The Giallinas Mansion near the Esplanade in Corfu Town is saved from further deterioration and will be renovated over the next two years. A budget of over € 5 million has been approved for the reconstruction and restoration of the Venetian building, where the painter Angelos Giallinas lived and worked. Mayor Ydraiou announced last week the mansion will be “one of the most modern art and cultural venues” in town. She proudly added: “Corfu is slowly healing its open wounds, renovating its historical buildings and will become a major attraction.”
When the work is complete the building will be put to new use. The ground floor of the gallery will host educational and commercial activities and a restaurant. On the first floor there will be an exhibition of works by Angelos Giallinas, no less than 586 watercolours and oil paintings divided into 16 thematic units. The two rooms at the front, thanks to the wealth of decorations (ceiling paintings, ornate plasterwork etc.), will be a reconstruction of the Giallinas living room and studio with authentic furniture.
The tragic life of Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria and Queen of Hungary (1837-1898) has been subjected to many books and films. Her heritage on Corfu consists of stone and bronze, gardens and terraces, sculptures, ornaments and paintings: Achilleion Palace. Designed in Dorian, Ionian and Pompeian styles by two Napolitan architects and built between 1889 and 1891 the ‘Achillio’ to some is a monstrosity spoiling the lovely landscape, to others a fine piece of living history. Either way the neo-classical building – now Museum Achillion – keeps drawing coach loads of tourists to the village of Gastouri. Some of whom may well be interested in the resident who acquired the palace some years after Sisi’s death and turned it into a centre of European diplomacy: the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
For your eyes only Some other time I might take you through the 72 lavishly furnished rooms, halls and chapel of the museum, for now I content myself taking you through the gardens and up a flight of stairs. Come see the grand terrace on the back that levels with the palace’s second floor. See the dazzling grey and white pattern of the floor tiles, remember the scene in the casino in the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”, admire the row of busts of the blind poet Homer and the Greek philosophers, Shakespeare and the Nine Muses, and then…
Then gaze through the windows to catch a view of the upper part of the main hall, a view that is hidden to you from the inside of the palace, as the stairway to the second floor is closed for the public. But there it is: ‘Triumph des Achill’, as Sisi and the painter called it in German, ‘Achilles’ Triumph’. Homer again!
Ten metres by three… Even from where you are on the terrace, quite a bit away, you most likely cannot help being overwhelmed. The Austrian painter Franz senior Matsch worked on this panoramic, ten metres by three fresco at intervals during the years 1892 to 1894. He had worked for Sisi before, decorating the Hermes Villa near Vienna and this time he choose to depict one of the cruelest scenes from Homer’s Iliad. But he was instructed carefully how to picture it.
We stare at the Greek hero and warrior Achilles racing on his horse drawn chariot around the walls of Troy. The warrior is showing off the helmet that Hector, Troy’s king Priamos’ son, was wearing when he killed him in a duel. Hector’s lifeless body is being dragged behind the chariot through the dust, for all to see from high upon the walls of Troy, his parents, his wife and new-born son…
Rage and horror The rage of Achilles is there, who has seen his best friend Patroklos slain the other day by the same Hector. It flashes like the helmet he holds out to the sun and shines in the sweaty skin of the dark horse. The vengeful jubilation of the Greek warriors is there, swaying their weapons and running after the chariot. And the horror and dismay of the Trojan spectators is there, even though Matsch protected Hektor from the bloody fate that Homer created for him: his head is out of sight and none of his multiple wounds is visible (see: Homer, Iliad, 22, verses 375-404).
The empress wanted her Achilles should not be a muscular warrior. And he is not. Perhaps with his angelic face he had to counterbalance the sculpture by Ernst Herter (1884) further down in the garden, a dying Achilles that pulls the fateful arrow out of his heel. In fact Achilles is omnipresent, inside the palace and outside.
