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  • Ilinca Stroe

Romania’s Treasures: the Artists

There is little doubt that modern Romanian cultivated painting stemmed from religious painting done around and for monasteries by artists known as “masters” who were, oftentimes, either anonymous or little known. For example, a master painter Dobromir is recorded to have carried out the fresco painting work of the 16th-century Argeş Monastery in Wallachia, while master Toma of Suceava apparently made the frescoes of Moldavian monasteries Humor and Moldoviţa. But apart from their first names, history doesn’t remember much more about those two artists.

For their surname and biographies to be recorded more comprehensively and be given as much importance

as their painting, Romanian artists had to wait three more centuries. Thus, when it comes to Romanian cultivated painting, it’s the 19th century that features its classical representatives, including Gheorghe Tattarescu (1818-1894), Theodor Aman (1831-1891), Nicolae Grigorescu (1838-1907) and Ion Andreescu (1850-1882).

Tattarescu could be described as the “patriarch” of neoclassicism in Romanian painting. Born in Focşani, Moldavia, he received instruction from his uncle, a church painter, and was awarded a scholarship by the Orthodox Bishop of Buzău, which enabled him to study painting in Rome. At the Accademia di San Luca, he practised copying works by Raphael, Murillo and other Baroque painters, borrowing artistic features which were to grow into his own neoclassical style. On his return to Romania,

he became very attached to the cause and principles of the 1848 Revolution, whose leaders and ideals he portrayed in memorable neoclassical works (see, for example, "The Modern Romania"). Besides Revolution-inspired portraits and allegories, he also painted landscapes influenced by Romanticism and church frescoes in more than 50 churches. To help stimulate the development of Romanian painting, in 1864 he co-founded with Theodor Aman the National School of Fine Arts in Bucharest, and a year later he wrote a book of guidelines about painting the human body. A great part of his works can be seen at the Gheorghe Tattarescu Memorial House located in Bucharest’s old city.

Tattarescu’s academic partner, Theodor Aman, was a Wallachian born into a family of affluent merchants. As a young boy he received boyar education including foreign languages, piano and cello private classes, as well as painting lessons from art professor Constantin Lecca, the first to have created Western-style religious paintings in Romania. [1] Later on Aman went to live in Paris, where he studied with neoclassical artists Michel Martin Drolling and François-Édouard Picot, and had his first exhibition, with themes influenced by the Romanian revolutionary circles he had become linked to around 1850. By 1864, he was back in Bucharest and he helped found the National School of Fine Arts, where he held the position of Director until his death. Besides the School, Aman nurtured local talent by initiating a yearly event, “The Living Artists’ Exhibition”, for artists from the United Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. A large part of his own work is exhibited at the Theodor Aman Museum, located in a Pompeian-style villa, formerly his home and workshop, which he designed and decorated himself and where the intellectual elite of Bucharest used to meet up, socialise, listen to his cello recitals and... purchase his paintings. [2] Perhaps even more than Tattarescu, Aman, who was also a musician, decorator and sculptor, and who experimented with a variety of styles, from Realism to Pre-impressionism, contributed significantly to the emergence of cultivated painting in Romania, with a generation of professional artists who were more than simply church fresco quasi-anonymous “master painters”.

Nicolae Grigorescu was born into a rather poor family with seven children from the county of Dâmboviţa,

Wallachia. Unlike Aman or Tattarescu, he started out as the apprentice of a painter of religious icons, Anton Chladek, when he was only 10. He worked as a church painter first, completing the mural painting at monasteries like Zamfira in Wallachia and Agapia in Moldavia. While working at the latter, he was dubbed “saint Nicu” for the godly perfection of his hand-painted icons [3] and got noticed by politician Mihail Kogălniceanu, who secured a scholarship for him, thanks to which Grigorescu was able to enrol at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts in Paris, starting 1861. There he became acquainted with Realism and Impressionism, contributed seven exhibits at the Paris “Universal Exhibition” in 1867 and participated in further exhibitions until 1870, when he started touring Italy, Greece and Austria. During Romania’s Independence War he was appointed “frontline painter”, after the war he returned to France and in 1890 he settled at Câmpina, Wallachia, where he gradually specialised as a painter of rustic landscape and scenes. Unlike his contemporary fellow painters, Grigorescu broke with the neoclassical tradition and introduced Impressionism to Romanian painting.

