Theodor Aman Masterpieces at Art Safari 2022, Ninth Edition

Entrance to the Art Safari fair in Bucharest's Old Town, May 2022
Art Safari in Bucharest’s Old Town, May 19, 2022

I’m getting ready to go to this year’s second edition of Art Safari here in Bucharest, but for now I thought I’d post some highlights from this spring, starting—for this installment—with some works of Theodor Aman and his biography, which were showcased at the fair.

Aman was the first Romanian modern painter and, by the looks of it, much more accomplished—and modern—than I’d appreciated before. I’ve visited his museum in central Bucharest (close to the National Art Museum), but it looks like most of his better works have taken flight elsewhere, to other museums and collectors in Bucharest and the rest of the country. This show, curated by Elena Olariu, was marvelous: great pieces and wonderful information panels in the exhibition halls.

Theodor Aman’s life begins in 1831. He is the son of Dimitrie, a wealthy merchant of Aromanian origins, and Despina, a music and literature enthusiast of Greek lineage. Upon Dimitrie’s death in 1834, Despina becomes Theodor’s sole parent. She will make sure that her son gets a good education. He studies in Craiova and then, for high school, at the best college in Bucharest, Sfântul Sava.

In 1850 Aman leaves for Paris, where he will remain for the next seven years. He studies with two disciples of Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), the great Neoclassical painter. In Paris, at the Bibliothèque nationale, Aman copies portraits of Romanian rulers and studies Turkish costumes from the time of Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) in preparation for his 1852 work The Last Night of Michael the Brave. In 1852, at 22, he exhibits a self-portrait (now lost) at the French Salon. It’s his first painting juried into the Salon. He paints two more historical paintings, in 1854 and 1855, respectively, and continues to show other works at the French Salon. In 1857 he paints the allegory The Union of the Principalities, a reflection of his wish to see Wallachia and Moldavia become one country, which will come to pass in 1859.

He travels to Rome, Venice, and Milan, and in 1858 returns for good to what in 1862 officially becomes Romania. He starts painting commissioned portraits along with paintings for the state.

In 1864 Theodor Aman and Gheorghe Tattarescu establish a School of Fine Arts in Bucharest, the second such institution of superior education in Southeast Europe, subsequent to one in Greece. A second such School of Fine Arts is set up in Iasi by G. Panaitescu-Bardasare, who took inspiration and guidance from Aman.

Aman becomes director and painting professor at the School of Fine Arts he has cofounded in Bucharest.

He marries in 1965. His wife, Ana, had been married before and had three children. They will not have children together. Aman organizes the first edition of an exhibition with works by living artists. He participates with twenty-four paintings and other art pieces.

In 1867–68 he starts work on a house of his own design, with exterior decoration by sculptor Karl Storck. The house will be finished in 1869. Aman will design the furniture as well. This house will become a magnet for figures of the local elite, including, on certain occasions, future queen Elisabeta.

On a personal note, when I last visited the museum sometime in the 2010s I noticed Aman’s cello. He was a talented cellist, and he often played at his soirées. Now that I think about it, I may have seen a piano at the house as well. His stepdaughter Zoe played the piano and they often performed together at Aman’s home.

Exhibited at Aman’s memorial house are also a number of prints. Aman starts learning printmaking in 1872 and by his death in 1891 he has become quite accomplished in this medium as well.

In his last decade of life Theodor Aman has three large retrospective exhibitions. He also receives various state honors during his lifetime as a token of the appreciation lavished on him in his country.

In 1904 Ana Aman donates their former home—which was also Aman’s atelier—to the Romanian state, together with all the works in it. Aman House opens its doors as a museum in 1908.

(Biography based on the info panels at Art Safari, with an added note regarding Despina’s interest in music and literature.)

Here are some of Theodor Aman’s paintings from the Art Safari exhibition of May 12–August 7, 2022.

Lady Painting (Doamna pictand), by the Romanian painter Theodor Aman, 1862
Theodor Aman, Lady Painting (Doamnă pictând), 1862
Young Woman in a Hammock (Tanara in hamac), artwork by the Romanian painter Theodor Aman
Theodor Aman, Young Woman in a Hammock (Tânără în hamac)
Still life by the Romanian painter Theodor Aman, shown at Art Safari, no title given
Theodor Aman, still life [no title given]
Round-Dance at Aninoasa (Hora de la Aninoasa), by the Romanian painter Theodor Aman
Theodor Aman, Round-Dance at Aninoasa (Hora de la Aninoasa)
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A Kiss Withheld

The_Kiss_(Auguste_Rodin)
Auguste Rodin, The Kiss 
CC BY-SA 3.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

“So when it was conceived,” Alice began again, “The Kiss was about Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini, contemporaries of Dante who appear in his Divine Comedy, in Canto V of his Inferno. While in reality they carried on as lovers for years, in Dante’s Inferno they were surprised one day by Francesca’s husband as they kissed each other for the first time while reading about Lancelot and Queen Guinevere’s first kiss. Francesca’s husband, who was Paolo’s older brother, killed them both, condemning them along with other lustful sinners to the raging storm winds of the second circle of Hell.”

. . .

“I was browsing the other day through Rodin on Art and Artists: Conversations with Paul Gsell,” Alice said, “that Dover edition from 1983 Har gave me for my birthday last year, and it was wonderful to read, in Rodin’s own words, how he looked at Greek Classical art, how much he admired it for the way it answered to both nature and one ideal form or another, for being rooted in close observation of the particular as well as in a quest for the essential. He saw the academic art’s disdain for the truth of the flesh as misguided, leading not to beauty but to cold sculptures, devoid of life. Besides, for Rodin showing beauty meant showing spirit, character.”

Henriette took a drink from her mug. “Yes, the marble version of The Kiss is certainly more than a knickknack. I wonder why he called it that. Did he see it as too decorative—not arresting enough?”

“I think it was his way of saying that his sculpture presented a kiss too superficially, yes. That it didn’t capture enough expressions of deep feelings, that it didn’t do enough to invite the imagination to explore narrative dimensions,” Alice said, basking in the gentle glow of autumnal morning light. “But I think quite the opposite is true. Sustaining this representation of a passionate embrace is the great arc of Rodin’s art, with the transformations his own passion and intellect operate in order to show inner truths: the truth of a kiss withheld for a long time, of passion marrying the tender feelings of love, and of an embrace that tells a story, not least because you can easily see it in motion.”

“In motion?” Henriette asked. “Various poses? Many sculptors did that.”

“Yes, they did,” her sister answered. “In Rodin on Art and Artists Rodin describes how he, too, conceived his figures by putting together fragments of various poses normally seen in sequence, and I think you see here how Paolo and Francesca turn to each other. You see the tightness of his leg muscles under the impact of intense, heart-stopping desire, when she first moves towards him, you see his hand resting gently on her thigh, his arm muscles firm so he doesn’t lay too much weight on her, and then you see him bending his neck to kiss her and abandoning himself to his emotions.”

Read this and more about Rodin’s Kiss and other works of modern and contemporary art in Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, this weekend only $0.99 and £0.99! Enjoy! 🙂