Hidden failure? Many years ago, as I was going to the “Achillio” for the first time, I was prepared by a born islander. He wanted me to detect the painting’s hidden failure. A fatal failure, that caused the painter to kill himself soon after he had finished his long labour. On my return I admitted to my friend I hadn’t got a clue. Ah, but it was in the wheel of the chariot, he said. It showed no movement, it looked like a photograph taken at a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec.
Then I dug into Franz Matsch. Born in Vienna in 1861 he enjoyed a fruitful career as a painter, sculptor and instructor. He studied and worked with the painters Gustav Klimt and Ernst Klimt, decorating theaters throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Around 1891 the artistic trio fell apart. Franz Matsch devoted himself to portrait painting, which he did with some success. Gustav Klimt became very popular with his own personal style of painting.
The “Anker-Uhr“ From 1893 to 1901 Matsch was a teacher at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts. In the years 1911-1917 he designed the landmark “Anker-Uhr” clock in Vienna’s first district on the “Hoher Markt”, where it can still be seen today. Franz Matsch lived to be 81 and died of old age in 1942, half a century after the unveiling of his monumental fresco in the “Achillio”. And yes, the style of his triumphing Achilles resembles the art practice of an “action shot”, popular throughout different periods in the history of art. Although it’s true the left part of the painting shows considerably more “movement”.
Rudolf‘s suicide There was someone else who took his life. Empress Elisabeth’s son, the crown prince Rudolf von Habsburg, did in January 1889. Thirty years of age he had just caused the death of his mistress, 17 years young. Shortly after these horrendous events Elisabeth decided to make Corfu her home. She had her Achilleion Palace built and in the memory of her beloved son she idealized Achilles, the strong and divinely beautiful hero. The demigod that would have been immortal if it wasn’t for that vulnerable spot at the back of his heel.
P.S. A remarkable feature is to be seen in the upper right hand corner of Matsch’ fresco. Above the gate in the wall there is a swastika. Of course in 1894 there was not such a thing as a nazi symbol. This abstract figure – that probably originates from an ancient culture in India – was one of the symbols of the city of Troy.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria was stabbed and killed on the quay of Lake Geneva on the 10th of September 1898 by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni.
While Corfu born Angelos Giallinas died before World War II his fame as a painter seems to be spreading still. Having been a very productive artist his watercolours and lithographs can be purchased at Greek and international auctions for prices ranging from € 1.000 to € 6.000. His main subject were the land- and seascapes and architecture of his beloved island, and very few painters – perhaps apart from Edward Lear and Joseph Cartwright – seem to have captured the spirit of the place like he did.
But Giallinas liked his travelling too. After taking painting lessons during 1872-1875 at the Corfu Art School and privately from Charalambos Pachis he studied painting in Venice, Naples and Rome. In Italy he discovered his skills and passion for watercolouring. Returning to Corfu in 1878 he devoted himself almost entirely to this art – next to some lithography – and soon became immensely popular.
National Gallery Giallinas painted scenes in cities like Athens and Istanbul and soon his work was part of exhibitions, both in Greece and abroad. After his long life his reputation kept growing and in 1974 the National Art Gallery in Athens posthumously honoured him with a grand Retrospective.
Corfu Postcards The fact he managed to reach a truly international public much wider than that of connoisseurs of art is also linked to a brilliant move: from 1910 on he had his gorgeous watercolours of village scenes reproduced on postcards. They served a few goals indeed. The enchanting reputation of Corfu went all over Europe, long before the days of mass tourism. Giallinas received a good income from it and his reputation? Well, that’s not hard to guess.
Original Giallinas postcards, printed in Corfu by the Aspiotis-ELKA printworks, today are collector’s items. That’s why it is good news for all admirers of Giallinas and Corfu’s unspoilt scenery that thirteen reprints of his postcards can now be obtained for only € 8,- (including postage and packaging).
