A Museum-Worthy Masterpiece Selected By The Artist For The Paris Salon Of 1890 In Bonhams Next Sale Of Greek Art

. March 27, 2008

Bonhams sale of Greek art on 20 May in New Bond Street includes the painting by Théodore Jacques Ralli (1852-1909)`Praying before the communion at Megara’ which is estimated to make £250,000-400,000.

ralli.jpgThis exquisite picture, exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1890, is a museum-worthy masterpiece and was selected by Ralli to represent him at the Paris Salon. It is a lovely large-scale work of superb craftsmanship and flawless taste, at once an expression of the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty.

Recognised as a prominent exponent of official salon painting, Ralli participated in many exhibitions in Paris and in 1901 was awarded the Medal of the Legion of Honour by the French Government. He also showed regularly in Athens and his work was admired by critics and collectors alike. In one of the most comprehensive essays written on the painter, Professor C. Christou notes that “Ralli was one of those artists who consistently managed to sell their work even before they were completely dry, a fact that explains why the National Gallery in Athens has such a limited collection of his work.”6 Praying before the communion, Megara is exactly that; a museum quality piece, a tour de force of 19th century genre that reveals Ralli’s genius in its uniqueness, confirming his position as one of the great masters of Greek art.

In a sparse setting of outmost simplicity and ascetic devotion, with only two pieces of austere furniture and just a handful of objects, five softly illuminated female figures are engaged in family prayer.

In the hush that pervades the room, the female subjects, representing the four stages in a woman’s life -as child, young maiden, mother and grandmother, are discreetly overseen as if any interruption of this private, domestic reverence would jeopardise the harmony of the whole. The young girl, however, in a barely noticeable act of childish mischief, acknowledges the viewer, establishing a subtle connection with the outside world and demonstrating Ralli’s genius as a genre painter.

Ralli travelled extensively in Greece, painting mainly female figures in secular or religious settings. According to an 1876 newspaper article, Ralli had returned to Greece from Paris and visited the towns of Megara, Thebes and Arachova, along with other parts of mainland Greece “faithfully recording the countenance and traditional costumes of the Greeks.”

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