A fellow painter of Grigorescu’s at Barbizon in France, Ion Andreescu was born to a family of merchants and studied painting at Tattarescu and Aman’s National School of Fine Arts. Following a period when he worked as a drawing and calligraphy teacher at several schools in Buzău, in 1878 he left for Paris, where he attended fine arts classes at Académie Julian. Working for a while in France, he specialised in landscapes and still nature, the melancholy in his works lending them an unusual meditative power. Hard to categorise within a specific painting style, Andreescu was described as one of the most appealing artistic personalities of Romania, who “orientated definitively Romanian arts” [4]. Even though he died at 32 of tuberculosis, Andreescu’s powerful dreamy landscapes make Grigorescu himself state that “if he had lived, he would’ve certainly become our great national artist.” [5] The subject of his masterpiece, “The Oak”, survived the painter, and it can still be seen in the Crâng Park in Buzău.

Following the founding fathers of Romanian modern painting, a new generation emerged, born in the 1880s, with prominent representatives like Nicolae Tonitza (1886-1940), Camil Ressu (1880-1962), Theodor Pallady (1871-1956) and Gheorghe Petraşcu (1872-1949).

Tonitza was born in Bârlad, Moldavia, where he attended primary and secondary school. In 1902 he left his

home town and enrolled in the National School of Fine Arts in Iaşi. Because of political reasons (he had become a supporter of the peasant Rebellion of 1907), he dropped out before graduating, visited Italy, was admitted to the Bavarian Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, then settled in Paris for about two years, to study painting in Pierre Laprade’s workshop. His work acquired influences from Impressionism, Post-impressionism and Belle Époque while he specialised in still nature and portraits; particularly outstanding about the latter are the “Tonitza eyes”, round-shaped and beaming with nostalgic innocence. In 1911 Tonitza returned to Romania and the following year he did complete his fine arts studies in Iaşi and became a certified “church painter”. A few years later World War I broke out; Tonitza got conscripted, fought and was taken prisoner at Turtucaia, waiting for the end of the war in the Kirjali prison camp in Bulgaria. After the war he settled in Bucharest and became relatively successful, with exhibitions at the Venice Biennale, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Brussels, so by 1934 he was considered “the most important Romanian painter alive”. [6]

Camil Ressu was born in Galaţi, into a family of Aromanian migrants, on his father’s side. An amateur painter, his father supported Camil’s artistic endeavours and the young man enrolled in the National Schools of Fine Arts in Iaşi and Bucharest, then left for Munich to visit the museums in the area, and on to Paris to study painting at the Académie Julian with Jean Paul Laurens. In 1908 he came back to Romania, became interested in the progressist movement and the social problems of the time, published caricatures in a few satirical magazines and even became a member of the Romanian Social Democrat Party. In the early 1910s he participated in a couple of exhibitions for young painters, with rustic landscape and other works on rural themes, and in 1914 he had his first personal exhibition. His artistic interest in social topics was also reflected in his civic engagement, as Ressu became the President of the Visual Artists’ Trade Union, then a Chancellor of the Fine Arts Academy in Bucharest. As an arts professor he found a way to motivate his students by offering weekly prizes for their work, paid from his personal income. [7] Rewarded for his life-time dedication to the artistic coverage of social issues, particularly the hardship endured by peasants, during the communist regime he was appointed the honorary President of the Visual Artists’ Union (1950) and nominated as Artist of the People (1955).

Also a Moldavian, Theodor Pallady was born in Iaşi but went to high school in Bucharest. Initially doing

undergraduate studies in engineering at the School of Bridges and Roads in Bucharest and then the Polytechnic in Dresden, on his uncle’s recommendation he started studying painting there first with Erwin Oehme, then in Paris with Symbolist Gustave Moreau at the School of Beax-Arts. He made his debut as a painter when he was 34, exhibited works in the Romanian pavilion at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris, as well as in Bucharest at Atheneul Român and in Venice at the Biennale, and won the Great National Prize for Painting in 1926. An influence of old frescoes was identified in his work, which focuses on portraits and interior scenes, in an attempt to capture states of mind more than anything else. His landscapes draw on quaint corners from cities as varied as Bucharest, Paris, Iaşi, Toledo or Cannes, while his still natures beam with a feeling of classical harmony. Creating a distinct personal style, Pallady claimed, “I am not modern, I am from all times.” [8]

