A Close Encounter with one of Harry's early Masters
In the summer of 2023, I spent my holiday in Crete with my kids. We flew to Heraklion. Before departing, I wanted to see if I could discover anything of interest to investigate further about one of Harry Chase's masters, the Greek marine artist Konstantinos Volanakis, AKA Bolanachi, who was born in Heraklion in 1837. I have researched him quite extensively in the past, but new material always seems to surface on the internet. Harry studied under Bolanachi in Munich in the mid-1870s. Bolanachi was a major influence on his painting style in his early development as an artist. I figured it might be fruitful to see if there were any traces of Bolanachi in Heraklion, or elsewhere on Crete. Seemingly supporting Carl Jung's theory of Synchronicity, I found out that a major exhibition of Bolanachi's work was being staged in Chania, another city in Crete where we would be staying during our holiday. It opened just a couple of weeks before we departed Holland for Greece. A great desire of mine for quite some time has been to visit such an exhibition of Bolanachi's work. Now, I had my chance.
Held in the Municipal Art Gallery of Chania Town, the Konstantinos Volanakis Exhibition was so impressive, I went twice. My mind is still filled with the experience. Wonderful. While I was there, I tried to capture the atmosphere of the exhibition in photographs. There were 57 paintings in the exhibition, and I took photos of them all. I also took photos of the exhibition hall itself from different perspectives to provide some flavor of the place. What a gem of a gallery. Link is below, at the bottom of this page.
Konstantinos Volanakis went to Munich in 1864 (at the time when the Chase Family still lived in Independence, Iowa) and enrolled at the Royal Bavarian Academy of Fine Art, where he specialized in marine painting, exhibiting extensively. The Bavarians dubbed him Bolanachi, a name he would be known by internationally, while primarily as Volanakis in Greece. Bolanachi remained in Munich for nearly 20 years before returning to Greece in 1883. In 1872, Harry Chase arrived in Munich to study at the Royal Bavarian Academy. By 1874, he had advanced to the point that he was allowed to study exclusively under a master in what was called "Painting Class." Of course, he sought out Bolanachi.
There is an anecdote about this that bears telling. I have retold it in my biography of Harry Chase thus:
As his studies progressed, and Bolanachi matured from scholar to professor at the Academy, admission to his master class was highly sought after, but very difficult to attain. It was not a simple task to convince Bolanachi to admit a student to his instruction. Upon being introduced to Bolanachi in 1874, Harry expressed his desire to place himself under the Greek master’s tutelage. Curious to ascertain whether the young American met his exacting standards, Bolanachi visited Harry’s studio to see for himself the potential of this young aspirant. Making his call while Harry was away, Bolanachi examined his work privately. What he saw hanging in the studio that day conclusively swayed Bolanachi to take Harry under his wing. Upon returning from his visit, Bolanachi happened upon another American student and told him, “I have been out to see your countryman.” Asked what he thought of Harry’s work, the great master replied, “Oh, by and by I shall be a scholar of his!”
With Bolanachi’s acquiescence to accept him as a student, Harry had reached the level of success all artists who entered the Royal Bavarian Academy in that era set out to achieve – Painting Class, individual instruction from an acknowledged master. Naturally, for Harry there were no doubts about who was the scholar of whom, entertaining no illusions that Bolanachi would eventually bow to his superiority in marine painting. Indeed, if the current prices paid for their respective paintings are any indication, Bolanachi is still deemed Harry’s superior. Harry had much to learn from his new master. Bolanachi’s powerful marine paintings spoke directly to Harry, a genius his other masters had never provided him.
Have a look at the gallery of Bolanachi's paintings that I have recreated in an online Album below. I am still astonished that I got all of this pleasure for the entry price of only 4 euros. While I believe that perhaps Bolanachi was a superior technician, I am of the opinion that Harry did eventually surpass his master as an artist. There are a couple of paintings in the exhibition that were from the same period that Harry was in Munich, which are very interesting to view in this context. For the Bolanachi exhibition album, I included the names, dates, and dimensions for each painting, and you can zoom in on each one:
Konstantinos Volanakis Exhibition - Municipal Art Gallery, Chania Town, Crete - 2023