Chalepas, Giannoulis

1. Life and work

Giannoulis Chalepas is one of the most important representatives of both neo-Hellenic and European sculpture. He was born in 1851, at Pyrgos of Tinos, where marble sculpture flourished. He was the first of six children of sculptor Ioannis Chalepas, who had a major workshop working also for people abroad. Ioannis wanted his firstborn to become a merchant. After finishing the secondary school of Tinos and the first grade of high school on Syros, he attended the Business School of Syros, which he soon left.

Young Chalepas loved sculpture. He actually seemed to have loved it so passionately that he managed to persuade his father and start studying in 1869 at the School of Fine Arts of the Technical University of Athens as an apprentice of sculptor Leonidas Drosis. His talent showed very soon. On a scholarship of the Holy Foundation of the Evangelistria of Tinos, he went on to study at the Academy of Fine Arts of Munich in 1873. Even from the beginning of his studies, he managed to stand out: his Fairy tale of Beauty (1874) came first and won him a money prize at a contest of the Academy, and also his Satyr playing with Cupid (1874) won him a golden medal at the Exhibition of Munich. In 1875 though, he was no longer on scholarship, and a year later, he had to return to Athens. While in Athens, he did one of his best-known sculptures: the “Sleeping Lady”, the tomb of Sofia Afendakis in the First Cemetery of Athens (1878).

At the same time, symptoms of his mental illness started to show; two of his brothers had already had it. His family took him back home, but his condition kept deteriorating. From 1888 and for the next 14 years he was treated at the psychiatric clinic of Corfu. Then, he lived with his mother on Tinos. Up to 1918, Chalepas lived in grinding poverty. His relation with sculpture at that time is still vague. According to some researchers, his mother destroyed his works considering sculpture bad for his health. Others say Chalepas himself destroyed them because of his condition.

2. Recognition

A very creative period began for Chalepas in 1918. As his health got better within the following years, he did some of his most important works. Recognition came gradually after some exhibitions in Athens, whereas the Academy awarded him with the Arts Distinction in 1927. In 1930, he settled at his niece’s house, Irene Chalepas, in Athens, where he spent the final and most creative phase of his artistic career, which ended with his death in 1938.

Chalepas’s whole work seems to overflow with his sensitive character. Every sculpture expresses thousands of emotions. His figures are extremely expressive, full of passion and truth. The “Sleeping Lady”, one of his most realistic works, is considered the first work in all neo-Hellenic art expressing death with such sincerity and directness.

Despite his works’ high value, they have not yet been internationally recognized. His works are housed at his house on Tinos, which was turned into the Chalepas Museum, at the National Gallery, the Museum of Tinian Artists, the First Cemetery of Athens and private collections.