Another Moldavian, Gheorghe Petraşcu was born in Tecuci, the county of Galaţi, a patriarchal little town where he demonstrated early talent in his drawing school classes. He went to high school in Brăila and after graduation in 1893 he enrolled in both the Natural Science Faculty and the Fine Arts school in Bucharest. He dropped out from the former and graduated from the latter in 1898, after which he took the route of many of his professional predecessors, to Munich, where he became acquainted with the avant-garde movement, and on to Paris, where he studied fine arts at the Académie Julian with Gabriel Ferrier. Following his studies he travelled to Egypt, Spain, Italy and France and specialised in landscapes, but also watercolour still nature, displaying amazing mastery of the chromatic range, particularly shades of grey, white and blue. [9] In 1900 he held his fist personal exhibition at Atheneul Român in Bucharest; the event was successful, but sales were low. Petraşcu subsequently participated three times in the Venice Biennale and was awarded the Great Prize at the International Exhibitions in Barcelona (1929) and Paris (1937). Also, in 1936 he became the first visual artist to be elected member of the Romanian Academy.

Before leaving behind the 19th century in Romanian painting there is someone who deserves a special mention: one of the very, very few female painters of the age, Cecilia Cuţescu-Storck was born in 1879 in the county of Vâlcea and, even though her work is little known, she left her mark on a new generation of Romanian painters as the first female professor in a European (state) arts academy, the Fine Arts Academy in Bucharest. A student of the Académie Julian in Paris (1899-1905), where she studied with Jean Paul Laurens şi Benjamin Constant, Cecilia Cuţescu debuted in 1905 in Anvers, travelled to Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands, and had exhibitions in Amsterdam, Brussels, Anvers, the Hague, Milan, etc., won the gold medals at the International Exhibitions in Barcelona (1929) and Paris (1937), and was awarded the French Legion of Honour (1933). Most of her works are held at the Frederic Storck and Cecilia Cuţescu-Storck Fine Arts Museum in Bucharest, which was her house, decorated by the artist herself.

As for Romanian painters born in the 20th century who reached maturity after World War II, some found success as part of the Romanian Diaspora, while some others went through communist times as favourites or dissidents. They include Alexandru Ciucurencu (1903-1977), Ion Ţuculescu (1910-1962), Corneliu Baba (1906-1997), Sabin Bălaşa (1932-2008) and Horia Bernea (1938-2000).

Alexandru Ciucurencu was born in Dobrudja and started his apprenticeship with master painter Mihail Paraschiv when he was only 13. He continued with formal education in visual arts at the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest, where Camil Ressu was one of his professors, and the Académie Julian in Paris, where he studied with André Lohte. He made his official debut in 1930 in Bucharest, had exhibitions major cities worldwide (Moscow, Paris, Zurich, London, Tokyo, Cairo, Ankara, Berlin, etc.) and won much critical acclaim during his career. A Post-impressionist landscape painter, starting 1944 he took up historical subjects like the 1848 Revolution and the 1907 peasant Rebellion, in the 1960’s he focused on “social realist” themes like industrial constructions and in 1964 he was nominated Artist of the People. [10] He was described as “the painter of light”, since there is almost no shade in his painting.

Unlike all of the artists mentioned above, Ion Ţuculescu was a self-taught painter with no formal education in fine arts. He was born in Craiova to two teachers, he went to high school there and then enrolled in the Bucharest Faculty of Natural Sciences as well as the Faculty of Medicine, which he graduated magna cum laude in 1939. Influenced by Romanian folk art, the traits of which he processed in an expressionist style in his own works, but also learning from masters of universal painting with whose work he became acquainted while travelling to France, Switzerland, Greece and Italy, Ţuculescu debuted in Craiova at 25, had several personal exhibitions in Bucharest in the late ‘30s and the 1940s, and in 1942 he participated in the Venice Biennale. Overall, his work was found to express a profound national spirit derived from his major source, Romanian folk art. [11]

