Collection of Alpha Bank
written by Irene Oratis
BA History of Art
It is not unusual for art collections owned by organisations and institutions like banks, and in particular collections owned by banks such as Alpha Bank, to be able to recount their own history of modern Greek art. Such an account would necessarily follow the tracks of the collector’s preferences and interests and its plot would revolve around the choice of works in the collection.
In this way, the Alpha Bank Art Collection – which numbers 4000 paintings, prints and sculptures primarily by Greek artists – has its own way of narrating the history of modern Greek art. The idiosyncrasies of its structure and content lend a distinct tone to this narration, while the groups of works that predominate, quantitatively and qualitatively, as well as the artists for whose works some preference has been manifested, dictate a plot born of the Collection’s special personality.
Its paintings include works by Greek artists that date from the end of the 19th century up to the present day. Its collection of prints likewise follows the course of modern Greek printmaking from the early 20th century up to our times and includes single prints, folios, drawings and books.
The Alpha Bank Collection came about through the merger of art collections belonging to three banks: the Credit bank, the Ionian Bank and the Popular Bank, i.e. three old banking institutions which, after a number of adventures, recently concluded in the creation of a single Bank. The early cores of these collections comprised little more than commissioned portraits of their founders and chairmen of their boards (cat. no.), a few purchases of an isolated and fragmentary nature (cat. no.), some works pledged as collateral that remained in the possession of the bank (cat. no.)(1) and, more rarely, gifts from personnel to the management of the institutions, on the occasion of some anniversary (cat. no. and fig. 1). Although individually such assemblies could never be regarded as collections, they nevertheless constituted the nucleus around which collections were put together.
At some moment in the history of these banks, their management decided to systematise and organise the purchase of works of art, and proceeded to create collections consisting of works by modern Greek artists primarily and works by foreign artists incidentally, to the degree that their subject matter revolved around Greek themes.
The Credit Bank embarked upon this venture in 1985, after a decision by its General Management to acquire a new work of art whenever a new branch was inaugurated.(2) The Bank’s rapid growth in the years afterwards soon led to the creation of a collection oriented mainly to contemporary art.
The Ionian Bank, which had merged in 1957 with the Popular Bank, published the book Modern Greek Printmaking in 1989, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of its foundation.(3) In this way, its collection of modern Greek prints was made public. At the same time, the Bank sought to enrich its collection with paintings especially from the period between 1890 and 1930.
In 2000, with the creation of Alpha Bank, the collections of the Ionian and Credit Banks were integrated into one. The new collection naturally bore the features of its two components, and frequently the gaps in one collection were filled in by the other. Some groups of works were further enriched, sometimes with paintings and at others with preliminary sketches and studies, whereas the inevitable overlapping that one might have expected was oddly enough minimal. The final result is exceptionally interesting and today, more than ever before, one could argue that the Collection, which is now much more than the mere sum total of two separate collections, can recount its own history of modern Greek painting from 1880 on (cat. no.), and of modern Greek printmaking starting in 1887 (cat. no.).
This view can be upheld if one takes into consideration the basic criteria for evaluating a collection. First of all are the works of art that constitute the crown of a collection, its undisputedly unique acquisitions, which largely explain its importance (cat. no.). Together with these, there are works by a group of artists from a specific period or by a particular artist that lend the collection its distinguishing mark and, consequently, determine its interest (cat. no.). And finally, one should not overlook several works that may not perhaps be considered fundamental, but that nonetheless represent certain special moments in the career of an artist or in an era and that either certify developments or augur changes (cat. no.).
The works in the Alpha Bank Collection are not distributed in a chronologically balanced way. Some periods are represented by many works, while other periods are represented more marginally. In this regard, the total number of paintings, together with the sculptures and constructions, can be divided into three groups:
Works of the late 19th century (1880-1920): S. Lanza, N. Gysis, Nikiforos Lytras, C. Volanakis, G. Iakovidis, K. Panorios, Th. Rallis.
Works of the interwar period (1920-1940): C. Parthenis, Theophilos, C. Maleas, S. Papaloukas, G. Steris, D. Galanis, M. Economou, Th. Triantafyllidis, G. Bouzianis, Nikolaos Lytras, N. Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, S. Vassiliou, etc.
Works dating from 1945 to the present: J. Spyropoulos, N. Engonopoulos, A. Kontopoulos, Y. Moralis, Y. Tsarouchis, Y. Gaitis, Th. Tsingos, P. Tetsis, D. Mytaras, P. Prekas, Th. Stamos, G. Zongolopoulos, D. Perdikidis, Pavlos, G. Vakalo, C. Tsoclis, Takis, C. Botsoglou, Chryssa, G. Coulentianos, Y. Kounellis, L. Samaras, S. Antonakos, G. Lappas, etc.
These groups have been defined somewhat arbitrarily, and are useful only for indicative purposes, because they came into being de facto, according to the established periods in the history of modern Greek art. Each group includes sample works that provide a clear picture of trends and artists, and quite a few artists are represented in the Collection with both early and late works (Vassiliou, Spyropoulos, Kontopoulos, Tetsis, Stamos, Malamos and Chryssa). At the same time, as a contribution to the aesthetics of the Bank’s branches, works have been and continue to be commissioned for specific areas, such as large-scale wall units (figs.2,3,4), murals (cat. no., fig. 5), and sculptures for the interior or environs of the branches (figs. 6,7,8).
Alpha Bank’s collection of prints, although frequently supplementary to paintings, follows the history of modern Greek printmaking from the early 20th century.(4) In addition to single prints, it includes books illustrated with original engravings, sketches, plates and engraving tools, graphic arts material, etc. A second group in the same collection consists of maps depicting the territory of mainland Greece, the Aegean, the Balkan peninsula and Asia Minor that date from the 16th to the 19th century, as well as engravings and folios produced by travellers in the 18th and 19th century(5) with Greece as their theme.
1. See Receipt Protocol of the work, Arachne by N. Gysis, signed by the General Director of the Popular Bank, with date of receipt 19 March 1928. Archives of the Alpha Bank Art Collection.
2. Μαζί. Ένα σύμβολο, μια ιστορία. Η σύγχρονη ιστορία της Alpha Τραπέζης Πίστεως μέσα από την επικοινωνία της 1972-1999 (Together. A symbol, a history. The modern history of Alpha Credit Bank through its communications, 1972-1999), Athens 2000, p. 41.
3. Ch. Christou, Νεοελληνική χαρακτική (Modern Greek Printmaking), Athens 1989, p. 9.
4. Έλληνες Χαράκτες στον εικοστό αιώνα. Από τις Συλλογές της Alpha Bank και του Μορφωτικού Ιδρύματος της Εθνικής Τραπέζης, (Greek Printmakers in the 20th century. From the Collections of Alpha Bank and the National Bank Cultural Foundation), texts-supervision I. Orati, Athens 2003.
5. Εικόνες από την Κρήτη και το Αρχιπέλαγος (κατάλογος έκθεσης), Αθήνα 1999, (Images of Crete and the Archipelago) (exhibition catalogue), Athens 1999, Η Ελλάδα μέσα από τα χαρακτικά περιηγητών (Greece through the engravings of travellers) (exhibition catalogue), Athens 2004.