Greek modernists had nonetheless been quite successful in establishing connections with the West – mostly the vibrant Parisian circles – through the good services of a number of Greek ex-patriots who were active there. In 1934, Christian Zervos, the Greek émigré who established himself in France in order to become one of the leading art critics of his time, had published his L’Art en Grèce, an eclectic album of photos of Greek artefacts from the third millennium to the fourth century BC, published on the occasion of the IVth International Congress for Modern Architecture, which was organized in Athens in July 1933.
In the book’s polemic introduction, Zervos argues that Greek art is a single phenomenon, spanning from the depths of Aegean prehistory to the present day, and expresses his anger at ‘those historians of art who never showed some sincere affection towards the radiant youthfulness of Greek art’. A loving turn towards this art, he continues, would assure those art historians a grand advantage in view of what he calls ‘their illusions of the library’. In this and his later texts, Zervos is thus channelling into the heart of modernist Paris the angst of his fellow-Greek intellectuals who saw Hellenic prehistory, especially the by then much-admired Cycladic art, being usurped by international modernism as an anti-Classical, thoroughly un-Greek phenomenon. According to Zervos, it was the land itself that generated Greek art, it was the landscape that formulated ‘the Greek spirit’. A Cycladic figurine, he claims, a vase, a bronze artefact from the Geometric period, an Archaic statue, all anticipate those elements essential to the style of the Parthenon. The subsequent publication of L’Art des Cyclades in 1957, dedicated to Christos Tsountas, establishes scientific knowledge regarding the culture and its figurines, which he styled ‘poems in marble’.
This is precisely the reading for Cycladic art that Christian Zervos had so strongly supported: abstract though beautiful, un-Greek though ever so Classical and positively “Hellenic”.