by Alexandra Papaisidorou*
The Collection of the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation is one of the most important private collections to be assembled in the course of the second half of the 20th century. The primary objective of the new museum built in Athens is to house the collection and make it accessible to all, as was the wish of its founders.
Like all collections, the present one is eminently subjective. Although Basil and Elise Goulandris were surrounded by renowned historians and professionals from the art market already in the early 1950s, the couple chose these works following the criteria of their own personal tastes and aesthetic standards. They built their collection with care, patience and true devotion over a period of nearly fifty years and this with the aim that it would one day be exhibited in their museum.
The new museum has the capacity to exhibit at one time about half the collection in conditions deemed appropriate to the exhibition design that was conceived to be airy, simple and conducive to observation. Sculptures and paintings are displayed together to help draw the parallel between artists’ paths. At present approximately 180 works and art objects are on view. Apart from the most prominent pieces that will be on permanent exhibit, the displays in the other exhibition rooms will change alternately to allow each painting, sculpture, piece of furniture and object the opportunity to be seen.
In this collection the leading role goes to modern and contemporary art, principally European and dating from the period between 1880-1980. On the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors of the building, under the benevolent eye of El Greco, visitors will have the opportunity to discover works by Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Joan Miro, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Fernand Leger, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Marc Chagall, Jean Helion, Hans Arp, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Cesar, Jean Tinguely, Niki de Saint Phalle, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Balthus, Victor Brauner and Giorgio de Chirico among others.
The pivotal figure in this community of artists is Paul Cezanne – he whom Picasso called “the father of us all,” and Giacometti considered to be the only one, along with the Byzantines, who knew how to draw. He was equally the first modern painter to enter the nascent collection of Basil and Elise Goulandris. Starting with Cezanne a fabric was woven that would cover all the painters and sculptors cited above and who according to their generation crossed paths, became friends, confronted or influenced one another. Basil and Elise Goulandris took pleasure in evoking through their choices such dialogues, imaginary for the most part, between artists: for ages Rodin aspired to exhibit with Monet and succeeded in the end; Kandinsky experienced his first pictorial shock before the same Monet; Gauguin refused to part with his favorite Cezanne until he was forced to sell it to survive; Toulouse-Lautrec claimed Degas was his sole model; Van Gogh longed to live and work beside Gauguin but his deteriorating mental health cut their period of cohabitation short; Klee lived the same dark hours as Kandinsky following the closing of the Bauhaus; Braque found himself in Normandy with Leger when war broke out in 1939; Miro and Giacometti, each in his own way, vigorously fought the rules of Surrealism imposed by Andre Breton; come hell or high water De Chirico and Helion chose to return to a more formal type of painting and paid the price in their isolation. And of course Pablo Picasso, the demiurge, the revolutionary who assimilated all his aesthetic references so totally that his own output was as novel as it was personal.
All of these anecdotes, stories and developments come alive on the walls of the museum. The walk ends in the two galleries consecrated to modern and contemporary Greek artists on the 3rd and 4th floors. From the beginnings of their collection Basil and Elise Goulandris were ardently intent on reserving a special place for their fellow countrymen, like George Bouzianis, Yannis Tsarouchis, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Yannis Moralis and Michalis Tombos. They also gave a directive to the Foundation’s board of directors to continue their efforts in support of young Greek artists through educational grants as well as the acquisition of new works.
Likewise, the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation has respected the founders’ wish to dedicate a gallery to their magnificent collection of French furniture signed by world-famous cabinetmakers and art objects dating from the 18th century, as well as Chinese jades and porcelain. As art informed every facet of the lives of Basil and Elise Goulandris, it was also integrated into every aspect of their daily existence.
The 5th floor located at the first level below ground houses the temporary exhibition rooms and will host its first event in the Fall of 2020.
The first volume featuring the collection of the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation is dedicated to modern art from 1870 to 1945 and will be available as of October 2. Spanning some 600 pages the catalogue presents each work of art in detail and also includes a chronology. Two children’s books will follow in the course of October: To the Museum and The Goulandris Collection in Stickers. The second volume of the collection concentrates on art produced after the Second World War and contemporary art. It will be released in May 2020.
The entire collection of the the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation shall systematically be presented via our website goulandris.gr.
*Editor-at-large & PhD candidate of European & International Relations