Prokopiou (Greek: Γεώργιος Προκοπίου; 1876, in Smyrna -
20 December 1940, near Tepelenė) was a Greek war artist,
photographer and documentary film maker. He also served
as court painter to Emperor Menelik II and was a
recipient of the Greek Military Cross.
At the age of fifteen he was working as an icon painter
and attracted the attention of Hortense Wood, an English
artist who was living near Smyrna. She gave him drawing
lessons and presented his work to Nikiforos Lytras, who
recommended Prokopiou to the Athens School of Fine Arts.
He enrolled there in 1895, studying with Lytras and
Georgios Roilos. In 1901, after completing his studies,
he returned to Smyrna and held his first exhibition. Two
years later, he travelled to Alexandria and Cairo, where
he painted portraits of notable figures in the Greek
communities there, including Pavlos Melas, who
introduced him to the head of Ethiopia's diplomatic
This resulted in an invitation to visit Addis Ababa to
do a portrait of Emperor Menelik. He went there by
caravan from Djibouti, accompanied by his brother
Socrates, who would later write a book about the trip.
After competing with several other painters, he was
chosen to become the Court Painter in 1905. In addition
to painting the Royal Family, he portrayed several
ambassadors as well as landscapes and village scenes.
Lavish with honors, the Emperor awarded him the Order of
Solomon, the Order of the Star of Ethiopia and other
In 1907, he returned to Athens to marry, travelled
extensively, and settled in Smyrna in 1913. The
beginning of World War I found Smyrna blockaded by the
Allies. Soon after, the Ottomans began persecuting
Christians. This included setting up "labor battalions"
which were soon revealed as actually being death
battalions. Most of the Greek population, including
Prokopiou and his family, went into hiding. Somehow, he
found work as an art teacher for the daughter of an
Ottoman official, which afforded him protection. It was
at this time that he created his first war art;
depictions of the campaign in the Dardanelles.
After the war, Smyrna came under Greek control. The
following year, General Leonidas Paraskevopoulos
commissioned him to produce paintings, photographs and
films of the Greek campaigns against the Turks during
the Greco-Turkish War. Although they admired his
courage, a few commanders complained that his activities
interfered with military operations. After the Turkish
recapture of Smyrna, he returned home to be with his
family and remained to take photographs of the Great
When the chaos had subsided, he was arrested and
sentenced to death by a Turkish tribunal. Luckily, the
prison commandant allowed him to say goodbye to his
family. With the assistance of his neighbors and the
French Consul, he and his family were able to escape
aboard a French ship that took them to Piraeus. In
1925, he settled in Athens. He continued to paint
military scenes from memory until 1928, after which he
produced a variety of nudes, scenes of ruins and
portraits, including one of Haile Selassie, who visited
his studio shortly before becoming Emperor.
In 1940, the Greco-Italian War began when Greece refused
to capitulate to the Axis Powers. Although Prokopiou was
sixty-four years old and ill with bronchitis, he went to
the War Ministry, begging to be sent to the front.
Finally, he wrote to Prime Minister Metaxas, saying that
he was ashamed to stay at home when his two sons were
out fighting for Greece. Metaxas agreed to his request,
and Prokopiou left for Albania to join the Greek
counter-offensive. He met up with his son, Angelos,
sketching and taking photographs almost immediately. One
night, several weeks later, when the temperature fell
below zero, he died of heart failure. He was given the
posthumous rank of Colonel, brought back to Athens, and
buried with full military honors.