Also a Craiova native, Corneliu Baba was the son of a church master painter and when aged 7 he already had his own easel in his father’s workshop. In 1926 he moved to Bucharest and enrolled in both the Academy of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy; he dropped out from the former and graduated from the latter in 1930. Four years later he had his first exhibition at Băile Herculane, where his talent was spotted by Omar Popovici, an influential lawyer from Iaşi. Consequently, Baba moved to Iaşi and enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts there, where Nicolae Tonitza was one of his professors, graduating in 1938. After graduation, he became assistant professor at the Academy but ran into trouble with the communist authorities and was suspended. He moved to Bucharest and switched to more social realist themes in his work, particularly peasants’ portraits [12], which gained him the favour of the regime. He was allowed to become a professor again at the “Nicolae Grigorescu” Institute of Visual Arts, and he participated in numerous exhibitions around the world (the 1956 Venice Biennale, Brussels, Tokyo and Berlin in the 1960s, New York, Moscow, Leningrad and Lvov in the ‘70s, Dresden and Sofia in the ‘80s). Today, most of his works are held in the Baba Collection at the Timişoara Arts Museum.

Still out of Oltenia, painter and author Sabin Bălaşa was born in the village of Dobriceni, Olt county, a place which he described as “the spot where I recharge my batteries”. A priest and a teacher’s son, he graduated from the Bucharest Academy of Fine Arts in 1955 and did some postgraduate courses at the Academies in Sienna and Perugia, Italy. A favourite of the communist regime who personally dedicated two of his works to the Ceauşescus, he had exhibitions in Warsaw and Moscow in the 1950s, Paris, Damascus, Rome and Titograd in the 1960s, Tel Aviv and Sofia in the ‘70s, Stockholm and Tbilisi in the ‘80s, etc. He dreamed of initiating a Renaissance renewal in painting and he described his own style as “cosmic Romanticism” [13], managing to be probably the best-selling Romanian painter alive, in his time. His works got sold all over the world in his lifetime, for prices as high as a few tens of thousands of euros a piece. For a taste of his vision in shades of blue, readers are invited to visit the impressive murals decorating the Lost Steps Hall at the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iaşi.

Although a contemporary of Bălaşa’s, Horia Bernea, the son of ethnologist Ernest Bernea, could not have been

more different from his “neo-Renaissance” fellow painter. Bernea was born in Bucharest and studied at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, the Technical Architecture School and the Pedagogic Institute, which he graduated in 1965. That same year he debuted as a painter and then he participated in summer creation camps in Romania and southern France. He had group and personal exhibitions in the 1970s in the UK, and after the fall of communism in Romania he became very close to the Romanian Orthodox Church, believing artists should participate in the sacrifice which saved the world and integrating substantial Christian symbolism in his work. More than a painter, he was the much loved and popular Director of the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant between 1990 and 2000. Paradoxically, his painting is rooted in tradition but has to employ avant-garde tools and techniques; faced with this contradiction, Bernea explained: “I can be termed an avant-garde painter only insofar as it implies a maximum of artistic expressiveness. But if it means only destruction, if it’s an anarchic or even nihilistic artistic practice, then I have nothing to do with the avant-garde.” [14]

It’s now time to depart from painting and encompass other visual arts in Romania, such as sculpture, drawing and photography. We’ll first have a look at Romania’s most important sculptors in the 20th century, then briefly portray a great contemporary Romanian cartoonist, to finish off with a very recent photographic project.

Romanian sculpture somehow lagged behind painting, as its first prominent representatives were born in the late 1870s. Of those, except for Constantin Brâncuşi, whom we are going to focus later on, the male artists include Dimitrie Paciurea (1873-1932), Frederic Storck (1872-1942), Ion Jalea (1887-1983), Cornel Medrea (1888-1964), Oscar Han (1891-1976), Gheorghe Leonida (1893-1942) and Ion Irimescu (1903-2005). On the other hand, women sculpture features female artists like Miliţa Pătraşcu (1892-1976), Lidia Kotzebuie (1885-1944) and Zoe Băicoianu (1910-1987).

