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0140 Polina Kosmadaki: The Greek Pavilion in the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne. New Perspectives for National Art in the Context of Regionalism

RIHA Journal 0140 | 15 July 2016

The Greek Pavilion in the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne.

New Perspectives for National Art in the Context of Regionalism1

Polina Kosmadaki

Benaki Museum, Athens


This paper discusses the impact of the ideological trends of the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne which took place in Paris, in 1937, on Greece's national participation in the exhibition. The modern artworks it showcased will serve as a case study to investigate notions of regionalism. The paper considers the conception and realisation of the Greek pavilion in association with the Exposition's affirmed focus on regionalism and examines the relation between nationalism and regionalism at that time. The Greek pavilion and its artists will also be discussed in regard to the local ideologies they expressed or contributed to generate. The aim of this paper is to highlight how, on the occasion of the 1937 exhibition, the Greek quest for a new form of national art – an authentic expression of "Greekness" able to overturn the European perception, which identified the "Greek" with the "classical" – converged or diverged from European regionalist and nationalist discourses as expressed by the exhibition's commissioner, as well as to draw attention to the paradoxes of this connection.


[1] The Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, which took place in Paris between 25 May and 25 November 1937, was one of the major international arts events of the 1930s. It was realised in the midst of political tensions: the Spanish Civil War, Nazi Germany, and the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.2 In the exhibition, which took place in a climate of underlying menace, just two years before World War II erupted, the tension created by the aforementioned conflicts was already tangible. The exhibition aspired to promulgate ideas of peace and themes of international solidarity, to lead the way towards "universal happiness", and to be a lesson of "high progress", "beauty" and the "power of optimism".3 With reference to the works of art commissioned or on display in public spaces and thematic, regional (French) or national pavilions, it incorporated very diverse styles: from neoclassical models with nationalist connotations – like the 21-foot bronze Apollon musagète by sculptor Henri Bouchard in front of the Palais de Tokyo or the Louis Billotey mural Tragédie – to the modern architectural propositions of Alvar Aalto or Mallet-Stevens. This overview of technological innovations as well as of traditional arts and crafts associated with "modern life" (as the title suggested) was as much linked to notions of tradition, national identity, popular and vernacular art or artistic realisms as to notions of modernity, universalism, avant-garde formations and abstract painting.

[2] The conception and realisation of the Greek pavilion took place, as frequently remarked, under the banner of the integration of art and technology applied to daily life, although, as also often pointed out, "its ostensible theme was overshadowed by brazen displays of nationalism".4 Consequently, the choices of Greek art for the country's national pavilion are associated with the Exposition's affirmed focus on regionalism and examine the relation between nationalism and regionalism at that time.

[3] The composition of the artists' list, comprising painters such as Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Agenor Asteriadis, Giorgos Gounaropoulos, and sculptors such as Michalis Tombros or Antonis Sochos will be studied in regard to the main themes of the Exposition Internationale: modern life, technology, internationalism and regionalism but also – and foremost – nationalist antagonisms concealed under the promotion of progress and peace. Compared to the previous international exhibitions, especially the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs of 1925,5 the 1937 event put painting and sculpture at the forefront, tried to avoid pastiche and embraced modern architecture and technological progress.6 But concurrently "conflict and the pervasive sense of a culture and a society under threat" remained as dominant features of the exhibition even when certainty and harmony seemed most apparent.7

[4] The Greek pavilion and its artists are linked to the local ideologies they expressed or contributed to generate. Artistic choices reflected not only the official guidelines of the organisers regarding regionalism but also Greek identity politics. This paper will scrutinise the displays as well as the styles and themes that were chosen for representation, in order to explore the way relations between artistic innovation, identity politics and cultural diplomacy were negotiated in relation to Greek artists and the aspirations of intellectuals at that time. In fact, the Greek commissioner's choice of artists and artworks supports the claim that the endeavour to promote indigenous characteristics was not solely a response to the exhibition's regionalist programme and to European national antagonisms. It was equally founded on debates in the circles of Greek intellectuals who called for the creation of an art that originated from local culture yet was internationally relevant. In view of the above, the role of international exhibitions in the construction and promotion of identity will also be discussed, especially in relation to the formation of the ideology of "Greekness" during the 1930s and its relation to nationalism and regionalism in Europe.8 Emphasis will be placed on the importance of popular arts in this debate and on the construction of an art that would be expressive of national identity through a turn towards local characteristics such as light, nature, and people, as the effect both of the international context and of national conditions.

