent’ of Manos Hatzidakis with sets and costumes by Hatzikyriakos-Ghikas.

In 1969, the couple bought a new property on Corfu in the neighbourhood of Karasia. Its renovation and gardens became a lifelong project, as his painting continued… 

'Ο Απολλώνιος', a work from the Corfu period

Number 3 Kriezotou Street

In Athens, Ghikas lived and worked in the five storey building on Kriezotou Street that his father had built in 1932. It was designed by the architect Constantinos Kitsikis. Luckily for us, he donated the house and its contents to the Benaki Museum. It is now called The House and Museum of Hatzikyriakos-Ghikas and is close to Syntagma Square. It is not always open because of the economic crisis that has changed so much in Greece recently, including the opening hours of museums. Call first  (Tel: 21 0361 5702, but do visit if you can because seeing so much of his work ( and there is a lot of it)  in situ is an experience well worth having.

His bronze bust at the entrance to 3 Kriezotou Street is by Tinian Praxitelis Tsanoulinos

His Grave in the First Cemetery

Section One, Number 403
 His monument is a tad disappointing. It is a family grave, of course, with a bust of his father at the pinnacle and pretty standardized symbols on the stele. Nikos’ name is under the lit lamp. I had secretly hoped for something Picassian, a bold geometrical design, or even a contemporary relief like Tsarouchis’ on the grave of Odysseus Elytis…


(1) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2n4FjXaYH0-  You tube has a great nine minute video called  Who were Ghikas, Craxton and Leigh Fermor?

(2) Αυτοβιογραφικά σημειώματα, Κείμενα ΜΙΕΤ από (Γράμματα Δημήτρη Πικιώνη Ν. Χατζηκυριάκου- Γκίκα, εκδ. Ίκαρος, σελ. 77).
(3) Perhaps to make up for the loss of their famous artist, Hydriotes offer various lurid accounts of the’ fall’ of the house of Ghikas (still an imposing ruin).  One suggests that Antigone’s housekeeper was less than pleased by the new arrangement and lit the fatal match. Another involves ‘the curse’ of Leonard Cohen, then an unknown poet living in Hydra. His efforts to meet Ghikas were spurned (true) by the great man – and hence the curse and a fire! The truth may be less spectacular – a careless caretaker. One thing is certain: a fire on a hillside on waterless Hydra would almost certainly ensure total destruction.   
The Miller quote at the beginning is found in http://www.alisonlesliegold.com/?p=989 as well as the Cohen ‘myth’.

Κυριακή, 16 Δεκεμβρίου 2018

Angeliki Hatzimichalis


Angeliki Hatzimichalis                                  ΑΓΓΕΛΙΚΗ ΧΑΤΖΙΜΙΧΑΛΙΣ
Born 1895, Athens                                           Died 1965, Athens

Section 6, Number 458

Angeliki Hatzimichalis, nationalist, prolific writer, painter and so much more has been rightly called the mother of the 20th century folklore movement in Greece.  Her literary and artistic output was so great that it is hard to imagine how she managed it as well as traveling extensively for research, raising her family, and lending her name and help to innumerable charitable and cultural foundations including the Delphic Festival.  The answer must lie in her own energy and drive, but also in her background -  in the cultural milieu provided by her own family, her marriage to Platon Hatzimichalis which, among other things, gave her the wonderful house in the Plaka which is still standing and is now a museum dedicated to her work. When it was built in the 1920s it proved to be the ideal meeting place of the likes of Costis Palamas,Angelos Sikelianos, his wife Eva Palmer, and so many others.  It would be impossible to write about the culture and preoccupations of the Greek intelligentsia in the interwar period without including Angeliki Hatzimichalis.

Angeliki as she saw herself
Her Life: 

Angeliki was Plaka born and bred and her love and nostalgia for the district during her childhood shines through whenever she writes about it:

  I grew up in the Plaka when the houses all had tiled roofs, gardens, grape arbors, stone terraces and flowerpots filled with fragrant blooms.

 She could have added that hers was a closely knit neigbourhood where households all knew each other. Her father was Alexios Kolymbas (Αλέξιος Κολυβάς), a professor of literature and newspaper publisher who hailed from Zakynthos.  Her mother Sofia was the daughter of Gregoris Bournias, a notaire from Chios. This is how Angeliki describes her childhood home: 

 My father’s house was full of books, manuscripts, and embroidery. Byzantine icons hung even to the ceiling.

Some of his collection can now be found in Athens’ Byzantine and Christian Museum. A little farther down on Adrianou Street, in an old Athenian house, lived her maternal grandfather amid another treasure trove of books and art. Her grandfather’s many friends in the world of arts and letters included Demitrios Kabouroglou who has written so much about Athens in the 1800s.  Angeliki would say that a love of art and literature flowed naturally through her bloodstream and permeated her psyche. 

She first attended the Hill Girl’s School in Plaka, a school which was literally a hop, skip and jump from her home. There she already showed a marked talent for drawing. 

Angeliki as a ‘Hill’ girl

 After graduation she continued high school studies at home but then ran into her first roadblock!  Her father flatly refused to let her study art at the Athens Polytechnical School because the lessons were co-educational!  That seems an odd stance for such an educated man. Women had been admitted to Greek Universities in 1890.  Was he an overprotective Papa or merely conservative? 

But he did set aside a room in their home for Angeliki to use as a studio and hired Georgios Roilos (Γεωργιος Ροιλος) one of the best artists of the Munich school to teach her at home. He then went a step further and rented a space in the Zappeion to become a studio for girls only.  Angeliki would spend her afternoons there for three years in the presumably safe environment while, at the same time, acting as her father’s secretary.  To allow her to pursue her interest in theatre and recitation, her father did allow her to follow classes at the Odeion for a year, but then forbade her to act in “Mary Stewart”, the play  which the students presented at the end of the year. (Why do I keep thinking of Elizabeth Barrett Browning?)

