The National Museum of Art of Romania

Discover the works in the Romanian Modern Art Gallery

A simple still-life with roses, one is tempted to say. And yet as soon as we notice the fan, books, perfume bottle, and the metal bowl containing notes, letters and an elegant pair of beige leather gloves next to the flowers, we understand there is more to it than meets the eye. The artist spells out a visual riddle. Each element plays a part in portraying an invisible but highly elegant, refined person. Certainly the riddle is about a woman who loves flowers, particularly pink roses, but who would she be? Looking closer we discover that the envelope in the bowl is addressed to Madame Aman...

Ana Aman, the painter’s wife, was a highly educated and fashion-conscious lady. The painting is nothing short of a love-letter. Though absent from the painting, and perhaps from home, she is always present in the artist’s thoughts.

Roses in the painting go a long way back, reviving a tradition of associated symbols. These range from Christian symbols as in religious paintings of the Virgin, such as Domenico Veneziano’s “Virgin and Child” in the Gallery of European Art, to more mundane, Biedermeier paintings, such as Smaranda Catargi’s lavish engagement portrait at the mezzanine of the National Gallery.

 

Artwork description
Theodor Aman
(Câmpulung Muscel, 1831 – Bucharest, 1891)
Oil on canvas
48,5 x 75,5 cm
Inv. 3181
Artwork location
Romanian Modern Art Gallery, room 1
Sign language video
Sign language video

More than a family portrait or an episode in the visual chronicle of Bucharest high society in the 1880s, Party with Musicians is a statement of modernity.

The painting depicts a family gathering that takes place in the family’s home garden, be it real or imaginary. Brothers, friends and in-laws are engaged in light, after-noon conversations while nephews and nieces play around, listening to the music of a traditional band. French fashion rules among family members: women’s mostly lightly-coloured summer dresses display tight bodices and skirts with ample tails at the back, while men’s costumes consist of black coats and light trousers. Musicians are dressed in loose fitting, long, ample, caftan-like vestments remindful of the way local boyars used to dress half a century earlier. Only the cellist wears a Western-style costume, the sign he is schooled musician.

Everyone is relaxed. Take for instance Zina de Norÿ, Aman’s stepdaughter and an opera singer of international reputation who is sitting casually on the base of a column to the right of the painting. Surrounded by the family, Ana, the painter’s wife, is the only one to look straight to us.

Following in the footsteps of Impressionist painters like Monet, Bazille or James Tissot, Aman uses his family and friends to explore the contemporary local lifestyle without any constraints, his paintings a genuine pictorial chronicle of the local highlife. Other paintings on display in the gallery such as On the Terrace at Sinaia, View from Câmpulung, Soirée (Ball in the Studio) also reflect Aman’s approach and his genuine interest to stay in touch with European artistic developments.

Artwork description
Theodor Aman
(Câmpulung Muscel, 1831 – Bucharest, 1891)
Oil on canvas
51 x 90 cm
Inv. 3617
Artwork location
Romanian Modern Art Gallery, room 1

Rocks and Birch Trees is a highly emblematic painting for Romanian landscape painting in the latter quarter of the 19th century. It reveals Andreescu’s wish to catch up with contemporary European developments, as artists’ interest shifts from representing a particular place or motif toward visual construction, colour relationships and the interplay of light and shadow.

The reddish-brown foliage and the coloured greys of the rocks alternate with the dominant blue sky against which rise the majestic crowns of the birch trees. Colour sensations are spectacularly transposed onto the canvas by Andreescu, whose fresh brushwork naturally blends light into colour. This is the lesson he learned at Fontainebleau while working side by side with painters who, like their predecessors Jean-François Millet and Théodore Rousseau, had gradually come to master the technique of working in the open air, free of all formal solemnity.

Artwork description
Ioan Andreescu
(Bucharest, 1850 - 1882)
Oil on canvas
6 x 46,5 cm
Inv. 2726
Artwork location
Romanian Modern Art Gallery, room 2

Corneliu Baba chose The Chess Player to make his debut at the official 1948 Bucharest Art Salon.