Dimitrie Paciurea was born in Bucharest, studied at the School of Arts and Professions (1890-1894) with professor Wladimir Hegel, and then, benefiting from financial support from the Ministry of Agriculture, Trade and Industry, enrolled at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, as well as the Académie Julian, where he practised in Gabriel Ferrier’s workshop and was influenced by Auguste Rodin’s work. He made his debut in 1894 at the Living Artists’ Exhibition in Bucharest, and participated in exhibitions in Munich, Brussels and at the Venice Biennale. Starting from 1909 he taught sculpture at the National School of Fine Arts in Bucharest. His sculpture draws on mythology, with works like the Chimeras, one of which brought him the National Prize for sculpture in 1924, “Giant” or “The God of War”, which received the bronze medal at the 1929 Universal Exhibition in Barcelona. His sculpture departs from academicism and, having at its centre the human figure, takes on symbolist and expressionist features.

Frederic Storck was the son of Karl Storck, the first professor of sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts founded by Theodor Aman. Born and raised in Bucharest, Frederic attended professor Ioan Georgescu’s classes at the National School of Fine Arts, further honed his artistic skills at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich with professor Wilhelm von Rümann, and then was a professor of arts himself at the Bucharest Academy of Fine Arts. He participated in exhibitions in Bucharest, Munich and Brussels, with works that departed from academicism towards more stylised shapes, and Carrara marble as his favourite material for sculptures of personalities as famous as Mihai Eminescu, Ion Heliade Rădulescu, King Carol I or Queen Elisabeth. [15] Many of his sculptures can be admired nowadays in his former home, currently the Frederic Storck and Cecilia Cuţescu-Storck Fine Arts Museum in Bucharest.

Ion Jalea was a native of Dobrudja who graduated in 1908 from the School of Arts and Professions, enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest, where he was taught by Frederic Storck and Dimitrie Paciurea, and studied at the Académie Julian with Antoine Bourdelle (1919-1923). He fought in World War I and lost his left arm, being forced to use only his right arm as a sculptor for the rest of his life. Even so, he won the Great Prize at the International Exhibitions in Paris and Barcelona, the National Prize for Sculpture in 1941, was nominated Artist of the People (1957) and became the President of the Visual Artists’ Union. His sculptures are balanced compositions evoking an idealised, heroic vision influenced by artists like Rodin, Bourdelle and Paciurea. [16] 227 of his works can be seen in the “Ion Jalea” Collection of the Arts Museum in Constanţa, while many more are scattered around Bucharest, including Spiru Haret’s statue in the University Square, the busts of Mihai Eminescu and Octavian Goga in Cişmigiu Park, George Enescu’s statue in front of the Opera House, or the Monument of the Railway Heroes in front of Gara de Nord.

Cornel Medrea was born in the county of Sibiu, Transylvania, went to high school in Alba Iulia and enrolled in the School of Decorative Arts in Budapest (1909-1912), where sculptor György Zala was one of his professors. After graduation he travelled around several European countries to visit arts museums and get familiar with a variety of artistic works and styles. He participated in four editions of the Venice Biennale, as well as group exhibitions in Paris, Bucharest, Barcelona, New York, etc., won the Great Prize at the International Exhibition in Paris (1937), was nominated Artist of the People (1955) and taught sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest from 1939 to 1964. In his work he explored a wide range of genres and used full, robust shapes in a realistic style.

Oscar Han was born in Bucharest to a mixed couple: his father was German, and his mother – Romanian. He enrolled in the National School of Fine arts, where he was taught by sculptors Dimitrie Paciurea and Frederic Storck and where he subsequently worked as a professor from 1927 to 1946. He participated in exhibitions in Bucharest, Venice, Anvers, Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona. Evincing a taste for the monumental and for robust shapes, his works are held in Romanian Arts Museums in Vâlcea, Buşteni, Constanţa and Bucharest, but quite a few can also be admired in a several public places around Romania: for example, Mihail Kogălniceanu’s statue in the eponymous square in Bucharest, the bust of tenor N. Leonard in Kiseleff Park in Bucharest, King Carol I statue in front of the Peleş Castle in Sinaia, Mihai Eminescu’s bust on the waterfront in Constanţa, the statue of Mihai Viteazul in Alba Iulia, the statue of Constantin Brâncoveanu in front of the St George Church in Bucharest, etc.