Cultural politics through exhibitions:
new perspectives for national Greek art during the 1930s

[5] It has been argued by many authors such as Benedict Anderson9 that the idea of the nation is inextricably linked to notions of heritage, memory and tradition, and that symbols, images and myths contribute to its invention. The role of exhibitions10 as well as folklore culture11 in the construction of the national imaginary has also frequently been emphasised12 in the study of the impact of international exhibitions.13

[6] All this was especially apparent during the 1930s, a time when exhibition-making functioned as a strong vehicle of identity politics.14 Michela Passini has accurately demonstrated that nationalism, as well as growing competition between European nations from the beginning of the 20th century, directly implicated art history and its practices. She has shown that, as the discipline was forming, it became more and more engaged in narrating and reconstituting national heritage as well as in constructing a nation's identity. In her study, La fabrique de l'art national,15Passini discusses how nationalism has been a central and structuring factor of art history but also of exhibition-making. She demonstrates the ways in which cultural politics seized arts as a central issue in the competition between nations, through exhibitions which visualised national narratives and were meant to promote national traditions. She concludes that these complex cultural events played a role, on an European level, in the elaboration of competitive identities, a fact that widely influenced the circulation and reception of works of art at the time.16

[7] This context is very important in an understanding of the Greek pavilion as part of the endeavour by Greek literary and artistic circles to change the ways Greek culture was perceived and to propose a turn towards a more authentic identity for modern Greece. As Vassilis Lambropoulos has argued, after Independence the modern inhabitants of ancient Greece found themselves "under immense external pressure to adjust to the demands of European and American romanticism" which wished "to affirm and satisfy its classical yearnings […]. […] pressure to be true Hellenes was presented to the Greeks as their only chance to define an acceptable identity and justify their political claims".17 Consequently, as the liberated nation entered the stage of modern history, it had to immediately start creating its autochthonous moments and showing that the ancient spirit was still alive and flourishing.

[8] After 1920 things started to change in favour of "indigenous aesthetics" for two main reasons.18 On the one hand, intellectuals and artists were faced with the imperative of settling on a national style with more ties to modern Greece, following the new political, social and ideological challenges caused by the destruction of Asia Minor in 1921. On the other hand, the cultural modernization agenda of Eleftherios Venizelos (serving as Prime Minister of Greece from 1910 to 1920 and from 1928 to 1933) prioritised opening Greece to Europe and establishing its prominence on an international level.19 The new version of nationalism that appeared then would replace the idea of territorial expansion with a cultural one. Greek intellectuals of the 1930s such as the poet Giorgos Seferis embraced this idea, reacting to what has been referred to as a "crypto-colonialist"20 European strategy for the shaping of Greek identity during the 19th century. The question then emerged of the creation of a "Greek Hellenism" that would replace the so far dominant "European Hellenism"21 and the development of geopolitical nationalism in the 20th century.

[9] The aforementioned situation was translated into artistic practices through an emphasis on "Greek line", "Greek light and landscape" as well as through a renewed interest in folklore.22 Greek artists, mostly educated in European metropolises (especially Paris) and whose work was persistently accused of being either derivative of European aesthetic models or lacking in international relevance,23 developed strategies to negotiate this new identity problem. "Greekness" was that kind of strategy, a construct of national content and "universal" form that developed in the interwar period as a move towards cultural autonomy. Authenticity would mean, in this context, a collective sense of identity achieved through the reconstruction of a cultural past that had been suppressed by dominant cultures. The integration of symbols of popular culture as well as of landscapes, activities and people from everyday life was necessary to relate the "imagined" to the "real" nation.24 Furthermore, the turn towards these new themes as well as to popular tradition also represented an opposing move to surrealism as well as to the outmoded "official" models set by the Metaxas totalitarian regime (1936-1941).

