Scion of a Greek shipping family who devoted his later life to artistic and philanthropic projects
ALEXANDROS “ALEKO” GOULANDRIS, who has died aged 90, was a scion of a celebrated Greek shipping dynasty and a noted but very private art collector and philanthropist.
Natives of Andros, the northernmost island of the Cyclades, the Goulandrises have been shipowners and masters since the 18th century. Aleko’s grandfather Ioannis (1840-1927) bought his first steamship in 1910, and before the Second World War Ioannis’s five sons built up a fleet which made theirs one of the most important names in Greek shipping, eclipsed only by that of the Kulukundis family.
In the immediate post-war years, the original Goulandris Bros business fractured into several parts. In 1953 Ioannis’s fourth son Nikolaos established his own company, NJ Goulandris, in London and Athens, with the help of his three sons: the eldest John, and Aleko and Leonidas who were twins. Initially they owned and managed “Liberty” ships – cargo vessels mass-produced in the US during the war – but they swiftly embarked on a new-building programme in Japanese shipyards.
After Nikolaos’s death in 1957, his sons continued to develop the fleet. At its zenith, NJ Goulandris operated more than 40 ships, including supertankers and bulk carriers, all sailing under the Greek flag, and also made major investments in ship repair yards. Though the fleet was reduced in the depression of world trade of the early 1980s, the business remained a significant and respected name in the shipping world.
After retiring from active management, Aleko Goulandris spent his summers in the Greek resort of Porto Heli and his winters in the exclusive Swiss village of Gstaad – where he was a neighbour and close friend of Taki Theodoracopulos, the High Life correspondent of The Spectator. For many years the two spoke to each other by telephone at 10am every morning without fail, and lunched together – with other old friends, sometimes including ex-king Constantine of Greece – once a week.
Goulandris disliked media attention, and could rarely be persuaded to talk about himself. But he attracted attention in 2014 when he was named as the seller, for $101 million at Sotheby’s in New York, of one of only six castings of Giacometti’s Chariot,a 1951 sculpture in painted bronze of an elongated goddess-figure riding a wheeled chariot. He had bought the piece in 1972 for $375,000, though “you could have bought a Fifth Avenue penthouse for much less” at the time, as he put it. He was also quoted as saying drily that the sale price (paid by a New York hedge fund manager) was “too little” return for his years of ownership.
Alexandros Nikolaos Goulandris and his twin Leonidas were born on March 5 1927. During violent hostilities between communist resistance groups and official Greek forces supported by the British amid the ruins of Athens in the harsh winter of 1944-45, the young twins reported for duty on the government side and fought in hastily dug trenches alongside grizzled, half-starved veterans – who looked askance when the boys’ mother arrived with cakes to sustain them.
Their post-war years were more sybaritic. Taki, then only nine, was first befriended by them in an Athenian resort hotel in 1945, and hooked up with them again in Cannes in the idyllic summer of 1952, when they introduced him to “all the nightclubs of the time – Maxim’s in Juan-les-pins, and Le Vieux Colombier, where Sidney Bechet played his lungs out every night” – as well as to their beautiful American girlfriends.
Leonidas, who was a gifted painter, died in 2009. The poet Grey Gowrie, a friend of both twins, wrote a lament for Leonidas, “The Andrians”, which he dedicated to Aleko. It spoke of their youth in war-torn Athens, of their “great sea slug tankers [that] oil all the wheels of our world by crawling over the seven seas”, and of their later passions for art: “Aleko, think of the paintings! Picassos, Pollocks, Bacons, world-shrinking Giacomettis … Inestimable beacons of valueless value, may they sustain you.”
Aleko Goulandris’s last philanthropic project, reflecting his other passion for maritime history, was the restoration of the Georgios Aveyrof, a cruiser built for the Royal Hellenic Navy in 1910 and latterly used as a floating museum.
His beloved wife Marietta died earlier this year. He is survived by their daughters, Maria-lula and Alexandra. A third daughter, Violanta, predeceased both parents, who restored the historic lighthouse of Tourlitis, off Andros, in her memory.
Alexandros “Aleko” Goulandris, born March 5 1927, died May 25 2017
Aleko Goulandris: after retiring he spent his summers in Porto Heli and his winters in Gstaad