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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How the arts helped shape Romanian identity

A trip to the National Art Gallery yesterday expanded my list of significant Romanian Realist colourists of the early 20th century - and deepened my understanding one of my favourites - Jean Alexandru Steriadi (1880-1956).
A great series slowly taking shape here is that on Romanian graphic art. Some years ago, I bought 2 volumes of “P” (which includes hundred of artist's Stefan Popescu's sketches) for only 5 euros. They have now progressed to S – and have devoted an entire volume to the drawings of Steriadi whom I have known only as a painter. They give a great sense of social life in the early part of the 20th century. Sadly I can’t find any reproductions online but will photo some shortly and put them online.

A special exhibition entitled - The National Myth - How arts define Romanian identity  is based on a perspective put forth by historian Lucian Boia, in his book ”History and Myth in National Consciousness” and sets out to identify some of the prevailing themes of the mythology of Romanian history: its Latin character, its territorial unity and the fight for independence.
The exhibition evokes the creation of the Romanian nation state, as it looks at the main stages of that process: the 1848 Revolution, the 1859 Union of the Romanian Principalities, the accession to the throne of Carol 1st as King of Romania in 1866, the 1877- 1878 War of Independence, the proclamation of Romania’s kingdom in 1881 and the 1918 great union. Historian Lucian Boia.
Lucian Boia says: “I am convinced that without myths, we stand no chance. A myth holds both truth and exaggeration, but it is ultimately a construction that is absolutely necessary in the life of every community. Maybe today’s general lack of orientation can be explained by the rejection of faiths and grand projects, be they utopic.”
Carol Popp de Szathmári, Theodor Aman, Nicolae Grigorescu, Ioan Andreescu, Ştefan Luchian, Nicolae Tonitza, Oscar Han, Camil Ressu are all on display – and many more
The militant role of art throughout the 19th century is evident in the works that bring to the fore portraits of 1848 revolution heroes, allegories embodying the ideals of union and independence, documentary-type scenes, and especially historical scenes.
Beside the glorification of national history, which began in the latter half of the 19th century and extended to the better part of the 20th century, artists show a drive for subjects of the rural world and its traditions. The national ethos overlaps the countryside and the idealized image of the Romanian peasant. This has fuelled the huge popularity of painter Nicolae Grigorescu’s works. They were seminal for the evolution of Romanian fine arts.
Lucian Boia: ”The 19th century is very interesting, because we witness a mutation. The Westernising process occurred, which was very interesting and rapid. In the early 20th century, people here still dressed according to Eastern fashion codes, especially the Turkish one, they used the Cyrillic alphabet, just like Slavic Christian Orthodox peoples and spoke Greek. Several decades later, they picked the latest Paris fashion trends and began writing in the Latin alphabet, while the cultural language was French. This rapid Westernisation of the elite demonstrated its great capacity to adapt to new historical and cultural realities. The Romanian nation also saw its birth. I’m mainly talking about national belief. Many of the paintings on view show Romanians’ traditional civilisation. By creating bridges with the West, Romanians also feel the need to keep something that preserves their identity. This is traditional rural civilisation. It is striking to realise that up until the early 20th century, Romanian painting virtually had no urban landscapes. The peasant’s figure is pervasive and the characters and objects it is associated with become powerful symbols of Romanian identity:
 A great book goes with the exhibition (for 17 euros) but, like all the Gallery publications, is in Romanian only. When money is short for translation, you normally find brief CVs in a few foreign languages. But not this book or Gallery! They are simply too lazy! 
Three new names came to my attention during the visit (details from the internet) –

Octav Bancila (1872-1944) earned a scholarship at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich (1894-1898) and travelled in France and Italy.

Had his first solo exhibition in 1900.

Cycle of works addressed the theme of peasant revolts that took place in the country.

From 1916-1937 he was professor at the "School of Fine Arts" University.

Francis Siraco (1877-1953) was born in 1877, in Craiova, in a family of craftsmen, originating from the Banat. 
A passion for drawing took him to Craiova Graphic Institute which taught lithography technique. Şirato however decided to concentrate on painting and, in 1898, leaving for Germany in Düsseldorf. Lacking sufficient resources, fails to attend the Academy of Art there. Is forced to work in an engraving workshop. In 1899 he returned to the country, and next year is part of the "National School of Fine Arts" in Bucharest.
In 1907, his painting is not noticed, but his drawings attract attention. They appear regularly in the magazine "ant", some of them inspired peasant uprising of 1907. Before World War I, between 1908 and 1914, the exhibit "Artistic Youth" being among the first members of this association. Şirato find some impulse in Cézanne's painting, with its balanced architecture, as well as Romanian folklore.
During the war, Şirato made several drawings depicting cycles of war dramas, works it presents the personal exhibition in 1921. With this exhibition ends the first period of the artist's work, particularly valuable in graphics, and increasingly devoted to painting. In 1920, join the group "Romanian Art", in which sets up in 1924. The following year founded, together with painters Nicolae Tonitza and Stephen Dimitrescu and sculptor Oscar Han "Group of Four". The Group has not made a specific program, the four united a common understanding and a close friendship art
In 1917, became curator at the National Museum of Folk Art, and later, in 1932, appointed professor of "Academy of Fine Arts" in Bucharest, standing out as a good teacher. In 1946, the painter, who many years ago had won awards at international art events (Barcelona, ​​Brussels, Paris, New York), is awarded the "National Award for Painting". In 1947 his personal exhibition enjoys great success. This was, however, his last exhibition. Francis Şirato has a rich publishing activity, has written numerous articles and reviews of art in "Sburatorul", In 1938 he wrote a monograph devoted Nicolae Grigorescu.
Ion Theodorescu-Sion (1882-1939) was the third new name whose paintings made an impression. He was born to a poor family, his father a railway worker and mother from peasant stock. He 
is well-known for his traditionalist, primitivist painting. Initially an Impressionist, he dabbled in various modern styles in the years before World War. He had one major ideological focus: depicting peasant life in its natural setting. In time, Sion contributed to the generational goal of creating a specifically Romanian modern art, located at the intersection of folk tradition, primitivist tendencies borrowed from the West, and 20th-century agrarianism.
Initially scandalized by Theodorescu-Sion's experiments, public opinion accepted his tamer style of the mid to late 1910s. Sion was commissioned as a war artist, after which his standing increased. His paintings alternated the monumental depictions of harsh rural environments and their inhabitants, with luminous Balcic seascapes and nostalgic records of suburban life.
The painting which heads the post is one of his 

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