A Guide to the National Gallery of Athens

The National Gallery of Athens is the ideal place to come to when you are overwhelmed with the cultural riches of Ancient Athens. Here, the culture of modern Greece unfolds fully, from the works of the Post-Byzantine centuries to the present.

History Paintings bring the events of the Greek War of Independence so vividly to the imagination; then we see the Genre Painting of the early years of the Greek State, Symbolism, Impressionism, early modernism, abstract painting, and finally, contemporary and avant-garde works.

It is a fascinating overview of the Greek’s contributions to western culture and the place of Greek artists in a vibrant dialogue with western art throughout its many phases.

Visiting the National Gallery of Athens

A Brief History of the National Gallery of Athens, Also Known as the Alexandros Soutsos Museum

The first public collection of art in Greece, opening in 1878, consisted of just over 100 works, which were exhibited in an annex of the School of Art of the Technical University of Athens. This formed the heart of the National Collection of Art.

Then, a great lover of art and cultural philanthropist, Alexandros Soutsos, bequeathed his fine collection to the Greek State in 1896, hoping it would help establish a Museum of Fine Art. It did, and in 1900 the painter Giorgos Iakovidis became the curator upon his return from Munich.

The original collection from the university, the bequest of Soutsos, and other donations brought the original collection of the museum to over 350 works. 

The museum closed in 2018 and underwent a substantial renovation, reopening as a fabulous, contemporary, light-filled space to enjoy centuries of the history of art in Greece – both works by Greek artists and also international artists’ works of Greek-oriented themes.

The Collections of the National Gallery of Greece

Basically, where the cultural treasures of Athens outside the door – the Ancient sites, the splendid Byzantine churches – end, the Museum’s collections begin. Here, at the National Gallery, you can enjoy works of art beginning from 1450 through the present moment.

From some historical perspective, 1450 marks the end of the Byzantine Empire, with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 and the fall of Athens itself to the Ottomans five years later, in 1458. The collection of the National Gallery is particularly strong in works from the 19th and 20th centuries, an era that many visitors to Greece are far less familiar with.

The Highlights and Strengths of the Collection of the National Gallery of Greece – A Guide to the Museum

The collection shines in the period of the establishment of the modern Greek State through the present. The collection is arranged over four open-plan floors, with large, airy rooms with some partitions in the middle for additional wall space.

Exhibition space stretches out on either side of the central staircase. The museum is fully accessible with ramps and elevators, so those with mobility issues can enjoy the collections comfortably.

The Entrance Hall

An enormous work by the modern master Tetsis depicts on a life-size scale a colorful urban scene beloved by all Athenians – the “Laiki” – the weekly farmer’s market. 

The Ground Floor

The heroic events of the Greek War of Independence of 1821, a prelude for understanding modern Greek culture, make an ideal place to start. Many of the paintings on display were intended to inform the public about the history, to give them a visual depiction of the heroes of the revolution and the great historical events.

In this sense, the paintings not only share the Greek identity with today’s viewers but also help create a visual narrative for the young nation. The works of Theodore Vrysakis, a painter whose father died in the revolution, studied in Munich and returned to create some of the most powerful and monumental historical paintings of Greece. The works are beautifully executed but also deeply emotionally moving. Other older works, including some fine pieces by El Greco, are also on this floor.

The First Floor

Here we enjoy works of the earlier decades of the modern Greek State. Just after history painting, Genre Painting – scenes of everyday life – continued to express Greece’s identity. These paintings are not of historical figures or great events but of average citizens. These pictures are of great value because they illuminate the life of everyday Greeks after the founding of the nation.

The paintings often depict people in modest surroundings but convey great dignity. Genre painting was popular during the reign of Otto, the first king of Greece, who was on the throne from 1832-1862. Here we also see examples of Orientalism.

The following genre of painting is what is known as Symbolism. As we approach the later 19th century, the Munich School’s influence was great. Symbolism, a style characterized by an almost metaphysical dreaminess and a depiction of allegorical subjects, was firmly embraced by the great painter Gyzis, many of whose works are on display. Art lovers will recognize the stylistic connection to Impressionism. 

Impressionism was a very popular style in Athens in the late 19th century. Many artists were traveling abroad and were abreast of the new currents in painting; The style suited depictions of the idealized life of upper-class Athens. Many wonderful works are on display.

The Second Floor

Shortly after this, we see the beginnings of modernism and the works of the “Generation of the 30s”. This term, originally applied to poetry, also embraced the visual arts after the catastrophe of Asia Minor. The artists seek to define and represent “Greekness” at a difficult historical moment.

Famous artists of this generation include Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, Kontoglou, Tsarouchis, Engonopoulos, and Moralis. The span of styles is fascinating, from Neo-Byzantine to Surrealism. There is a large section dedicated solely to the works of Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas.

The Third Floor

Those unfamiliar with truly modern Greek Art are in for a wonderful surprise here. Also, there may be some familiar artists. For example, the international avant-garde artist who went to tony by the mononym Chryssa is Chryssa Vardea-Mavromichali.

Chryssa’s works – famous for their pioneering use of neon – are in museums worldwide. Theodoros Stamos is also represented, as is the international Opi Zouni, a Greek artist born in Cairo and working in Athens.

On this floor are also works of some of the finest contemporary artists of Greece. The phenomenal painter George Rorris paints beautiful realistic large-scale oils with the lighting of a Rembrandt. And don’t miss Maria Philopoulous’ magnificent 2020 work,” swimmers” – these are just a couple of the many captivating Greek artists working today.

How Much Time Do I Need At The National Gallery?

The collection, while large and spanning centuries, is so beautifully and logically arranged as not to be overwhelming. The light-filled spaces are also very relaxing. While one can very pleasantly fill three or four hours at the National Gallery, it is also well worth stopping in, even if one has just an hour or an hour and a half to spare. It’s easy to take in simply while walking slowly through, and it is nearly impossible to get lost.

The Museum Shop of the National Gallery

The Museum has several of its own excellent, richly illustrated books for sale and handsome merchandise inspired by works in the collection.

The Cafe of the National Gallery

There is a cafe for light meals on the ground floor, with some outdoor seating. Soon, a rooftop restaurant will also be opening.

Opening Hours and Ticket Information

Opening Hours: Wednesday to Monday, 10:00 – 18:00
Closed on Tuesdays
Last entry at 17:00

Tickets: Full price: 10 Euros / Reduced: 5 Euros

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