Romanian Art in 19th Century

In time, Romanians created folk art as ceramics, woven clothes and wooden sculptures. Besides craft art, in 19th century, traditional artists created astonishing masterpieces, in Romania, by revolutionizing the art movement and adopting a new way of presenting their subjects from simple landscapes and portraits to historical and contemporary scenes. All of their work had roots in the folk art of Romania and they managed to get rid of the “atelier recipes, painting from Academic art” for more realistic art. They managed to take the folk art of Romania to a different level and show it to the world.

One of the traditional painters who have found his source of inspiration in folk art was Nicolae Grigorescu. He was born in 1838 in the village Pitaru (“the baker”, county of Dimbovita). His training as an artist begun at ten years old with the Czech painter Anton Chladek. Afterwards, he worked as an icon painter for churches and he painted murals for several monasteries in the region of Bucharest (capital of Romania). In 1861, he got a scholarship from the authorities to study painting in Paris, at Sebastian Cornu’s studio. He loved to work in “plein-air” and he realized different studies of portraits at Louvre and painted at Barbizon, near Paris. In 1870 and 1873 he participated to two art shows in Paris, and in 1890 he returned to Romania, after a long time abroad. But his links with the Romanian folk art and the country’s scenery were not lost. As a proof, we have today his paintings of women’s busts and portraits wearing traditional folk costumes. He created scenes of everyday life in Romania by painting shepherds with their flock and wagons on country roads. Considered today as father of the modern Romanian painting, what is characteristic about Nicolae Grigorescu’s art is that his masterpieces have a flair of not finished paintings, as in the impressionistic art. He was very talented to take snapshots of reality when the light was changing and revealing the poetry of human faces and landscapes. His paintings have a “secret geometry”. He was a poet in his own way; using color instead of words and his style is Romanian by feeling and the choice of “intimate motifs” come from every day country life.

As Roland Barthes (1985) states in “The Responsibility of Form”, painting is that reality that is a representation of a story or a fact that really happened in a certain time frame. The painters use colors and forms to tell the story. On the other hand, Grigorescu was also a painter of historical events including the Independence war in 1877 against the Turks. He was on the battlefield doing drawings that later would be the foundation of his paintings. One of these art pieces is “Atacul de la Smirdan” (The Battle of Smirdan). This is a place in Bulgaria where the Russians, Hungarians and Romanians defeated the Turks and put an end to the domination of Ottoman Empire. Because of creations of this kind he can stand next to the big portrayers of the war and poverty in the history of arts as Francisco Jose de Goya, Pablo Picasso and Honoré Daumier, who according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Rick I. Robinson (1990) “are the most valuable purveyors of the aesthetic experience” by using their brush to present historical and social facts.

The next figure of the traditional Romanian painting, with links to the Romanian folk art is Theodor Aman. Born in 1831, Theodor Aman lived in Wallachia, the southern part of Romania. He studied in Paris with François Édouard Picot, from whom he learned how to paint historical and everyday life scenes. Paintings such as “The Dance at Aninoasa” shows a weekend festival where people dressed in folk costumes dance in a place next to a restaurant named Crisma. Everyday life scenes are shown in paintings such as “Women Weaving” and “Party in the Garden”. The most remarkable of his paintings are the historical ones that show the most important moments from the Romanian heroes‘ lives. Those include Romanian leaders such as Mihai Viteazul and Vlad the Impaler, who fought the Turks, and Tudor Vladimirescu, who was the head of a peasants’ uprising against the nobleman. Besides being a painter, Theodore Aman contributed to the national art development by opening the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest, where he was president until his death in 1891.

Different from Theodore Aman, in the way of perceiving reality, was Stefan Luchian. He was a follower of Nicolae Grigorescu and used light and transparency in his paintings. Born in 1868, he lived in Moldavia, which is in the eastern part of Romania. He studied fine arts in Bucharest, Münich, Germany and also in Paris, France. His inspirations were the works of Rembrandt Van Rijn, Antonio da Corregio, Eugène Delacroix and Gustave Courbet. In 1893, he returned to Romania, where he did all the murals for a cathedral near Bucharest. His paintings are full of life and use vivid colors and his still lives show pieces of Romanian ceramics, flowers, fruits and embroidered tablecloths. He used reds in some of his flower’s paintings. One of them is named “Anemone” and according to M. Anna Fariello (2004) the red color in pre-industrial countries as Romania, at the beginning of 19th  entury, could trigger a meaning full of emotions and consequences, one not likely to be forgotten for a long time. It is the exact effect that the bright red colors of these particular flowers would do to the visitor. Besides still lives, he painted landscapes, everyday life scenes and portraits. One of his portraits is “Safta, the Flower Girl” where he showed this young woman, and she seems almost ready to speak to you from the canvas. Browns and ochre colors were used to portray the scene. In the personal life, Luchian was such an unfortunate man. A terrible infection affected his life and he died in 1916 at the age of forty-eight.

In conclusion, the arts in Romania, in 19th century were built on a base linked to rituals, cultural, and traditional events. The social and economical needs of artists and their personal life influenced their works of art. Art making in that time and today still “an empirically based, open-ended exploration” because the art creator has so many possibilities and each new direction taken could lead to an infinite number of other possibilities.



Perreault J.(2004). Crafts is Art. In Objects and Meaning: New Perspectives on Art and Craft. Maryland and London: The Scarecrow Press Inc.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., Robinson, M. R. (1990). The Art of Seeing. An Interpretation of the Aesthetic Encounter. Malibu, CA: The J. Paul Getty Trust Office of Publications.

Barthes, R. (1985). The Responsibility of Forms. Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation. Berkley and Los Angeles, CA: The University of California Press.

Horsia, H.(2004). Mica Biblioteca de Arta..Nicolaie Grigorescu si Epoca.

Fariello, M. A., Owen, P. (2004). “Reading” the Language of Objects. In Objects and Meaning: New Perspectives on Art and Craft. Maryland and London: The Scarecrow Press Inc.

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