The Giallinas Mansion Born to a noble family Angelos Giallinas lived and worked in a Venetian mansion, that is to be found near the Esplanade in Corfu Town, indicated by a commemorative plaque in blue and red on the façade. This plaque and various others in and around town was put up by the Corfu Heritage Foundation.
In March 2018 a project was approved to renovate and reuse the protected Giallinas Mansion with a budget of over € 5 million. The ground floor of the gallery will be used for educational and commercial activities, the first floor will house an exhibition of works by Angelos Giallinas and the second floor will be a multipurpose area. The Corfu Municipality is responsible for the work and the Giallinas Foundation will be responsible for its operation when completed. More news.
Very few contemporary artists will have enhanced the reputation of picturesque and dazzling Corfu more than the Australian painter and sculptor Warren Curry. In May 2020, for the 22nd year in a row, he will be treating a group of aspiring artists and non-artists to his Corfu Painting Holiday.
For 15 days he will offer the tour company sketching and painting tutelage, balanced with sight-seeing, swimming, wandering around villages and Corfu Town, and enjoying meals together at the gorgeous Levant Hotel, where tour members stay.
Second home After Warren Curry spent three months painting in the village of Liapades in 1981 he returned in 1998 to make Corfu his second home. He bought a house in the old village of Pelekas, where he spends part of the year painting in his studio. Living on Corfu he explored the natural wonders, fascinating villages and the grand, historical architecture of the island. He dug deep into its intriguing history and culture and is more than happy to share his knowledge and understanding with the members of his tour company.
Corfu Discovery Tours has not only attracted keen artists looking to draw on Warren Curry’s expertise and fine tuned, personalised tutelage for guidance, but has regularly included a varying proportion of non-artists just for the magic of the Corfu experience. Greek dancing has become a component of the Tour agenda with the opportunity to perform in a local village dancing festival.
The Tour group enjoys the convenience of its own bus which ferries the artists to their destination each day: villages, beaches, cruising, historic sites, enchanting tavernas, an evening in Corfu Town. Optional extras for participants are a one day cruise to Paxos and Antipaxos and a one day tour to Albania.
Major art awards Warren has held thirty eight Solo Exhibitions in Australia and won over thirty major art awards. His work is represented in Australian Government (Art Bank) Regional Collections, Corporate and overseas collections. In Australia, he works from his studio located in the small fishing village of Port Albert in South Gippsland, east of Melbourne.
The old town of Corfu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007 on the grounds of ‘outstanding universal value’. Visitors and tourists can find hostels, B&B’s and hotels in all classes. My fondest personal memory goes back to a weekend many years ago in the classic Hotel Konstantinoupolis, opening the Venetian blinds in the morning overlooking the square, the old port and the magical blue of the sea.
But here is a tip for a quite different accommodation.
Guest house Locandiera advertizes itself as a ‘mini hotel with personality’. You can find this hidden gem at 8 Ioanni Gennata Street, a quiet side street in the historical centre of Corfu Town, between picturesque Guilford Street with its art shops and Kapodistriou Street, bordered by beautiful Spianada Park & Square, near the Old Fortress.
Locandiera – based in a carefully renovated originally Venetian building – provides six single/double rooms with kitchenette, each with its own individual and artistic identity and style. The ground floor offers a cosy open living room and kitchen area, where you can enjoy your breakfast or drink a coffee. There are regular exhibitions of paintings and photography.
The accommodation blends traditional architectural elements (a centuries old well!) and modern comfort. Quality products (breakfast is included) and reliable and friendly services (free WiFi, iMac, music, books, games, fax, postage, photocopying, bicycles to ride the town!) add to your tranquility, relaxation and wellbeing.
Andreas Monopolis (who learned the art of hospitality in his father’s Jimmy’s Restaurant in Pelekas) and his business partner went out of their way to design and fabricate unique furniture as well as the interior and exterior of the historical building. They even upgraded the street by painting several neighbouring buildings.
Tripadvisor: ‘Great boutique hotel in fabulous location’ (14 October 2019).