Friday, June 26, 2015

Konstantinos Volanakis, The Burning of a Turkish Frigate

Konstantinos Volanakis, The Burning of a Turkish Frigate
35.5 x 51.5 in.

Konstantinos Volanakis (1837-1907) was a prominent Greek painter, best known for his many seascapes, a genre which he helped establish in modern Greek painting.  Born near the city of Rethymno in Crete, his family moved around a lot, eventually settling on the island of Syros in the Cyclades.  After completing school, Volanakis went to Trieste to work as an account for a Greek family he was related to.  While there, he began sketching ships and harbors.  His employers (who were also family) recognized his artistic talent and arranged for him to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.  His first success came in 1869 when Emperor Franz Joseph held a drawing competition to commemorate the Battle of Lissa, which had occurred three years previously. Volanakis won the contest for his stirring and epic depiction of the battle, winning one thousand florins and free travel with the Austrian navy for three years.  This proved invaluable to Volanakis, as he traveled with the navy, sketching and painting the ships and harbors he saw. Many of his paintings also resemble genre scenes in content, showing children on the beach or the toil of working fishermen.  He also painted some landscapes and mythological scenes.  The Burning of a Turkish Frigate is an extremely intense and intricate piece.  Its subject is a tactic from the Greek War of Independence.  Greek revolutionaries would row a small boat laden with explosives up to the side of a large Turkish frigate.  The strategy was quite successful and contributed to the success of the Greek revolt.  In one case in 1821, the fire aboard the Mansourija was so large that it killed 600 Turkish sailors.  The painting does an excellent job depicting the extent of the blaze.  To the right of the frigate, we can see the small Greek ship still burning, leaning against the side of the Turkish ship.  Notice the detail that Volanakis included in the Turkish scramble to escape and the texture of the rising smoke.  The scene is contained within the context of a masterful seascape, where the waters churn and clouds blanket the sky. Just beyond this disaster, the sea is calm, reflecting the deep twilight blue of the sky.

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