Gheorghe Leonida was born into a middle class family with 11 children from Galaţi. When he was still a child, his family moved to Bucharest, where Gheorghe went to high school and then enrolled in the Sculpture Department of the Fine Arts Academy. He fought in World War I, after which he left the country to study fine arts in Italy for three years. In 1925 he moved to Paris, where he met Paul Landowski, who had been commissioned to complete the world-famous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue in Rio de Janeiro. Landowski hired Leonida to sculpt the statue’s head and the work was completed between 1926 and 1931. After that Leonida returned to Romania, but died in an accident in 1942. Several of his less famous works can be seen at the Bran Castle and in the Natioanl Arts Museum in Bucharest.

Ion Irimescu was born in a Moldavian village near Fălticeni and between 1924 and 1928 was the student of professors Dimitrie Paciurea and Oscar Han at the National School of Fine Arts in Bucharest. After graduation he worked as a high school drawing teacher in several cities around Moldavia, then Bucharest and Slatina. He made his debut at the 1928 Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture in Bucharest, got a scholarship which enabled him to study in France with professor Joseph Bernard and become acquainted with Antoine Bourdelle’s work. He returned to Romania in 1933 and in 1940 he became an arts professor at the Academy of Beaux Arts in Iaşi. In 1950 he moved to Cluj, in 1956 he contributed 15 works to the Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and from then on he participated in exhibitions in Moscow, Bern, Rome, Berlin, Helsinki, Budapest, Dresden, Warsaw, Prague, London, Istanbul, Cairo, etc. In 2003 he became the second Romanian artist who took part in the celebration of his own centenary (pianist Cella Delavrancea was the first to enjoy that privilege) and in the last few years of his life he retired to Fălticeni, the city which is home to most of his works.

Moving on to Romania’s lady sculptors, Miliţa Petraşcu was born in Chişinău, modelled clay figurines as a child and as a student enrolled in the “Stroganov” Fine Arts School in Moscow (1907-1908) and the “Bestujev” Institute in Sankt Petersburg (1909). In 1910 she left for Munich, where she worked with avant-garde masters Wassily Kandinsky and Alexei von Jawlensky, then on to Paris to practise in the workshops of Henri Matisse and Antoine Bourdelle. In 1925 she was back in Bucharest and committed to the local avant-garde movement linked to magazines like “Contimporanul” and “Criterion”. While she had made her debut in 1919 in Paris, it is in Bucharest that she had several exhibitions between 1925 and 1932. The next year she participated in the World Exhibition of futurist art held in Rome, and then her works were displayed in exhibitions in Germany, Italy, Austria, England and France. The communist regime found her to be a spy and “inveterate enemy of the popular-democratic regime, the Party and the Soviet Union” [17] and marginalised her. Her works are held in museums in Bucharest and Tulcea, but also accessible in public places: Alexandru Odobescu’s bust in Cişmigiu Park, the Ecaterina Teodoroiu monument in Târgu Jiu, the mosaic of the Mioriţa Fountain in Bucharest, etc.

Lidia Kotzebue was a native of Saratov, Russia, who graduated in 1914 from the Academy of Fine Arts in Moscow, but after World War I she settled in Bessarabia with her husband and then they emigrated to Romania, where she opened her own sculpture workshop. In Bucharest she participated in several exhibitions between 1924 and 1930 and in 1927 she started working on her best known piece, the Monument to the Heroes of the Air, which she co-created with fellow sculptor József Fekete and can still be admired today in the Aviators’ Square in Bucharest.

Zoe Băicoianu was born in Predeal to a lady-in-waiting of the Romanian Royal Court. She was professor André Lohte’s student at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, where she also made her debut in 1931, and then, thanks to a scholarship, she studied at the Romanian School in Rome (1937-1938). After her return to Romania, she became an arts professor at the “Nicolae Grigorescu” Fine Arts Institute in Bucharest and in 1964 she became an Artist Emeritus of the Popular Republic of Romania. Her work belongs to classicising modernism and it can be seen around Bucharest: the stone statue of Ion Luca Caragiale in Herăstrău Park, the monumental bas-relief on the façade of the Opera House, the Monument to the Heroes of the Country in front of the National Defence University, etc.

