Never before offered at auction, The Arrival of Karaiskakis at Faliro, is the most important work by the artist to appear on the international art market. Most historical works by Volanakis of this scale and importance are in museums, institutions and corporate collections, making this painting one of the few examples still in private hands.
This monumental scene from the Greek War of Independence celebrates the arrival in 1827 of the fledgling Greek navy and one of its commanders, Georgios Karaiskakis, on the shores of Faliro, near Piraeus, in preparation for the campaign to liberate Athens, under siege from Ottoman forces. Altogether some ten thousand Greek soldiers convened at Piraeus. The fleet was made up of vessels assembled by various islands and forces under the command of Karaiskakis and the English philhellene, Lord Cochrane, the first ships landing in Piraeus on 5 February 1827. Karaiskakis was mortally wounded during the ensuing confrontation on the open plain between Piraeus and Athens, and died on 23 April 1827, going down in Greek history as one of the greatest heroes of the war.
The quality of timeless calm characteristic of Volanakis' painting adds tension to the depiction of the Greeks' disembarkation. A 24-gun frigate leads the convoy of masted ships, all bearing the Greek flag that had been recently adopted in 1822. The high tide, still waters and sky are heavy with the anticipation of the imminent battle, as the Greek force prepare to attack the Ottoman battalion on the plain of Athens.
Deeply inspired by Karaiskakis's bravery, Volanakis painted a further version of his arrival at Faliro, though seen from the other side of the bay, and with greater focus on the cavalry and the landed troops. Both paintings capture the tension-wrought atmosphere of the eerie calm before the event, and reinforce its iconographic nature to the people of Greece.
Karaiskakis was born in a monastery near Mavrommati circa 1780 to an armatolos (a member of the Greek Christian militia enforcing the authority of the Ottoman pasha) and a local nun. Known as 'The Nun's Son' and 'the Gypsy' because of his dark complexion, he was admired for his courage and recklessness. At an early age Karaiskakis became a klepht (a Greek resistance fighter) in the service of Katsantonis of Agrafa, ascending rapidly through their ranks. Captured by Ottoman troops and imprisoned at Ioannina, in northwestern Greece, Karaiskakis' spirit and bravery caught the attention of Ali Pasha, who made him one of his personal guards. Serving as a bodyguard for the Pasha of Ioannina for several years, Karaiskakis eventually lost favour with the Ali Pasha and fled to the mountains to return to his life as a klepht.
Karaiskakis gained international renown during his service as a military commander in the War of Independence between 1796 and 1827. Initially serving in the militia in the Morea, he began his controversial career by helping lift both sieges of Messolonghi in 1823 and 1826. Appointed commander-in-chief of the Greek forces at Rumeli, Karaiskakis had many ideological clashes with his fellow freedom-fighters and foreign sympathisers but still emerged victorious from several battles with the Ottomans. One of Karaiskakis' greatest military successes was that at Arachova, a battle won against the Turkish and Albanian troops of Mustafa Bey and Kehagia Bey. In 1827 Karaiskakis participated in the attempts to prevent the massacre of the Turkish garrison at Saint Spyridon, directly before his fateful operation at Faliro. Under the first king of modern Greece, the Bavarian King Otto (Othon), a monument was erected in remembrance of his extraordinary bravery located where he had fallen in battle.
Kraiskakis Arriving at Faliro is one of numerous tableaux by Volanakis celebrating Greece's vital naval exploits. These include The Inauguration of the Corinth Canal, The Exodus of Areas, and The Battle of Salaminas, all of them key works in major Greek collections, including the National Gallery and National Bank of Greece. The large scale of these works adds to their sense of monumentality and drama and accentuates their patriotic content: Greece's struggle for independence and autonomy, from which it would eventually emerge victorious. Volanakis' signature atmosphere of calm and industrious order is manipulated by the artist into the creation of a scene of great intensity, weight and expectancy describing a theme of historical significance.
The Greek War of Independence was fought against the Ottoman Empire to establish an autonomous Greek state. Through the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Ottoman Empire deposed the Byzantine Empire, and since then had ruled over all of Greece (with the exception of the Ionian Islands, ruled by Venice). In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, revolutionary feeling was awakened by events such as the triumph of the French Revolution. A sense of Greek nationalism grew with the weakening of the Ottoman Empire, and European philhellenes embraced the idea of a revival in the power and glory of the Greece of antiquity.
