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  • Writer's pictureStella Sevastopoulos, MA

A Brief History of the Municipal Gallery of Athens

What is the Municipal Gallery of Athens?

The Municipal Gallery of Athens exhibits 19th- and 20-century Greek art, housed in a former silk factory.

Exterior of the Municipal Gallery of Athens

KathyB111, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Municipal Gallery of Athens

This building, designed by Danish architect Hans Christian Hansen in the early 19th century, has housed the Municipal Gallery of Athens since 2010 and is one of the oldest Neoclassical buildings in the city. In fact, long before its conversion into a popular art gallery, the building was a silk factory. In the 19th century, Athens was experiencing a boom in the textiles industry, and this area was its epicentre: hence the district’s name – Metaxourgeio – which translates as ‘silk factory’. What’s more, the premises of the Athens School of Fine Arts, further down on Pireos Street, also once hosted textile production.

The Municipal Gallery of Athens, first established in 1923, has gathered an impressive collection of around 3,000 important works. Many of these were acquired in the 1930s and ‘40s, and the main focus is on Greek art of the 20th century, with pieces by Constantinos Parthenis, Georgios Bouzianis, Georgios Jacobides, Georgios Gounaropoulos, and Nikos Engonopoulos. The collection also comprises a substantial number of Greek engravings, by artists such as Michalis Tombros, Thanassis Apartis and Dimitris Filippotis.

Over the years, the museum has hosted some fascinating temporary exhibitions, and it kicked off its activities in the new premises in 2010 with an exhibition of works from the George Economou collection, named for its owner, a shipping magnate born in Athens. The collection includes paintings, many occupying major places in the oeuvre, by post-Impressionist and Cubist masters such as Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Joan Miró, and Paul Gauguin. Economou’s eye was drawn to the distant as well as the contemporary, and the collection also features works from the Renaissance and the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Municipal Gallery was formerly housed in another building, located within walking distance and also in Neoclassical style; it had previously functioned as a nursery school and a children’s hospital. The neighbouring district of Keramikos, where the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art is found, was in ancient times full of commercial pottery workshops. The clay mud from the Eridanos river, which now flows mainly underground, was the perfect material for creating the vases from Attica (Athens and its region) whose basic typology has become justly famous. Remnants of this district’s industrial phase can also be witnessed in much of the architecture. A prime example is the Technopolis cultural complex in Gazi, which used to be Athens’s old gasworks.

In recent years, more artists seem to be making the districts of Keramikos and Metaxourgeio their home, due to the cheap rents which enable them to set up their studios here, adding to the district’s unique cultural ambience.

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