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The Founders

Since then, the Museum has developed into a living cultural institution of international scope and renown, focusing on the promotion of the ancient civilizations of the Aegean and Cyprus, with particular emphasis on Cycladic art of the 3rd millennium BC.

Nikolaos and Dolly Goulandris obtained an official collector’s license in the early 1960s. Over time, they created an important collection, which included impressive creations of Early Cycladic art, Minoan and Mycenaean antiquities, an important collection of jewellery and other artefacts of the Geometric period, and numerous decorated vases of the Archaic and Classical periods.

Museum's Opening
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Museum’s Opening
© Museum of Cycladic Art
Nikolaos Goulandris
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Nikolaos Goulandris
© Museum of Cycladic Art
Dolly Goulandris
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Dolly Goulandris
© Museum of Cycladic Art
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Museum’s Opening
© Museum of Cycladic Art
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Nikolaos Goulandris
© Museum of Cycladic Art
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Dolly Goulandris
© Museum of Cycladic Art

A JOURNEY TO SHARE HER CYCLADIC VISION

Dolly (Aikaterini) Koumantaros was born in 1921 and spent her early years in England and the United States. She was the daughter of shipowner Ioannis Koumantaros from Sparta and Flora Nomikos, the offspring of a ship-owning family from Santorini. In 1948, she married Nikolaos Goulandris, a shipowner and emblematic President of Olympiacos FC in the 1970s.

In 1962, Dolly N. Goulandris obtained a Collector’s license from the Archaeological Council under the direction of the late Ioannis Papadimitriou. Over time, she amassed a significant collection of antiquities, including remarkable creations of the Early Cycladic period, Minoan and Mycenaean antiquities, precious jewelry and other objects of the Geometric Period, and numerous vases of the Archaic, Classical and Byzantine eras.

Dolly Goulandris grew up with a deep appreciation for art and a pure admiration for antiquity. She possessed a unique talent for recognizing shapes and forms. Since 1958, she has spent many joyful summers accompanying her husband, Nikos, on his fishing adventures on the Greek islands. Back then, Cycladic art was not as popular as it is today. But there were still enthusiasts—both local and foreign visitors—eager to explore the somewhat underrated local museums already established in the Cyclades.

Dolly Goulandris immediately grasped the significance of the stark yet minimal forms of this art. She instinctively understood that people who came in contact and became familiar with these peculiar forms would share her fascination.

Dolly set about quickly to share her discovery. In 1962, she applied for and was granted a “License for Private Collection” by the then General Director of Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Ioannis Papadimitriou.

The issuance of this permit was instrumental to the success of Dolly and Niko’s efforts, enabling them to acquire antiquities both in Greece and abroad.

Dolly Goulandris quickly gained experience and managed to assemble a Cycladic collection that stands out for both its quality and completeness. In collaboration with experienced Greek and foreign archaeologists, the objects were documented, preserved, photographed, and systematically studied. In 1968, the first Cycladic catalogue of the collection was published.

With the donation of the Collection to her newly established N.P. Goulandris Foundation (1985), Dolly Goulandris dedicated herself to the completion of the construction and equipment of a new building, intended as a museum, in an accessible location in the center of Athens.

The museum was constructed using materials found in the Cyclades, such as white marble and granite. Its façade was lined with large glass windows that, as they reflect the blue sky, are reminiscent of the majestic Cycladic landscape.

The Museum of Cycladic Art was inaugurated on January 26, 1986.
The meticulously designed initial core provided an ideal home for the permanent housing of the Collection.

Dolly’s persistent efforts in the years that followed, were decisive for the gradual expansion of the Museum. Significant additional space was allocated for accommodating a growing academic, curatorial, and administrative staff, as well as expanded areas for all forms of temporary exhibitions, leading to the Museum’s current form.

Under Dolly’s guidance, the Museum of Cycladic Art evolved into a dynamic organization focusing on the research of ancient and modern Greek culture, the presentation of archaeological exhibitions, art exhibits of many types, the publication of monographs and exhibition catalogues, and the organization of lectures and seminars both for scholars and the public.

Dolly had a special interest in children’s education. She believed that young people should be equipped with the necessary and qualitative tools that would broaden their vision toward the wonders of artistic appreciation. Many young Athenian adults can still remember their early visits to the Museum of Cycladic Art and how they were guided at the time to create clay models of those peculiar figurines to which they had so recently been first exposed.

Dolly Goulandris had the charisma and the unique ability to develop long-term friendships and, above all, creative relationships with talented individuals in the realm of culture. This ability was channeled to the benefit of the Museum, which was favored with international recognition. Multidimensional collaborations with major institutions around the world resulted in the organization of exceptional exhibitions in which masterpieces of global art coexisted with the exhibits of the permanent collections of the Museum of Cycladic Art.