[10] In this sense, folklore in Greece had mainly served the identification of survivals and continuities of Greek culture, and thus played an important role in the development in Greece of a sense of national identity.25 At a time like this, national participation in an international exhibition presented a very good occasion for constructing national identity through art historical discourse. The paradox, as we will see, is that this occasion presented itself in an historical context where both cultural and political choices inevitably responded to an effort by liberal artists (that is, the ones associated with Eleftherios Venizelos' ideas and modernization programme) to reinvent national art as well as to the nationalistic claims of a totalitarian regime (such as the one that was in place in Greece in 1937).

About the 1937 exhibition: on local tradition and progress

[11] The Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne was conceived as a continuation of the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes and was the first one to be held in France following the rules established by the "Convention de Paris" of 1928.26 Its organisation had already been decided in 1931 by the French government. In 1934 Edmond Labbé was chosen as the General Commissioner and published the exhibition's first programme. In this text he asserted that the Exposition would gather works by craftsmen, artists and industrialists and that it would be creative and educative while forming the impetus for achievements that would seem to belong to the future. As was apparent from the first steps of the project, he stressed the need for art in all facets of everyday life and focused on the effort to prove the unity of "art" and "technique", since, as he claimed, they were not opposed but associated notions: "No incompatibility exists between the beautiful and the useful, […] art and technique must be indissolubly linked."27 Most importantly, Labbé directly promoted regionalism28 stating, on the occasion of the fair's opening: "I have chosen a watchword, regionalism" referring to the strong participation of 23 French provinces. They were represented in the Centre Régional, dedicated to promoting the "Renaissance des Provinces françaises". In the relevant chapter of the Rapport général of the exhibition this notion was explained as the intelligent interpretation of tradition in order to "condition progress".29 Labbé clearly stated that regionalism:

[…] entend […] réaliser les apports combinés de l'expérience et de l'art locaux, pour montrer une fois de plus que le régionalisme n'est pas étroitement confié dans le culte du passé. Il s'agit en somme pour chaque région de garder son caractère bien marqué celui que le climat, les matériaux, les conditions de la vie ont imprimé à l'architecture. [Les arts régionaux] ne doivent pas être des copies et des pastiches du passé mais une résurrection de son esprit, sous des formes appropriées aux temps actuels. […] [Il faut] trouver le moyen d'adapter à chaque 'climat' régional les solutions modernes. […] En donnant à l'exposition un caractère régionaliste nous avons servi la cause de l'art lui-même. […] L'art moderne a péché par excès d'abstraction. Nous avons voulu le mettre en contact avec ces réalités méconnues ou tenues apparemment pour négligeables […] par les stratégies d'avant-garde: le climat, le paysage, les mœurs, les traditions encore vivaces de nos provinces.30

[12] Discussions concerning the importance of regional practices were central to over 300 meetings, congresses, and conferences scheduled during the six months that coincided with the 1937 Paris Exposition Internationale.31 This programme reflected the principles of French (but also German and Spanish) regionalist ideology of the generation born between 1860 and 1875, as Eric Storm describes it:32 "A regional culture – like its national counterpart – was the product of a specific Volksgeist, which was the result of the interaction between man and his natural environment over the ages, as embodied in tradition. Moreover, regionalists, like the new nationalists, urged that contemporary painters, artists […] should also conform to the particular Volksgeist of a region in order to produce 'good' art." According to Storm a painter would do that by showing the organic interaction of man and nature or by depicting typical landscapes, buildings, people (for instance workers). Stylistically, it meant that a painting should have a direct impact on ordinary people, a requirement which clearly promoted realism.