Angeliki married twice. This first marriage produced a daughter Erse in 1921 and then it seems to have disappeared off the radar of her biographers. It is a little intriguing. Erse’s father is referred to in every text I came across simply as “the engineer Glytsos”. No first name…

Platon Xatzimichalis, her second husband was a much more substantial and long lasting figure. He was wealthy with close business ties in Germany, as the representative in Greece of the Schenker Company   and Continental Tire. 

Their House

Early in their marriage (1924), Angeliki worked closely with Macedonian architect Aristotelis Zacho (Αριστοτέλη Ζάχο) on her new house in the Plaka. It is still standing, and a ‘must visit’ because it is rare anywhere to find a home that embodies in its style and decoration the spirit of its owner. Its style is eclectic, inside and out, -a little bit Florentine, a touch neo-Byzantine, folk-art touches everywhere and yet, surprisingly modern and functional.

Visiting it is easy because it is now the Angeliki Xatzimichalis Museum of Folk and Tradition Art (Μουσείο Λαϊκής Τέχνης και Παράδοσης «Αγγελική Χατζημιχάλη»)
I am ashamed to say that I walked by it for years, noting its unusual façade and then just kept on going! You should not. The ground floor is up a few steps and the vestibule sports an impressive stained glass window:

The roomy ground floor receiving rooms flow into each other.

On the north wall of the drawing room is a large wooden staircase leading to the second floor. (Servants had their own narrower ones leading up from the kitchen area.) Above this staircase is a window  looking out from Angeliki’s work room to the living area below, but also close enough to the stairs leading up to the third floors  that she could have heard the children.  This room was truly a room for multi-tasking!

Her office ‘window’ on the top right

Her view to the downstairs

A modern (for the day) kitchen is on the northern side of the house within easy reach of the dining room.

The furniture, the wood carvings (even on the door jambs), the fireplaces and the paintings –all carefully considered works of art- speak of her taste and interests.

You might say that Fate had a hand in Angeliki’s life and pursuits. After the destruction of Smyrna in 1922 and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne which defined a smaller Greece in the Balkans, the ‘Megali Idea’ of a greater Greece encompassing the lands of the former Byzantine Empire was well and truly dead. This precipitated a great intellectual upheaval in the Greek perspective. The ancient world was still vital, of course, but it began to seem imperative to also stress and prove the continuity of a Greek presence in the Balkans, to examine Greece’s more recent past and its interconnections in the Hellenic world– and that led to an increased interest in groups like the Sarakatsani and  the origins of traditional dance and local costumes. Greek folk art became and has become a great source of national inspiration. I think it would be true to say that Angeliki and her friends considered themselves as not mere recorders, but as part of a movement to reveal all traces and proofs of the Greek national identity – and they found them  everywhere.(1) Her home and later the museum are testaments to the movement.

The rooms on the second and third floor are dedicated to exhibits she collected or people she photographed throughout her career. There is an extensive library as well. It is a treasure trove of information. One room is dedicated to the Sarakatsani people of Northern Greece, people  that her writing proved to be an integral part of the Greek mosaic.

One photograph shows how the women managed to use their looms to create their amazingly rich clothes and still keep them light enough to transport . It involved digging a hole …

This large photo of Angeliki in a folk costume hangs in her office today

The War

The twenties and thirties were productive years – but then came the war.
Platon Hatzimixalis was certainly not the only man in Greece in the thirties who had close ties with Germany. There were others who, knowing the up side of German culture, believed they could somehow find a way to, if not accommodate the Germans, at least to be in a position to influence them for the good of the country.  Platon was persuaded, or persuaded himself, that joining the quisling government of Georgios Tsolakouglou  (Τσολάκογλου) as a minister (first without portfolio and then as Minister of Economy) in 1941  would not be treasonous.

According to her daughter Erse, Angeliki did not agree with her husband’s decision. She curtailed her appearances and set out to use her connections to save many a soldier in Athens by scrounging up enough material to help clothe them in civilian clothing after the Nazis declared that anyone found wearing a uniform would be arrested and worse. (It is hard to imagine poverty so great that even a change of clothing was difficult to obtain).  During the occupation she apparently worked with Lelas Karayanni  (Λελα Καραγιάννης) and used her house as an armory for weapons heading to the mountains. 

Platon was not forgiven for his choice and, after the war, was sentenced to 20 years in prison as a collaborator. This situation is glossed over in most articles about Angeliki because of her own contributions during and after the war but, no matter what fame and kudos her work brought her, this must have been a gut-wrenching experience. She continued her work after the war until her health finally failed. 

Her Paintings

There is something deceptively simple and yet compelling about her portraits. This might be because she painted so many of her famous friends and acquaintances and thus immortalized her vision of them and their era:

Costis Palamas

Angelos Sikelianos and Eva Palmer

The End

She died in 1965 after a very long illness. She and Platon, who died in 1964, are buried together in her father’s plot in The First Cemetery

The Street where she built her house has been renamed in her honour: it is now number 6 Xatzimichalis Street. A plaque embedded in the wall records this and a bust in the house’s enclosed garden is a reminder as well.

The Grave

It is an interesting relief: Justice in the form of a child (?) sitting under a rather schematic tree…

 The Map

(1)  While not overtly political, the folk art movement nonetheless had a political side to it. With various countries in the Balkans vying to promote their own national  story, there has been a lot of competition and disagreements about the ‘national’ pedigree  of many local folk customs.