Dolly Goulandris once said she sought “a culture without borders”. She devoted the better part of her life to the pursuit of this ideal and Cycladic Art became far more accessible to the general public achieving the worldwide recognition it always deserved. Her success in this endeavor was widely acclaimed and led to many international distinctions.

Dolly was a determined woman who left an indelible mark on the world. Her life experience encompassed what for many would have seemed a multitude of lives.

Somewhere along her journey, she ran into her first Cycladic figurine. And from that moment she felt the unique joy of giving, of “sharing”. In the background, her life was dedicated to this purpose: a lifetime journey to share her “Cycladic Vision.”

Dolly Goulandris served as President of the N. & N. Goulandris Foundation-Museum of Cycladic Art until her death on February 15, 2008. She passed away at the age of 87, believing that “the museum will not be lost without me. I don’t know if it was worth dedicating my life to it, but I did. I can’t go back now. If I did something good or bad, time will be the judge.”

HONORARY DISTINCTIONS

1963

Lifetime Member of the Athens Archaeological Society

1978

Medal of the Order of Merit of the Hellenic Republic

1981

Silver Award of the Academy of Athens

1983

‘Commandeur de l’ Ordre des Arts et des Lettres’ of the French Republic

1987

Special commendation of the European Museum of the Year Award

1996

Honorary Doctorate of the University of Athens

1997

International Prize for Culture of the A.S. Onassis Foundation

1999

Medal of the Commander of the Order of the Phoenix of the Hellenic Republic

2000

Medal ‘De Alfonso X El Sabio’ of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture

2003

Anassilaos – Nostos Award of Reggio de Calabria, Italy

2004

Grand ‘Ufficiale dell’ Ordine della Stella della Solidarieta’ of the Italian Republic

2008

“Athena” award of the Hellenic Federation of Friends of Museums (HFFM)

THE FIRST CATALOGUE

The first catalogue of the Cycladic Collection, published in 1968, was a sensation in the scientific community. In 1978, selected pieces of Cycladic and ancient Greek art were displayed at the Benaki Museum. According to Dolly Goulandris, it was then that “the idea to create a dedicated space for housing the collection, so that it is accessible to all” was born.

A year later, the collection’s first exhibition abroad was hosted at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, followed by an impressive series of exhibitions in major cities worldwide: Tokyo (National Museum of Western Art), Kyoto (National Museum), Houston (The Museum of Fine Arts), Brussels (Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire), London (The British Museum), Paris (Galeries nationales du Grand Palais), and New York (Onassis Foundation). Exhibitions abroad continued after the founding of the Museum of Cycladic Art, with major exhibitions held at Madrid (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia), Rome (Musei Capitolini), Beijing (Beijing Art Museum of Imperial City), and Istanbul (Sakip Sabanci Museum).

THE COLLECTIONS

In 1981, Nikolaos and Dolly Goulandris decided to establish a museum to permanently house and display their collection, as well as a foundation for the systematic study of Aegean cultures. In 1985, the N. P. Goulandris Foundation was born with the purpose of furthering “the study and promotion of the Aegean Civilization and Greek prehistoric, Classical, and contemporary art”. The Museum of Cycladic Art was founded on 26 January 1986. Nikolaos and Dolly Goulandris donated their entire collection to the Museum.

In the following years, the Museum’s collections expanded significantly through purchases and repatriations of antiquities from abroad, purchases from other collectors, donations, and long-term loans. Of particular importance was the long-term loan of the Thanos N. Zintilis Collection of Cypriot Antiquities (2004) and of the collections of the Academy of Athens, Emporiki Bank, and Karolos Politis.

The enrichment of the collections, the hosting of important temporary exhibitions, and the public’s love for the Museum’s educational programmes created the need for repeated building extensions. The Main Building, at 4, Neofytou Douka Street, which houses the Museum’s permanent collections, was completed by Ioannis Vikelas in 1985. In 1991, the Museum was granted the use of the Stathatos Mansion by the Greek State. Designed by the Bavarian architect Ernst Ziller, the Stathatos Mansion is one of the most important examples of 19th-century Neoclassical architecture in Athens. In 2006, the Museum of Cycladic Art was expanded with the addition of the Dolly Goulandris Wing, which now hosts temporary exhibitions and the Museum’s Educational Department.

Today, the Museum houses one of the most extensive private collections of Cycladic art in the world, with representative specimens of the world-famous Cycladic marble figurines. The Museum’s permanent collections include 3000 Cycladic, ancient Greek, and ancient Cypriot artefacts, evidence for the civilizations that flourished in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean from the 4th millennium BC to approximately the 6th century AD.

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