[13] Thus, compared to the 1925 project, regionalism in 1937 appeared as a more permanent and established value, promoting not only past traditions but also the actual particularities of different regions and nations, such as climate, landscape, light and popular customs. This agenda was apparent both at the Centre rural and the Pavillon de l'agriculture.33However, in parallel, the exhibition included many pavilions dedicated to achievements of the industrial age and to modern life, such as the Pavillon de l'électricité et de la lumière, the Pavillon de l'aéronautique and the Pavillon des chemins de fer, the Palais de la découverte, the Pavillon de la publicité, etc. The conjunction of city and country allowed for a coexistence of left and right, progressive and conservative, regionalism and cosmopolitanism. Nevertheless, although programmatically concentrated on technological progress, the exhibition was also very conservative in that it was dedicated to drawing attention to the importance of the past by allowing the fields of science, arts and crafts to claim their "glorious predecessors" and to prove the "continuity of human mind".34

[14] As far as art and architecture were concerned, regionalism meant that the introduction of natural and vernacular forms or landscape painting were especially privileged, as were works that although less "modern" in style, prevailed as a consoling "lieu de mémoire", symbolically alluding to France's post-war reconstruction, as Romy Golan notes.35 In addition, a renewed figurative art was set forth, with subjects of labour, peasantry, and the nude, related to a "return to man" which went along with a "return to the soil".36

[15] Labbé, chosen in 1934 by a right-wing government, was accepted by the socialists, in power since 1936, since this part of his project clearly also responded to the agrarian agenda of the Popular Front while at the same time ensuring the continuation of the fair's conservative world view.

The Greek pavilion: antiquity, the "land" and "Greekness"

[16] In Greece, the Regime of the Fourth of August had established itself in power, since 1936, as a dictatorship under the general Ioannis Metaxas who governed until his death in 1941. His policy was characterised by its fascist ideological foundations but also by a more moderate authoritarianism, by state intervention on all aspects of cultural and intellectual activity, and by imposed censorship, violence and suppression of democratic rights and values.37 However, literary and artistic creation were not interrupted, and many liberal artists and cultural agents remained in place. This was in part due to the fact that Metaxas did not have a consistent ideological programme apart from notions of anticommunism and "anti-parliamentarism" combined to serve the aspiration for a "renaissance" of Greek culture and the birth of the “Third Hellenic Civilisation”.38 In order to promote but also to disguise its totalitarian agenda, the dictatorship favoured the arts and education and adopted the cause of "Greekness" putting it in a nationalistic framework which Metaxas tried to establish by combining classical Greek references with modern creation and language (demotiki).39 Metaxas was, nevertheless, not hostile to liberal trends and personalities within the arts. Consequently, the intellectual domain and its protagonists resulted in a curious mix of nationalistic manifestations, fascist doctrines and experimentation with progressive trends. For instance modern artists such as Constantinos Parthenis and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, formerly associated with liberal circles, continued to profit from institutional favour.

[17] This controversial climate, marrying totalitarian politics with progressive ideologies, was reflected in the choices for the Greek pavilion. According to the correspondence between the Greek authorities and the Ministère du Commerce et de l'Ιndustrie in charge of the Exposition Internationale, a letter dating 11 May 1936 announced the decision for Greece's participation.40 The appointment, during the summer of 1936, of Nikolaos Politis as Greece's National Commissioner seemed a logical one.41 Politis (1872-1942) had been Ambassador of Greece in France since 1924, a close collaborator of former liberal Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, and Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1914 and 1920. Politis had studied political sciences and law in Paris and was Professor of International Law until 1914, when, invited by Venizelos, he returned to Greece to take over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1920 he was the first representative of Greece in the newly founded Société des Nations and from 1924 onwards he was Ambassador of Greece in Paris. His success and experience as National Commissioner of the Greek pavilion of 192542 secured him the position in this important office again in 1937, even if he was far from Metaxas' fascist ideology and had long served the liberal government and its modernisation programme. Politis was assisted by Nikos Fotopoulos, commercial attaché of the Greek government, who was in charge of technical and administrative matters.