As for today’s visual artists other than painters or sculptors, cartoonist Dan Perjovschi (born 1961) and

photographer Mihaela Noroc (born 1985) are well worth a mention. A native of Sibiu, the former successfully combines (cartoon) drawing and graffiti in his work on a range of current social issues, including political satire, and has created drawing in prestigious museum spaces around the world (the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Library of Technology in Prague, the Spencer Museum of Art in Kansas, etc.). [18] Photographer Mihaela Noroc (b. 1985) is a Bucharest native who became world famous for her photographic essay Atlas of Beauty, a multi-year project which took her around the world to portray women from a wide rangeof countries and a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Creating a “connection between the faces and what we might, or might not, know of the countries and cultures in which these women find themselves”, Noroc’s work was described as “a splendid collection” of “lush, direct, soulful images.” [19]

Having sketched the big picture of almost two centuries of Romanian visual arts, let’s now zoom in on a fine, fine trio.

Ştefan Luchian – Romanian painter

Born: 1 February 1868 in Ştefăneşti, Botoşani county, Moldavia

Died: 28 June 1916 in Bucharest


* 1873: his family moved to Bucharest

* 1884: finished “Sfântul Sava” High School

* 1885: enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest

* 1890: studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich with professors Johann Caspar Herterich și Ludwig Herterich

* 1891-1892: studied at the Académie Julian in Paris with William-Adolphe Bouguereau

* 1892: his mother died and he returned to Romania, where he had difficulty supporting himself

* 1896: co-organised the Independent Artists’ Exhibition in Bucharest

* 1898: co-founded the “Ileana” Society for the encouragement and support of modern arts in Romania

* 1900: exhibited two works at the Universal Exhibition in Paris

* 1901: became a founding member of the Artistic Youth Society, exhibited works at Atheneul Român in Bucharest, and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis

* 1902: contributed eight works to the Artistic Youth exhibition

* 1903: opened an exhibition at Casa Assan

* 1904: exhibited works at Atheneul Român

* 1907: painted one of his major works, the self-portrait titled “A Painter”

* 1908: went to Brebu, where he painted around 20 landscapes

* 1909: became physically unable to stand but went to Moineşti, where he painted landscapes and portraits

* 1915: was sued for plagiarism by Take Ionescu and placed under house arrest


* 1924: some of his works are exhibited at the Venice Biennale

* 1948: was elected a post-mortem member of the Romanian Academy

* 1981: director Nicolae Mărgineanu made a film titled “Ştefan Luchian”, starring Ion Caramitru

* streets bearing Luchian’s name in about 10 cities around Romania

* 2010: his work “In the studio” was sold for €93, 827

* 2013: his painting “Two girls” was sold for a record €300,000

He was...

fascinated with nature and patriarchal settings, as a child; quick at doing his schoolmates’ drawing homework in exchange for some money; rather unsuccessful in his lifetime, therefore having to constantly overcome financial problems and difficulty; forced to paint by having his brush tied to his wrist, after he had become physically impaired because of his disease; gifted with all the features of a great artist, including an “authentic character”, “untamed vehemence”, “a profound affective capacity” and “vigorous authoritativeness”; considered “the most Romanian of our painters” [20]; a role model regarding passion and sacrifice for his artistic calling. [21]

Constantin Brâncuşi – Romanian-French sculptor

Born: 19 February 1876 in the village of Hobiţa, southern Romania

Died: 16 March 1957 in Paris


* 1883: was sent to look after the family’s sheep and started carving in wood to pass his time

* 1885: left home and his village, aged 9, and worked in a tannery in Târgu Jiu, then a grocery in Slatina and then a public house in Craiova

* 1894-1898: got a scholarship to study at the School of Arts and Professions in Craiova

* 1902: graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest

* 1903: won the bronze medal for his work “Écorché”, which was exhibited at Atheneul Român, and left for Paris via Budapest, Vienna, Munich, Zurich and Basel, visiting the arts museums on his way

* 1905: got a scholarship from the Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction which enabled him to enrol in the School of Fine Arts in Paris, and befriended Matisse, Erik Satie and Modigliani

* 1906: exhibited works at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Salon d’Automne in Paris

