The first collections become museums. Failures, successes, problems

Valentina Iancu

Simona Vilau: Art Collecting in Romania

It is said that Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti wanted to see his art collection transformed into a museum even during his lifetime. The undertakings to the minister I.G. Duca in 1918 were rejected though, based on unknown reasons. Two months after his premature death, Domnica Bogdan, his mother, wrote to the Ministry of Art with the intention of donating the State the reputable collection. Initially, the minister C. Banu accepted the honorable donation, but the terms imposed by the heir-at-law and some suspicions of the Ministry’s employees have hindered and later rejected the donation process, based on absurd reasons: the dispute over the clause of establishing the Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti Museum at his Vlaici residence, the suspicion that his mother will try to avoid paying inheritance taxes and later on, a rumor which turned true: the levy upon the collection by the creditors of Bogdan-Piteşti. The person behind wasn’t a creditor, but his lawyer – Ernest Paximade – who initiated the levy as a result of the non-payment of the honorary associated to his services. Thus, the faith of the collection was written: it was broken up at an auction, most probably “arranged by the common interests of art amateurs, auctioneers and executors”[5].

All the press campaigns and the protests of the artists for the safeguard of the collection were in vain. The faith of the art works collected by Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti was similar to the one of the famous collection of his Hungarian contemporary, Marcell Nemes Jánoshalmi (1866-1930). The verdict given for this event by the writer Perspessicius remains indefectible: “It was a theft or, if you prefer, a grotesque scene from a flea market”.

The Simu museum though had an undoubtedly better faith. A private collection transformed by its owner into a museum, under the slogan: “Not only for us, but also for the others”. Anastase Simu (1854-1935), Romanian academician and political person, with a doctor’s degree in political science and administration, has succeeded, in 1910, to base the first art museum from Bucharest, an institution which was named after him. Unlike Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti, whose collection indicated well taste and inspiration, Simu’s collection was unbalanced, having a selection of highly resonant international names next to pieces of art created by obscure Romanian and international artists with doubtful artistic value. The artists who have met him kept a pleasant memory, admiring both his gesture of donating his collection to the Romanian State and also his attitude towards artists: “Simu, the founder of the museum with the same name, together with his wife had a distinct appreciation towards our artists (…). He appreciated the advice given by the artists he respected and had the merit of offering all his material means towards the freshness of art.”[6]

Anastase Simu’s collection encompassed along Romanian artists (Carol Popp de Szathmary, Theodor Aman, Mişu Pop, Nicolae Grant, Apcar Baltazar, Aurel Jiquidi, etc.), French artists (Antoine Bourdelle, Camille Pissarro, Camille Claudel, Eugene Vibert, Leo Putz etc.), a selection of plaster casts after Italian Renaissence and Antiquity masterpieces, the collector being highly preoccupied by the artistic education of the youth who were not able to travel.

Excepting his unparalleled ego, all those who wrote about Anastase Simu kept a rather positive memory of him. A single quick-tempered intervention, perfectly justified, is mentioned by Zambaccian, when the collector was criticizing the Romanian State. At the establishment of Toma Stelian Museum, being asked to be part of the editorial board, Simu has flared up:

“How could I, who I have offered the country a Temple with more than a thousand Romanian and international works of art, patron a committee whose purpose is to garnish Toma Stelian’s residence with paintings and sculptures bought with tax-payers’ money? If Toma Stelian has donated a house, very nice act from his side, it would have been proper to establish a school or a library, as he was a highly educated man, but why to create a museum of art with his name, when he was never interested in art, leaving not even a stamp collection or having ever gone to the Art Museum!

Paradoxically, I [Zambaccian] concluded, just as in Pirandello’s play: Museum without paintings and seven members in a committee looking for pieces of art. While the State neglects its own painting collection which moves from here to there.”[7]

Completely paradoxically, shortly after the failure of Bogdan-Piteşti’s donation, a museum without any works of art has been established in Bucharest.

Another controversial museum was established by Anastase Simu’s “rival”, Iancu Kalinderu. The institution was based on the collection of the doctor Nicolae Kalinderu, who has manifested his idea of establishing a museum. His heirs have steadily improved the collection, and with the help of the authorities managed to open a half-private museum. After Nicolae Kalinderu’s death, the museum was partly donated, partly acquired, so that it could become public. Some of the contemporaries have highly criticized this new undertaking, questioning the authenticity of some of the art pieces: “the collection, except for the pieces coming from doctor Nicolae Kalinderu, is very suspect: many paintings have a dubious origin. From I. Kalinderu’s notes some payments to painter D. Serafim were discovered, apparently for his signature on some paintings. Another proof of the fakes within the collection.”[8]

The two museums, shortly joined by the Toma Stelian Museum (opened on March 21st 1926), enriched by a couple of artists’ donations and state acquisitions, had the merit of educating the taste of the Romanian art amateurs, especially of those from Bucharest.

Simultaneously with Simu and Kalinderu, other collections were created, whose names are now forgotten: Nicolae Moret de Blamberg, Vasile Morţun, Eugeniu Carada, Goodwin etc. The poet Alexandru Vlahuţă and the Swiss art critic William Ritter became collectors due to the numerous gifts offered by the painter Nicolae Grigorescu.

The State Painting Collection from Iaşi was enriched with the donations of some collectors from that time, among whom: Scarlat Varnav, Costache Dasiade, Costache Negri, Ioan Aivas, Iancu Manolache-Codrescu or artists such as Gheorghe Panaiteanu-Bardasare and Constantin D. Stahi.

[5] Theodor Enescu, Writings about art, Mediriane Publishing, Bucharest, 2003, p. 71
Cecilia Cuţescu-Stork, A life given to art, Meridiane Publishing, Bucharest, 1966, p. 82
[7] K.H. Zambaccian, The notes of an art amateur, ESPLA, 1957, p. 59
Alexandru Tzigara Samurcaş, Writings about Romanian Art, Meridiane Publishing, Bucharest, 1987, p. 290