In the corner of the artist’s studio a man in his 50s sits bent over a chess board, his hands resting on his knees. From his attitude and posture we can tell he is deeply engrossed in the move underway, most likely a black knight’s attack over a white pawn. These are two of the seven pieces we can see on the board. The close-range, steep angle view is particularly intriguing: the painter (Baba was a tall, well-built man) is also the invisible partner in this chess game. He alone can run the narrow line between inside and outside, between an active player and an attentive observer.

Artwork description
Corneliu Baba
(Craiova, 1906 - Bucharest, 1997)
Oil on canvas
100,8 cm x 93 cm
Artwork location
Romanian Modern Art Gallery, room 11

The Danaïde dates from 1908-1909, a time when Brâncuşi was eagerly trying to find his own way. The distillation of forms, typical for the Romanian artist’s modern approach, is eye-catching. The woman’s rotund face, her broad forehead, the hair dress and the slightly bent gaze will become recurrent features in other portraits made by the artist such as those of Mlle Pogany. From this perspective, the sculpture opens new paths in the artist’s oeuvre. It was probably called the Danaïde, a reference to Greek mythology, when it was submitted for an exhibition, the new title being considered more evocative that the simple “Girl’s Head” written by Brâncuşi on the back of a contemporary photograph.

The sculpture’s archaic, weathered look is endorsed by the porous, matt, rough quality of the Vratsa stone, a granular type of limestone. The sculpture marks Brâncuşi’s departure from Rodin as much as from academism, being one of the earliest modern attempts at redefining (abstract) sculpture.

Artwork description
Constantin Brâncuşi
(Hobiţa, Gorj County,1876 – Paris,1957)
Vratsa limestone
33 x 27 x 25,2 cm
Inv. 86208/1769
Artwork location
Romanian Modern Art Gallery, room 7
Sign language video
Sign language video

The Spy is one of Nicolae Grigorescu’s mature works. Although a studio piece, the painting relies on the observation and notes takes by the artist when he accompanied Romanian troupes during 1877-1878 War of Independence (the Russian-Turkish War) as a correspondent. At the time Grigorescu made hundreds of drawings which were later used for oil sketches and the few definitive works he was officially commissioned.

The breath-taking confrontation between a Turkish spy and a Romanian soldier takes place in a flat, dimly lit landscape. It has neither the solemnity of academic painting nor the triumphalism of classical military painting.

The soldiers chase one another followed from a distance by a third Romanian soldier. The spy fired his pistol, leaving a smoky white trail, just as the Romanian soldier in the foreground is raising his sword, the movement revealing how close they are. The sky and the earth are depicted in a range of subtly modulated greys, the horizon line dramatically lit by a couple of long, thick brushstrokes in yellowinsh white. It is this brush strokes that lend the picture plane unsuspected depth and a spectacular luminosity.

Following the principles of the Barbizon school and of Courbet or Corot, Grigorescu managed to convincingly convey the freshness of direct observation in this studio piece full of drama.

Artwork description
Nicolae Grigorescu
(Pitaru, Dâmboviţa County, 1838 – Câmpina,1907)
Oil on canvas
74 x 143 cm
Inv. 69.711/7651
Artwork location
Romanian Modern Art Gallery, room 2
Sign language video
Sign language video

Iser’s Tatar family depicts an episode in the life of a Tatar family from Dobrugea, a population whose picturesqueness fascinated Romanian inter-war painters.

The scene takes place in a Muslim graveyard, amidst geometrical stones and pillars; the roof tiles of a little mosque and the white minaret are partly covered by lush vegetation. All characters wear the traditional loose baggy trousers (called șalvar). Harsh angular faces and the veils in which women are wrapped make it difficult to guess their age. Totally self-contained, dignified and statue-like, these ageless people seem to come from times immemorial.