* 1907: participated in the exhibition of the National Society of French Arts, where Auguste Rodin noticed his work and invited him to become his apprentice, but he refused

* 1909: settled at a permanent address in 54 Rue de Montparnasse and won the Second Prize at the Official Painting, Sculpture and Architecture Exhibition in Bucharest

* 1909-1914: participated in regular collective exhibitions in Paris and Bucharest, with works from the Măiastra series, “Sleeping Muse” and “Miss Pogany”

* 1914: opened his first exhibition at Photo Secession gallery in New York

* 1916: created “The Kiss”

* 1921: a study by Ezra Pound is published in Little Review, including 24 reproductions of Brâncuşi’s works

* 1924: created “Bird in Space”

* 1926: had his second personal exhibition in New York at Wildenstein Galleries

* 1937-1938: returned to Romania for the opening of the sculptural compound in Târgu Jiu, including “The Table of Silence”, “The Gate of the Kiss” and “The Endless Column”

* 1952: became e French citizen


* 1990: was elected posthumously a member of the Romanian Academy

* 2009: his piece “Madame L.R.” was sold for €29.185 million

* 2011: Google celebrated his 135th birthday with a doodle including seven of his works

* 2015: the Romanian Parliament declared his birthday the “Brâncuşi Day”, a working national holiday

He was...

physically abused by his father and brothers, as a child; nicknamed “the fox” in his youth; dedicated to “assiduous, tenacious, hard work”; confident about his fate and future even when he had to live like a vagrant on his way to Paris; critical of Michelangelo on account of the “butchery” he created in the Sistine Chapel; nostalgic about the patriarchal life in his native village; regretful to his last day that he had been unable to return to his native country.

Geta Brătescu – Romanian visual artist

Born: 4 May 1926 in Ploieşti

Died: 19 September 2018 in Bucharest


* 1945: started studying with Camil Ressu at the Academy of Fine Arts, but dropped out because of communist censorship

* 1947: had a personal exhibition at the “Căminul Artei” Gallery in Bucharest

* 1945-1949: studied at the Faculty of Letters in Bucharest

* 1960: had a group exhibition in the Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

* 1969-1971: studied at the “Nicolae Grigorescu” Institute of Fine Arts in Bucharest

* 1975: had an exhibition at the Romanian Academy in Rome

* 1980: participated in a Hamburg exhibition with a lithography album

* 1983 & 1987: participated in the Sao Paolo Biennale

* 1985: published Perpetual Workshop, essays

* 1992: had the “Myths and Stories” exhibition at the University of Missouri Museum

* 1993: published Vagrant Workshop, essays

* 1994: the “Europa, Europa” group exhibition in Bonn

* 1999-2000: had a retrospective exhibition at the National Art Museum

* 2000: published A.R., a novel

* 2002: “In Search of Balkania” group exhibition at Neue Galerie in Graz

* 2008: was awarded the Doctor honoris causa title by the National University of Arts in Bucharest for “her remarkable contribution to the development of contemporary Romanian art” [22]

* 2009: published The Tree in the Neighbouring Courtyard

* 2010, 2011: had the “Alterity” exhibition at Galerie Mezzanin in Vienna and Berlin, respectively

* 2017: “The Studio: A Tireless, Ongoing Space” at Camden Arts Centre in London

She was...

tireless: able to work hard in her studio, like a young person even though in her nineties, and proud of it; careful never to leave a work unfinished; a bit of a recluse; bothered by “isms”, attached to artistic freedom; playful in her art; appreciative of her past works [23]; described as a “giant of the Romanian art scene” with a “powerful influence” on contemporary Romanian artists [24].

Now, are you ready for full exposure to unmitigated beauty?

Notes & sources

[1] “Constantin Lecca”. Wikipedia. Accessed 23 Oct 2018. <>

[4] “Ion Andreescu”. Wikipedia. Accessed 23 Oct 2018. <>

[6] “Nicolae Tonitza”. Wikipedia. Accessed 24 Oct 2018. <>

[17] “Miliţa Petraşcu”. Wikipedia. Accessed 24 Oct 2018. <>

[22] “Geta Brătescu”. Wikipedia. Accessed 25 Oct 2018. <>

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