The Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens

One of the most celebrated and momentous cultural events in Athens in the last few years was the 2019 opening of the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens. This magnificent museum is a must-see on a cultural city break in Athens, a highlight for art lovers.

Who are Basil and Elise Goulandris?

The Goulandris couple – Basil Goulandris was from the shipping family of the same name – were some of Greece’s best-known benefactors and patrons of the Arts in Greece. Did you know that the very first Museum of Contemporary Art in Greece was not in Athens?

Actually, it opened on the Cycladic Island of Andros, where Basil Goulandris was born, in 1914. The descendent of a shipping family, he was settled in New York overseeing the family business. There, he further cultivated his connection with Fine Art.

Elise Goulandris was born to the middle class Kouradontis family in Athens, in 1917. Her intelligence and her passion for art led her to further studies in the United States, showing an inspired level of ambition and a sense of adventure that was unusual for the era of her social class. 

A shared passion for art brought them together. Their cultural activities continued when they moved to Paris in the 1950s.

The Goulandris Collection

The Goulandris couple amassed a stellar collection of Greek and European paintings and some sculptures which is particularly strong in pieces of artists working in France. American works, particularly of abstract expressionists and pop art, are also part of the magnificent collection.

While the focus of the collection is primarily works of the 19th and 20th centuries, it also comprises significant works from other eras.

A wonderful feature of the Gouladris collection reflects their strong support of the arts and nurturing the talent of Greek artists through their generous patronage.

A World-Famous Collection of Enormous Value

With their superb taste, close connections in the art world, and enormous resources, the Goulandris amassed a significant private collection, rich in masterpieces. Its worth is estimated at 2 to 3 billion dollars.

What to See at the Goulandris Museum

While the value of the collection may draw attention, it is the exceptional quality of works that makes a visit to the Goulandris Museum so soul-satisfying.

Here, the visitor encounters works from nearly all of the major artists of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, with particular strength in Impressionism and the avant-garde, including works of Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Clause Monet, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Marc Chagall, Pierre Bonnard, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Joan Miró, Vasily Kandinski, Alberto Giacometti, and others.

It is not just the fullness of the selection but the individual examples, each of which is not only exceptionally good but also immediately recognizable,  characteristic of the artists’ styles. 

Additionally, the later 20th century is also spectacularly represented by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Chryssa (Chryssa Varadera, who uses a mononym), Francis Bacon, Jackson Pollock, Anselm Keifer, and others. 

An outlier in the collection is also a very special El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos) – The Veil of St. Veronica, of the early 1580s.

The Size of the Collection on Display

With such beautiful examples and such a full overview, one could think the experience overwhelming, But it is not; the Goulandris collection displayed a judicious number of superbly chosen works, so that each may be appreciated in fullness and at leisure.

Stunning Modern Greek Works at the Goulandris Museum

The Goulandris Museum is an excellent place to see groundbreaking works by significant 20th-century Greek artists, many of whom have international recognition. A marvelous Takis showcases the artist’s pioneering forays into physics in the service of art.

A quintessential Tsarouchis – a sailor at a metal table with a book and a Greek coffee in front of him – captures the magic of Greek light, while an early George Rorris displays a mastery of the human figure. 

Many other excellent examples of modern Greek artists’ works include those by Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Giannis Moralis, Spyros Vassiliou, and Constantinos Parthenis.

The Goulandris Museum – the Exhibition Space

Basil and Elise Goulandris had originally intended to share the collection in a series of galleries in a converted mansion in Kolonaki. A more ambitious plan followed, with an architectural plan designed by IM Pei (of the glass pyramid at the Paris Louvre), but construction yielded the finding of the Leyceu of Aristotle.

The current Goulandris Museum in Pangrati is a converted mid-century listed building with a contemporary extension, yielding a total of 11 floors (some underground). Five of these are exhibition spaces.

The upper floors, awash in natural light, house the larger, more contemporary works, while the floors below offer prime viewing conditions with a sense of intimacy to best appreciate the more conventionally sized earlier pictures – the Miro, Cezanne, van Gogh, and so on. The dark walls and excellence of the lighting further the sense of drama and intimacy- it is a museum for contemplation and pleasure.  

An excellent book and gift shop is on the ground floor, and there is also a cafe offering light refreshments and, meals, as well as a library and an amphitheater for performances, screenings, lectures, and other events.

Where is the Goulandris Museum?

The Goulandris Museum is on a charming central street in Pangrati, the neighborhood tucked just to the left of the Panathinaic Stadium – Kalimaramaro – as you face it coming from the National Gardens. Pangrati itself is full of excellent options for cafes, bars, and dining out. 

Click here, for opening times and tickets.

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