BASIL GOULANDRIS's most enduring achievement will prove to be the creation of Greece's first and only Museum of Modern Art, a huge project now under construction in the centre of Athens to which this modern-day Maecenas also bequeathed his extensive private collection of paintings and sculpture.
Born into a traditional family of ship masters and shipowners, Basil Goulandris grew up with his twin brother Nicholas, his elder brothers John and George and his younger brother Constantine, always in close contact with their native island of Andros. The family had owned sailing ships in the last century which they operated in the Mediterranean and Black Sea routes. They were also among the first Greek shipowners to acquire steamships before the turn of this century. As Basil was entering his teens, discussions around the family table - or on the bridges of family motorships - centred around the comparative advantages of steel vessels and the economies afforded by the latest British-made coal-fired boiler.
Family shipping fortunes wavered with the First World War, stabilised in the Twenties and Thirties, sank to the depths with the ill-fated Allied transatlantic convoys of the Second World War, and took a steady turn for the better as international trade boomed after 1946. By that time Basil's father had died and the eldest son, John, had transferred shipping operations to New York, where he was joined by his brothers. During the post-war decade New York was undoubtedly the place to be if one was involved in shipping. The Goulandrises were in the right place at the right time.
John Goulandris led the company into acquisitions of Liberty ships and T-2 tankers at a time when the US shipyards could not build them fast enough to satisfy world demand. The family firm, Orion Shipping and Trading, came to manage more than 30 vessels and counted among its ranks some of the best-qualified shipbrokers, engineers and managers in the trade. John Goulandris died prematurely in 1950 and Basil was the one to carry on the business successfully, and became a member of the Executive Board of the American Bureau of Shipping. Orion grew into a world-wide shipping concern with the reputation of a reliable and efficient operator. Basil was a keen innovator and showed a progressive outlook, especially in matters of shipping technology.
After a good number of years in New York, he moved to Lausanne (as a young man he had studied law in Geneva as well as in Athens) and Piraeus, where he was elected Vice-President of the Union of Greek Shipowners (later Honorary President). On one of his frequent trips to Greece he had met and married his lifelong companion, Elisa Karadontis, an Athenian beauty. They enjoyed a harmonious life together and in the Fifties, became well known in New York high society for their genial hospitality and glamorous Aegean-style parties. They became notable collectors of modern art and associated themselves with charities both in the US and Greece.
The Goulandris Foundation bearing both their names was established to enhance and propagate these cultural and charitable concerns; since 1985 it has offered scholarships and bursaries to art students, and also funds publications on Greek art, archaeology and architecture. It has already built and endowed an exemplary old people's home in Athens and a showcase museum for modern art on the island of Andros, inaugurated in 1979 with a new wing added in 1986. Basil and Elisa Goulandris also donated the Andros Archaeological Museum, which was opened in 1981.