[18] As he had done in 1925, Politis wholeheartedly embraced the guidelines of the Exposition's General Commissioner. As stated above, these guidelines were that all products were to be accepted

à condition qu'ils répondent à l'article 8 du Règlement Général, c'est à dire qu'ils soient d'une inspiration nouvelle, d'une originalité réelle, exécutées par les artistes, les artisans et les créateurs de modèles, en se rattachant d'une manière quelconque aux Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes. Elle n'excluait aucune production, à la condition que celle-ci mette en évidence une idée d'art dans l'expression d'un besoin moderne.43

[19] The question of locality and regionalism was also central. The national pavilion was obliged, by the official contract established with each state,44 to comprise products made in the state in question45 – here proving an association of nationality and locality – except when it came to artists and original works of art, which had to be created by people of Greek nationality. While respecting this general framework, valid for all national participations, Politis also tried to maintain a balance between a conservative, neoclassical style, responding to the ideals of the Metaxas regime and local characteristics which would defend the value of a more authentic Greek cultural spirit.

[20] A public competition was launched in June 1936 for the architectural design of the pavilion, situated in front of the Porte Albert-de-Mun. The project adopted was a neoclassical building with an Ionian portico by Zoulias (Fig. 1), hosting in its enclosure a copy of the sculpture of Poseidon found at Cape Artemision (Fig. 2).

1 Façade of the Greek pavilion in the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, Paris 1937 (Edmond Labbé, Rapport général de l' Exposition internationale des arts et techniques de la vie moderne, 1937, Paris 1938, vol. IX, 205-208)

2 Ionian portico of the Greek pavilion in the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, hosting a copy of the sculpture of Poseidon found in Cape Artemision (Labbé, Rapport général, vol. IX, 205-208)

[21] Zoulias collaborated with French architects Robert Mondies and J. Neel. The pavilion was built around an open atrium, in a composition alluding to a rural Greek house, opening to a garden with plants and flowers from all over Greece. According to the organisers, it "represented the national character by a joyous alliance between ancient and modern architecture" that was secured by marrying the Ionian columns to modern simplicity.46 This was the introduction, in the entrance, to a classical journey promoted by the official tourism office. The exhibits comprised photographs of Greek monuments (mostly ancient but also from other periods), ceramics, carpets, textiles from the islands and other crafts, mostly produced by family workshops around Greece, such as wooden furniture from Skyros (Fig. 3).47

3 Interior of the Greek pavilion in the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (Labbé, Rapport général, vol. IX, 205-208)

These were exhibited next to industrial products ranging from biscuits, chocolate and cigarettes to fabrics, shoes and pharmaceuticals as well as to products coming from nature or from the soil whose "exceptional quality was due not only to the warmth of a generous sun, but also to the ingenuity and care undertaken during their preparation": flour, wine, ouzo, soap, oil and olives, sponges, honey, wool, silk, furs. All of these were displayed alongside paintings and sculptures which did not particularly hold the attention of the organisers in the Rapport général. The artworks appear to have merely played a minor role in this composition; the exhibition report simply stated: "Le pavilion grec, tout en faisant d'opportuns retours vers le grand passé, s'ingéniait à mettre en valeur l'apport spirituel de la Grèce actuelle dans les arts et techniques modernes."48

[22] The first stone was set by King George on 26 February 1937, while at the inauguration (3 July 1937) Edmond Labbé as well as Nikolaos Politis gave the official speeches. Various manifestations and performances took place in the pavilion, for instance a performance of the tragedy The Persians by Aeschylus by the Groupe théâtral antique de la Sorbonne.49

