Life on a canvas
A city’s culture is usually illustrated in the artwork it hosts, in the respect it demonstrates towards works of art no matter how old, and in the immortality it grants to those who laboured for them. The modern, clean-cut building that dominates the central landscape of the capital of Cyprus is a solid proof of how a private collection can enrich an entire country’s cultural life.
It is not often that such a rich collection of rare works of art is displayed in a public gallery. The A.G. Leventis Gallery in Nicosia, situated at the very heart of the city, features over 800 works and objects of European art spanning over 400 years across three magnificent floors. It is in these modern facilities, which also host regular events in the specially designed rooms, that a private collection belonging to one of Cyprus’ most famous (cultural) benefactors, Anastasios G. Leventis, becomes public for Cyprus and the world to discover and admire.
The vision that would become the Gallery, as it exists today, was a seven-year project that began in 2007 and culminated in the inauguration on 26 April 2014. Just one year after it opened its doors, the Gallery has already established itself as an important cultural centre, displaying the European cultural heritage of Cyprus.
With its three floors of Cypriot, European and Greek art, and the use of modern audiovisual technology to enrich the visiting experience, the Gallery is worthy of its counterparts in the most renowned European cities.
This essential visit begins with the Cyprus Collection found on the Ground Floor, where the first steps of modern Cypriot art are portrayed. The paintings mainly illustrate narrative and figurative characters, inspired from everyday life, landscape and history of the island. Most notable is the monumental piece by Adamantios Diamantis, The World of Cyprus, a large-scale composition (1.75 x 17.5 m) based on 75 drawings depicting the people and landscapes of the island. Drawn between 1931 and 1959, it portrays the traditional world of the island and its people, a world that the painter described as ‘bearing the long heritage of Cyprus’. Along with the other works in the Collection, it captures the spirit of a past time and place, enriching our knowledge and understanding of Cyprus and the Cypriot people.
Perhaps the most impressive display of art is found on the First Floor. The Paris Collection features paintings, furniture and objects which the Leventis Foundation acquired between the 1950s and 1970s. The name of the Collection alludes to the Parisian apartment in which it was housed for well over half a century. In fact, a wood paneled-room (the boiserie) was transported from the apartment itself and re-erected inside the Gallery, offering a vivid image, as it revives the unique atmosphere of Leventis’ residence with a view over Paris with its tree-lined avenues and the Eiffel Tower. This unique ambience is also conveyed through the rich collection of furniture from the era of Louis XV and Louis XVI, as well as rare Chinese porcelain, European Meissen and Sévres porcelain, miniatures, small sculptures, and period clocks.
The Collection brings together works from a broad spectrum of the history of art and underlines the collector’s eclectic outlook through a whole range of artistic schools and styles, from the 17th to the 20th century. The Collection includes paintings by El Greco, 17th century still lifes by Dutch, French and Spanish schools, Rococo art, 18th century French landscape as drawn by Oudry, Boucher and Fragonard, Venetian view masterpieces exemplified by Canaletto and Guardi, as well as paintings by Rubens. It also includes a peek into Impressionism to the early days of Modernism, featuring exquisite works by Boudin, Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Pissarro. Vivid canvases exemplify the turn from the Post-Impressionism to Fauvism and beyond, represented by the bold bushwork of Signac, Bonnard, Dufy, Vlaminck, Utrillo, van Dongen and Chagall.
Moving up one more floor, the Greek Collection, most of which Leventis acquired from Evangelos Averoff-Tossizza in 1973, displays oil paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints, from the aftermath of the Greek War of Independence in 1821 to around 1970. The Collection showcases a variety of artistic movements and approaches, including exemplary paintings from artists who shaped the face of Greek art, such as Konstantinos Parthenis, Konstantinos Maleas, Spyros Papaloukas, Yiannis Tsarouchis, and Yiannis Moralis. 19th century portraitures, as illustrated by München school artists such as Nicolaos Gyzis and Nikiforos Lytras are also featured here, together with newer compositions of landscapes and seascapes by Pericles Pantazis, and the Modernism depicted by Nikos Engonopoulos.
This exceptional experience can only be enhanced by a secret carefully concealed within the Gallery’s halls. The most beautiful, yet most delicate, watercolours and pencil drawings on paper are hidden. They are protected from light and constant exposure by a thick casing that is only removed if you press the round button on the side of what appears to be just another shiny inner wall.
All in all, this Gallery is of the highest possibly standards in the centre of a city that still remains divided. For what it hosts among its walls is more than just a series of paintings. It is a splash of colours, of emotions, of perspectives and views, of people, animals and things, of events you’ve never seen, of places you’ve never been, of times you’ve never experienced. It is life imprinted on a canvas.
N.B. All photos are mine taken on 23 April 2015.