Iser focuses on the characters’ silent grief. He looks at them with sympathy, his exploration respectful of their mourning. This is a meditation on human condition devoid of ethnic tinges.

His handling of the brush and the fairly compact, well-defined volumes are indicative of Iser’s disciplined study of Cézanne’s technique.

Artwork description
Iosif Iser
(Bucharest,1881 - 1958 )
Oil on canvas
194 x 251 cm
Inv. 207
Artwork location
Romanian Modern Art Gallery , room 9
Sign language video
Sign language video
Luchian - Spring

In 1901, one year after Georges de Feure published in Le Figaro Illustré , a series of four illustrations of the seasons, Luchian was commissioned to decorate the Bucharest home of Victor Antonescu. The artist borrowed freely from de Feure’s allegories. He also established his reputation as a promoter of Art Nouveau, a style whose freshness swept across Europe. Luchian’s four decorative panels of the seasons show how quick local artists and high society were to adopt Western trends and consummer behaviours. Allegorical images of the seasons had been available in Bucharest as of about 1895, when colour lithographs and posters were sold together with various fashionable magazines.

Art Nouveau artists often resorted to allegories of the seasons as ameans to portray some of the ‘iconic’ beauties of the day. To answer his client’s aspirations, Luchian chose fashionable attitudes and poses which lent his compositions a chic urban flavour. However, his personal artistic choice soon moved in another direction, as he developed a personal style based primarily on the power of colour. It was this masterful use of colour that turned Luchian into a model for many painters of the new generation.

Artwork description
Ştefan Luchian)
(Ştefăneşti, jud. Botoşani 1868 – Bucharest,1916)
Oil on canvas
96,5 x 143 cm
Inv. 104.185/10.577
Artwork location
Romanian Modern Art Gallery , room 3
Sign language video
Sign language video

Maxy’s Electric Madonna is in fact a portrait of Florentina Ciricleanu, a young actress who, by the mid-1920s, used to attend avant-garde events organised by the Contimporanul magazine. This was most probably how she met artists such as Maxy, Miliţa Pătraşcu, Petre Iorgulescu Yor and Corneliu Michăilescu, for whom she sat as a model during the following decade. The painting is dated 1926, the year Florentina Ciricleanu played in productions of the Bucharest Jewish theatre Barasheum for which Maxy made stage designs.

The picture is nothing short of a genuine geometrical puzzle. An electric colour range sets the painting along some of Maxy’s avant-garde paintings of the 1920s. One of the best known such portrait is that of Tristan Tzara, founding father of the Dada movement. Though to various degrees, both portraits reveal Maxy’s indebtedness to Cubism.

Artwork description
Max Hermann Maxy
(Brăila, 1895 – Bucharest, 1971)
Oil on cardboard
70,5 x 46,5 cm
Inv. 8100
Artwork location
Romanian Modern Art Gallery , room 6
Sign language video
Sign language video
In 1908, Mützner was working in Giverny, where the elderly Claude Monet was passing on his experience as an impressionist painter to younger artists. Under Monet’s influence, Mützner studied carefully one and the same spot so as to understand the changing effects of light on colour and atmosphere depending on time of day, weather or season and render them on canvas.
 
As the sun rises, a thin blanket of mist filters the light: the morning landscape emerges dominated by cold hues of green, violet, and blue.
At sunset, a rich array of yellow, orange and pink lend the same landscape a radiant, warm quality.
 
Inspired by Monet, free from the purist approach of pointillism or divisionism as practiced by Seurat and explained by Signac, Mützner employs both pure and mixed colours. In short, vibrant brush strokes, he depicts the rich layering of light and shadow, his landscapes striking a deeply lyrical vein.

Artwork description
Samuel Mützner
(Bucharest, 1884-1959)
Oil on canvas
50 x 61 cm
Inv. 599; 600
Artwork location
Romanian Modern Art Gallery, room 10