National and regional variations: the fine arts selection of the Greek pavilion

[23] With reference to the works of art chosen for display in the Greek pavilion, the same equilibrium between progress and local tradition, modernism and regionalism was pursued: Antiquity was alluded to through casts of well-known sculptural works, such as the Ephebe of Marathon, while representative samples of Byzantine icons were shown as well. A substantial section of the pavilion was, to the satisfaction of the organisers, dedicated to popular art, in their view particularly original, colourful, "plein de poésie". In this field, two of the pioneers of popular art exhibitions and publications, Angeliki Hatzimichali50 and Ellie Papadimitriou,51 appeared in the official selection. The paintings of both Hatzimichali and Papadimitriou were academic-impressionist renditions of Greek landscapes and still lifes, however the ideology behind them revealed a progressive intent and, although filtered through the conservative lens of the exhibition's officials, they were loaded with a rather revolutionary content.

[24] The official description of the exhibits belonging to the broader "popular arts" category is indicative of the "modernity" pretext for promoting nationalistic ideology as well as of the association between nationalism and regionalism in the exhibition: They were described as proof of the taste and refinement of the Greek craftsmen's race, of a specifically "oriental" character.52 As noted, the official discourse especially valued these folklore expressions and the national characteristics (perceived in an essentialist way) they promoted. This is why most works of art were chosen according to the same criteria. The core of the fine arts selection comprised mostly paintings, sculptures and engravings by living Greek artists who had for the main part studied in Paris, worked in either academic-impressionist or post-cubist styles and systematically used references to the particularities of the Greek land and Greek people. "Le choix des tableaux n'était pas moins heureux et plusieurs d'entre eux, lumineux de coloris, puissants de composition, représentaient les aspects typiques de la Grèce" proclaimed the organisers.53

[25] In this spirit, the work Hercule et les Amazones by Constantinos Parthenis (Fig. 4) – a last minute addition since it did not appear in the original list – was the most successful participation and earned the Golden prize.54 It clearly reflects the leading orientation of the selection as

he was one of the first artists who had conceived and attempted to form, not only thematically but also stylistically, the problem of "Greekness" as a demand for developing a new "Greek canon" and not as a continuance or revival of some Greek tradition.55

[26] Parthenis was a liberal artist who, after a Parisian period (1909 to 1911, but also in 1920), moved away from his first symbolist style to fuse the genre of cubist nature morte and its structural characteristics with various cultural references. In these works he acknowledged the ideological role of past styles and used them not didactically, but in a "modernist" manner in order to investigate the formal qualities of painting.

4 Constantinos Parthenis, Battle between Heracles and the Amazons, 1921-1927, oil on canvas, 116 x 130,6 cm. Donated by Sofia Partheni, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens, inv. no. Π.6503 (photograph © Stavros Psiroukis)

[27] Other artists like Aglaia Papa (Fig. 5), Hélène Zongolopoulou, Agenor Asteriadis, Giorgos Gounaropoulos or Yannis Mitarakis (J. Mita), who participated with portraits or nudes, experimented combining modernism with local features and paid growing attention to form and to directions given by European avant-gardes before the war (such as fauvism, cubism or expressionism) with a special interest in the creative potential of Greek resources. Asteriadis, for example, creatively assimilated elements from folk art and Byzantine tradition, like bi-dimensionality and schematisation combined with cubist elements (Fig. 6). Mitarakis, a Greek who had spent several years studying in the "free" academies of Paris, where he experienced the artistic heyday of Montparnasse, also attempted to align to French modern style. Gounaropoulos focused on combining the modern and the classical, in accordance with the demands of the times, to conform to some sort of general call for measure and order linked to the current retour à l'ordre56 (Fig. 7). Living in the French metropolis since 1919, he followed Parisian styles, especially cubism, surrealism and expressionism, and associated them with the symbolic use of mythological subjects, the simplification of form and colour and a reference to the typical line that characterises Attic vase painting. A linearity and simplification inspired by ancient Greek vases represented for him an ethnic component, which added local features to French modernism.57

