After the Great Fire - Constantinos Maleas (Greek 1879-1928)




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After the Great Fire attributed to Constantinos Maleas (Greek, Κωνσταντίνος Μαλέας 1879-1928)

Oil on cardboard, 7.5" x 11"

Presented in the original Watts style frame.

“The work, typical of the artist's signature style and of his choice of subject matter from his years in Thessaloniki, resonates as it bears witness to a tragic event yet also heralds a new dawn”.

The painting is believed to depict ruined buildings in the aftermath of the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 (Mεγάλη Πυρκαγιά της Θεσσαλονίκης) which destroyed two thirds of the city. The fire burned for 32 hours, destroyed 9,500 houses and more than 70,000 of the population were rendered homeless.

Constantinos Maleas arrived in Thessaloniki with his family in 1913 and remained there until August 1917 when most of his output perished in the Great Fire. During his stay he headed the city’s Public Works Department, participated in a group show in 1914 and in April 1917 organised a major solo exhibition of 200 to 250 works.

Thessaloniki became a transit center for Allied troops during WWI and the city filled with thousands of French and British soldiers (numbering up to 100,000) many of whom visited the studio of Maleas in the city. According to a 1916 article in the local press, the French regularly visited Maleas’ studio and showed their appreciation for his work, buying many of his paintings. “It took a foreigner’s eye to appreciate one of our artists [Maleas] who lives isolated somewhere in town, one of the select few that every city would be proud of. I read in the papers that the French have visited and keep visiting the elegant studio of our distinguished painter C. Maleas and they have bought and keep buying various paintings of his.” [Macedonia newspaper, 1.5.1916]

Setting his easel outdoors, Maleas looked seaward, focusing on the scene of devastation that confronted him. Painting with directness, quickly and in full control of his medium, he exploited colour to express emotion, his thickly applied paint and animated brushwork creating a tactile counterpart to his lively colour scheme. “Compared to Monet, the architect Maleas places greater emphasis on volume and plasticity of form.” [Kotidis p. 37]. During his four-year stay he painted mostly buildings and monuments. In one of his articles in the local press, he noted that "Thessaloniki is a treasure trove of quaint old quarters, picturesque houses, minarets and Byzantine churches." [Macedonia newspaper, 30.4.1916]. His architectural studies helped him better understand the teachings of Cezanne who exhorted painters to treat their subjects in terms of primary geometric shapes and volumes.

The work, typical of the artist's signature style and of his choice of subject matter from his years in Thessaloniki, resonates as it bears witness to a tragic event yet also heralds a new dawn.

Constantinos Maleas (Greek, Κωνσταντίνος Μαλέας 1879-1928)

Graduate of the Megali tou Genous Scholi (Great School of the Hellenes) he studied architecture at the Polytechnic School of Constantinople. From 1901 to 1908 he lived in Paris, where he took painting lessons from the neo-impressionist Henri Martin and studied at the School of the Decorative Arts. At the same time his exhibition activity commenced. He returned to his homeland and travelled to the Middle East, painting intensively (1908-1910). In 1913 he moved with his family to Thessaloniki and the following year was appointed chief engineer to the municipality, a post he remained at till 1917, when he settled in Athens.

During the Thessaloniki fire of 1917 many of his works were destroyed. In 1918 he became the Director of the Museum of Folk Handicrafts and was appointed a member of the Artistic Council of the National Gallery. In 1920 he travelled to Sparta, Mystras, Olympia and Naxos, and the next year to Thermo, Aitolia, accompanying the archaeologist Konstantinos Romaios. During the period of 1921-1923 he lived and worked in Chios and Lesbos and in 1923 received the Prize in Letters and Arts. A founding member of the Art Group, he participated in its exhibitions, while presenting his works in other group shows and a total of thirteen solo exhibitions. A year before his death at forty-nine years of age, he visited Paris and Munich. In 1936 his works were sent to the Venice Biennale. Retrospective presentations of his work were held in 1929 at the Zappeion Hall and in 1980 at the National Gallery. In addition to his artistic creation he was also active in educational reform and worked in cooperation with Dimitrios Glinos, Alexandros Delmouzos and Manolis Triantafyllidis.

A revitalizing influence in Greek painting, using impressionist and post-impressionist models as his starting point, he produced mainly landscapes, in which schematization and powerful, pure colors dominate and in that way build a composition made up of unities. At the beginning of the 20th century landscape painting held sway and the interest of painters turned toward the study of light and color.[3] The dependence of Munich slackened and Paris became the pole of attraction for the artists of the period. In the early 20th century Demetrios Galanis, a contemporary and friend of Picasso, achieved wide recognition in France and lifelong membership of the Académie française following his acclaim by the critic Andre Malreaux as an artist capable "of stirring emotions as powerful as those of Giotto". Later in the century Nikos Engonopoulos achieved international recognition with his surrealist conceptions both of painting and poetry, while in the late 1960s Dimitris Mytaras and Yiannis Psychopedis became associated with European critical realism. Impressionism was the original influence on the leading figures of the art of the first half of the 20th century, Konstantinos Parthenis and Konstantinos Maleas, while Nikiphoros Lytras associated himself with the avant-garde groups of Munich constituting the last known link with the series of painters in the great tradition of Munich in Greek art . The further development of these painters led to other roads, but always within the framework of the avantgarde movement albeit with a Greek dimension.

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