My introduction to Romanian painter Theodor Aman was at the National Museum of Art, the former royal palace. I was captivated by his extraordinarily beautiful paintings! This week, I visited Theodor Aman Museum and learned more about him as a painter, engraver, and revolutionary. His works reflect different stages in his career. Each painting has a deep and unique meaning. Aman experienced periods of war and revolution while painting graphic battlefield scenes, delicate still life, small portraits, and rich landscapes.
Housed in his former home-workshop, the museum is “one of Bucharest’s most beautiful private residences”. It’s located near the Romanian Athenaeum, but when it was built in 1868, there was little construction in the area.
Dedicated to Aman’s life and works, the museum opened in 1908. Paintings include his wife, three brothers, mother, and father. The building exterior is “adorned with bas-reliefs evoking the classical mythology and effigies of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo”. The interior “mural paintings, stained glass, ceiling stucco, wood carpentry and paneling, and hand-carved furniture reflect Aman’s vision”.
Murals painted on the lobby walls depict historic Romanian battle scenes. Works displayed include Aman’s original drawings and engraving. Exhibits include Theodor Aman – Painter and Engraver, inaugurated in 2011 at Controceni National Museum. The exhibit Mysteries of Theodor Aman’s Painting was inaugurated in 2014.
A docent provided information about paintings on display and explained the unique discovery of negatives associated with Aman’s copperplate engravings. In 1875, he became a member of the Paris Copperplate Engravers Society.
Romanian painter, engraver, and art professor Theodor Aman (1831-1891) created “genre and history scenes”. His father was a cavalry commander from Craiova, but Theodor was born in Câmpulung, where his family fled to escape bubonic plague. The epidemic was named Caragea’s Plague, after Bucharest Governor Ioan Vodă Caragea, who quarantined the city during the outbreak.
Arman displayed an “early affinity for art,” and studied at Carol I National College in Craiova and St. Sava College Bucharest. He led a full and privileged life, and this post only covers a few cursory points in his career.
Romanian Revolution 1848
Aman participated in the Romanian Revolution of 1848 along with Ioan Maiorescu, Eugeniu Carada, and other revolutionaries. Romanians revolted for greater social rights, economic independence, abolition of feudalism, establishment of an autonomous state, and union of the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia.
“During the Romanian Revolution of 1848, the lands inhabited by Romanians fell into the spheres of influence of three Powers. Turkey dominated Moldavia and Wallachia. Transylvania was part of the Habsburg Empire and the object of Hungarian territorial claims. The Bessarabian District north of the Pruth River – present-day Moldova – was claimed by Russia.” Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History
“In April 1848, a thousand Romanian revolutionaries assembled in the Moldavian capital, lași. Among them was Alexander Cuza, who later became the ruler of united Principalities Moldavia and Wallachia. Cuza was typical of young 1848 revolutionaries, 28 years old, from an affluent boyar family, and educated in Paris.”
“The crowd petitioned Prince Gheorghe Bibescu for more civil liberties, a wider commercial franchise, and administrative reforms. These demands might have been accepted, but the revolutionaries also required a new national assembly to replace the boyar council of state and creation of a citizen guard.
“Boyars were members of the highest rank of feudal Bulgarian, Russian, Wallachian, Moldavian, and later Romanian, Lithuanian, and Baltic German nobility. From the 10th to the 17th century, they were second only to the ruling princes.”
These two measures implied a substantial shift of power that Bibescu couldn’t accept. His militia arrested 300 revolutionaries. Insurgent leaders who escaped imprisonment fled the country.” Bibescu ruled for six years only (1842-1848). After the initial outbreak of the revolution, “he preferred to abdicate, rather than repress it”.
In 1850, Aman went to Paris, and “became part of influential Romanian revolutionary circles”. He had his first Paris art display at Salon Carré in the Louvre, the official exhibition site of the French Academy of Fine Arts. In 1853, Aman “became friends with other like-minded artists and Romanian revolutionaries living in Paris,” including historian Nicolae Bălcescu and poets and writers like Dimitrie Bolintineanu and Cezar Bolliac.
“The years of study Aman spent among Romanian revolutionaries in Paris had a decisive influence on the young painter. He developed a patriotic consciousness that instilled in him the conviction that art should serve the people, educate them, glorify their heroism, and express their ideals.”
Istanbul and Crimea
Aman traveled to Istanbul where he sold paintings to Turkish Sultan Abdülhamid II. He visited the Black Sea Port of Sevastopol during the Crimean War and created paintings with themes related to Romania’s nationalist aspirations. In 1855, he presented one of his best-known works, depicting the Battle of Alma, at the French Universal Exposition.
Bucharest National University of Arts
Aman returned to Romania in 1857, where he started the foundation of his school, the Bucharest National University of Arts. He was knighted by Prince Barbu Dimitrie Știrbei and presented with a scholarship to continue his studies in Paris at the Barbizon School of French Painters of Nature. After Paris, Aman traveled to Rome before returning to Bucharest.
In 1859, Aman continued his work to establish a Romanian School of Fine Arts focusing on the discovery and training of “young talents from the ranks of the people”. His efforts were supported by fellow painters, like Gheorghe Panaiteanu-Bardasare and Gheorghe Tattarescu.
With Romanian education reform in 1864, Aman and Tattarescu convinced Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, to establish the Bucharest National University of Arts. Aman was appointed its first Director, and he held that position until his death. He displayed his work at the Museum, focusing on still life and portraiture exhibits.
King Carol I 1866-1914
After a dramatic palace coup d’état in 1866, Alexandru Ioan Cuza was overthrown, and King Carol I became ruler of Romania. For Aman, Carol’s reign “meant a period of intense moral turmoil and bitter endeavor, marked by moments of revolt and disgust”.
“Aman’s Fine Arts Schools in Bucharest and Iași were closed by Carol’s reactionary government, under the pretext of budget savings. Aman didn’t give up. He maintained the schools at his own expense, contributed to scholarships, and convinced teachers to temporarily forgo their salary.” Aman and his colleagues eventually forced the government to reopen the schools. In 1867, they regained legal status.
Exhibition of Living Artists
In 1870, the Exhibition of Living Artists was inaugurated at the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest. It was the beginning of a “long line of artistic events that took place during the last four decades of the nineteenth century”.
Beginning in 1870, Aman’s paintings “appear brighter, airier, and freer in expression”. Nature, outdoor scenes, and landscapes “gained more importance in his creative conception”. There are also notable changes in Aman’s historical compositions, with the elimination of theatrical detail accents and a movement toward “expressions closer to the simple truth”.
In 1872, Aman began to engrave. He brought a press and material from Paris and “devoted himself with much perseverance to engraving in hard water”. His work was “distinguished by a careful and fine execution”. Engraving tools on display at the museum are fascinating, including tiny chisels and engraving instruments used to etch fine lines.
Theodor Aman died on 19 August 1891 due to a prostate infection. He was an “exceptional painter, completing over 3,000 works.” In 1991, he was appointed a post-mortem member of the Romanian Academy, a cultural forum founded in 1866, covering scientific, artistic, and literary domains. Aman is undoubtedly one of Romania’s most important 19th-century artists.