In 1814, Greek nationalists formed the Filiki Eteria (the Friendly Society), and with the assistance of European sympathisers, and Russian and Greek expatriate communities in the United States and England, a rebellion was planned, headed by Ioannis Kapodistrias, an official from the Ionian Islands who had become the Russian Foreign Minister. Nearly simultaneous uprisings took place in the Peloponnese, Macedonia, Crete and Cyprus, and the Greeks were able to take control of the Peloponnese. The Ottoman retaliation for this affront was brutal, with massacres in Chios and other towns; this violent retribution garnered sympathy for the Greek cause from western European powers, though raised concern that the uprising was a Russian-led scheme to take over Greece. Unable to assemble a cohesive government, Greece was torn apart by internal quarrels as well as continuing battles between Ottoman and Greek forces.
By 1825, both sides had taken to the seas when the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II convinced the leader of Egypt, Mehmet Ali Pasha, and his son, Ibrahim, to use their newly-modernised fleet against the Greek navy. The Ottoman fleet comprised twenty-three masted ships of the line, each with approximately 80 guns and 7 or 8 frigates with 50 guns, 5 corvettes with about 30 guns and around 40 brigs with 20 or fewer guns; the Greek fleet was primarily outfitted by wealthy Aegean islanders, mainly from Spetses, Hydra and Psara, and while manned by experienced crews, mostly consisted of cargo ships not properly equipped for warfare. Though initially successful in their use of 'fire ships' (ships filled with combustibles deliberately steered into enemy vessels), the Greeks failed to prevent the capture and devastation of Kasos and Spara in 1824, or the landing of Muhammed Ali Pasha's army at Methoni. Beset by internal discord and financial difficulties, even victories at Samos and Gerontas were not enough to keep the Revolution from the verge of collapse.
The Battle of Navarino, the decisive 1827 naval battle fought on the west coast of Messenia in the Ionian Sea, saw the Great Powers of Great Britain, France and Russia intervene in defense of Greece. Ottoman and Egyptian sea power was dramatically crippled, after which the French, under General Nicholas Maison, landed troops in the Peloponnese. This critical juncture in the war gave the Greeks time to regroup and establish a new government under Ioannis Kapodistrias, while they also seized territory such as Athens and Thebes before a cease-fire was announced by the allied forces. Kapodistria was assassinated in 1831 by vengeful Maniots after imprisoning a rebellious member of their clan, Petrobey. The ensuing confusion was formally ended by the London Conference of May 1832, in which Greece was declared an independent kingdom, and Otto of Bavaria its king. On the 21st of July 1832 representatives of the Great Powers concluded the Treaty of Constantinople, setting the boundaries of the new kingdom of Greece with the Arta-Volos line as its northern border.
The resurgence in interest among painters like Volanakis during the second half of the nineteenth century for Greece's military victories fought decades earlier was in large part fuelled by the abdication in 1862 of the unpopular King Otto. His departure marked a renewed resurgence of national pride, leading many artists, most of them Munich-trained, to adopt distinctly Greek subjects.
Known as the 'bard of the Greek sea', Volanakis was a keen and affectionate observer of nature, whose knowledge of the sea encouraged the fullest expression of his talents. Volanakis' focus on marine painting allowed him to examine every possible angle and element of the seascapes he observed first hand in the Mediterranean. His painting The Battle of Lissa was bought by the Austrian Emperor, after Volanakis won a competition for its depiction, and The Battle of Trafalgar was exhibited and sold in London.
Volanakis' interest in marine subjects was first exposed during his time as an accountant in his brother-in-law Georgios Afentoulis's sugar refinery. There his sketches of the harbour and small ships on the firm's ledgers drew the enthusiastic attention of his employer, and the artist was sent, with the financial backing of his family, to the Academy of Arts in Munich to study under Karl von Piloty. After his studies he worked in Munich and travelled to Venice and Trieste, cities whose picturesque port and harbour-oriented topography would prove inspirational. It was during his stay in Vienna that Volanakis had the opportunity to travel throughout the Mediterranean in the Austrian navy's training ship, which would prove the inspiration for his coastal and full ocean scenes, and the characters that populate his beloved marine panoramas.
Please note that this painting will be available for inspection by prospective buyers in Athens by appointment with Sotheby's. The painting will be located in Greece during the auction and will be available for collection by the successful bidder in Athens. The export of this painting from Greece is subject to the obtaining of an export permit. The obtaining of any such permit shall be the sole responsibility of the buyer.
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