5 Aglaia Papa, Self-Portrait, ca. 1932, oil on canvas, 60.5 x 60 cm. Donated by the artist, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens, inv. no. Π.6097 (photograph © Stavros Psiroukis)

6 Agenor Asteriadis, Ioanna. Green Shadows, 1927, watercolour, 50 x 31.5 cm. Donated by the artist, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens, inv. no. Π.4990 (photograph © Stavros Psiroukis)

7 Giorgos Gounaropoulos (Gounaro), Muse, 1937-1939, pencil, charcoal on paper, 71 x 51 cm. Donated by Karolos and Lili Artiotis, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens, inv. no. Π.5825 (photograph © Stavros Psiroukis)

[28] Older and acclaimed artists, like Periklis Vyzantios and Spyros Vikatos, were also included. They presented landscapes and portraits representative of the bourgeois aesthetic, favouring styles like impressionism (Vyzantios) or the romanticism of the Munich School (Vikatos) thus attesting to the origins of Greek art's shaping in accordance with European currents during the nineteenth century (Fig. 8).58 The combination of mythology and symbolism in the work entitled Hercule tuant les grues de Stymphale by Frixos Aristeas was in the same spirit although more interesting and original as he was one of the few Greek artists who adopted the "Jugendstil". The Greek pavilion's selection also comprised lesser known artists who corresponded to some sort of established taste, such as E. Ioannidis, a painter reproducing Byzantine and popular models and subjects; E. Voila, a known artist specialising in painted 'mosaics' working on variations of Byzantine, folklore and ancient models; P. Diamantopoulou specialising in decorative arts such as batik or enamel painting with orthodox iconography; J. Tchiller-Dima, an impressionist painter; and Céleste Polychroniadi, a student of Suzanne Valadon, who applied an impressionist style to Greek subjects and landscapes and who was mostly dedicated to printing and applied arts.

8 Spyros Vikatos, Portrait of a Woman, n.d., oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm. Donated by the artist, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens, inv. no. Π.663 (photograph © Stavros Psiroukis)

[29] During this period, other painters presented in the Greek pavilion used a post-cubist vocabulary that resulted from Picasso's classical turn, Le Corbusier's purism and references to Greek sources or landscapes, in order to establish and propagate in Greece some of the underlying "constants" (measure, order, and clarity) of the universal aesthetic experience, according to the way classical values were perceived at the time in Europe. This approach allowed a faith in the superiority of Greek heritage to coexist with the modernist commitment to "primitive" art and to autonomous form. It thus laid the groundwork for the connection of painting and sculpture with the local "Greekness" movement, and associated the ideology of the autonomy of form with the cultivation of a collective national identity. Ghika for instance, who associated with both the cubists and the purists and was personally acquainted with Picasso, Léger and Le Corbusier, focused on the geometry and structural symmetry of the work, in order to find "the essence of things" and trace their internal structure.59 He used mathematical canons of beauty expressed by Plato and Pythagoras and sought perfection in a disciplined kind of expression that subordinated reality to number and geometrical form. He appropriated classical principles of composition, measure and order to renew the Greek painterly idiom while at the same time taking part in the classical version of cubism that prevailed in Paris after the 1920s. He promoted the idea of the permanence of the Greek spirit throughout time, and he claimed for modern Greeks an inherent sense of beauty found in ancient art through the surviving traces of the austerity and purity of the Greek spirit.60 In his works of the 1930s, he took this investigation a step further and connected the preference of the ancients for proportion and purity with the country's geomorphology and the unique character of Greek nature.

[30] It is very telling that in the work submitted for the show – which also won a medal – Ghika opted for a very unique and unexpected subject. He distanced himself from portraits, still lifes, interiors and landscapes, and presented Stonebreaker (1936) (Fig. 9), a work far removed from his well-known bourgeois subject matter.

9 Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Stonebreaker, 1936, oil on cardboard, 42 x 27 cm. Current location unknown (photograph provided by the Ghika Gallery archive, Benaki Museum, Athens, inv. no. ιδιωτΧΓ490)

[31] Apparently inspired by the many artists and architects living in France who were concerned with modern people in modern society at the time61 – a fact that "increasingly brought an explicit political agenda to the modernity they observed and dreamed", as Christopher Green remarks –, Ghika favoured realism. He followed the example of non-communist modernists, like his friend Léger who embraced new "popular" subjects in order to celebrate, as the programme of the Exposition called for, "la vie ouvrière et paysanne".62

[32] This was also the case of left-wing artists like Mikis Matsakis (here represented by the work Déchargement d'une péniche) who in the early 1930s turned to realist depictions of Greek landscapes in order to distance himself from impressionism.63 Similarly, Dimitris Yannoukakis, who had pursued studies in Paris, presented a Paysage that combined elements from cubism, fauvism and expressionism with Greek light and colour. Giorgos Velissaridis' Maison à Santorin also exploited cubist vocabulary to translate typical Greek island architecture into a modern language. Such depictions coexisted with more conventional and conservative approaches, such as the landscapes presented by Georgios Kosmadopoulos (Fig. 10), Dimos Braessas, Sophia Laskaridi or Maria Anagnostopoulou, which proposed romantic, lyrical depictions of national land and peasantry in a nostalgic attitude. In a similar spirit, other artists selected episodes from recent national history (Assaut d'Evzones, Stavros Kantzikis, Fig. 11). The same "safe" choices were also made by previously progressive artists, such as engraver Angelos Theodoropoulos. Established and acclaimed in Greek intellectual circles, Theodoropoulos presented in the Greek pavilion recent woodcuts which were clearly informed by his Parisian experience and his admiration of Derain and Matisse but also by his conviction that artists should look anew at the past for inspiration (Fig. 12). However, as Matthiopoulos has shown, these works were deprived of an ideological agenda (Theodoropoulos belonged to the Communist party) and of any interest to serve the "Greekness" debate.64

10 Georgios Kosmadopoulos, Paysage, n.d., oil on cardboard, 60 x 73 cm. National Gallery – Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens, inv. no. Π.3543 (photograph © Stavros Psiroukis)

11 Stavros Kantzikis, Assaut d'Evzones, n.d., oil on canvas, 50 x 76 cm. National Gallery – Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens, inv. no. Κ.701 (photograph © Stavros Psiroukis)

12 Angelos Theodoropoulos, Paysage, n.d., woodcut on paper, 27 x 34 cm. Donation of the Ministry of Education, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens, inv. no. Π.3917 (photograph © Stavros Psiroukis)

[33] The direction towards the land, the soil, peasant life, traditional customs and outdoor living also marked the choices of the printed works decorating the Greek pavilion. The importance of engravers in this selection reflects the birth, at that time, of a school of Greek engraving as a result of the re-opening of the printing studio in the Athens School of Fine Arts in 1932.65 As most Greek engravers were leaning towards realism in style as well as subject matter, their works conformed perfectly with the regionalist agenda of the Exposition, even if ideologically they distanced themselves from the conservative political and cultural stance of the Metaxas government. For instance, Korogiannakis's three works in the exhibition, Moisson, Vendanges and Pêcheurs (Fig. 13), manifested his inclination towards socialist realism, while celebrating labour and reflecting the effort to "question how art could relate to the proletariat",66 very strongly discussed in the cultural debates of the Left in the 1930s in France. Similarly Giorgos Moschos, an artist specialising in woodcuts, represented landscapes and architectural subjects that combined Byzantine-style and folk elements, with emphasis on detail and realism. In the pavilion, he presented the four etchings Carpenisi, Maison de Roumeli, Ruelle à Myconos, and Habitant de Roumeli clearly drawn to this direction.