Anastasie Simu

Simu Museum

A conservative MP in the 1888, 1891 and 1899 parliament sessions, Anastasie Simu finally became tired of the Machiavellian political life in Romania at the end of the 19th century; realising he had no prospects to achieve momentous social and cultural events to bear his name, he left the political arena with a view to dedicate his energy to the development of cultural and scientific societies, such as Romanian Geographic Society, Romanian Numismatic Society, Society for the Romanian People's Education, and so on. However, his vanity of being a centre of attention for the official scientific, cultural, and artistic circles was hardly matched by the role he played within those institutions, even if he had been granted honorary positions in their management. To forget about his discontentment and the difficulties that were nagging him, he set off on several voyages throughout Europe to enjoy its tourist pleasures. Those journeys made him believe he could satisfy his ambitious dream to shine against the not so brilliant cultural life in Romania with the magnificence of a Maecenas. A striving and at the same time fastidious nature (mark of the German culture and method he had acquired while attending the Theresianum Grammar School in Vienna), Anastasie Simu, seconded in his future plans by his understanding and devoted wife, decided to set up a museum of his own that was meant to become the pride of the country.The rationale was perfectly well founded: at the time, Bucharest only had one Pinacothèque, rather meagre in holdings and precariously housed in a narrow room in the otherwise splendid edifice of the Romanian Athenaeum. Its prospects? None. Its role and purpose? Overlooked by those who were supposed to manage it, the art gallery was in a terrible state of abandon and, if it had not ceased to exist yet, that was due to neglect.Whereas authorities were disinterested in fine arts, the artists themselves had become active; some of them, fully aware of their raison d'être, managed to found an organisation, Artistic Youth Society, and to stimulate the artistic movement. Anastasie Simu considered all these premises and decided to set up a museum, the fame of which would go beyond the borders of the country. In 1900, he started to achieve his audacious objective, the more so as another collector had made public his intention to create a museum, namely Iancu Kalinderu. The number of artworks Simu had acquired so far in his house was extremely small. 36 engravings by Israël (1590-1661) made after Callot's drawings, one aqua forte by Jean Duplessis, and six engravings by Pierre Picault after paintings by Le Brun; he had bought them from a Toulouse collection in 1878 when he made a short trip occasioned by his being awarded the PhD degree in Paris. One could add the few things he had purchased for their sentimental value while travelling for pleasure or on business (he had been appointed secretary to the Romanian Legation at Berlin) in Germany, to London (1886), Venice and Nuremberg (1890), Milan and Rotterdam (1892), Paris and Berlin (1895). That is why Anastasie Simu immediately launched himself into purchasing artworks on a large scale. In 1900, pieces were bought from wherever he travelled that year – Mount Athos, Venice, Milan, Florence, Paris, Nuremberg –, noteworthy being the two paintings belonging to the Italian school: Saint Catherine by Parmigianino (1503-1540) and Recumbent child by Padovanino (1590-1650). The eclectic character of his acquisitions, the lack of any echo of that enterprise in the press made Anastasie Simu skeptical about his being able to accomplish anything spectacular; as a result, in 1901 he suppressed his desire to expand his collection. His temperateness was but short and once determined to become a great collector, Simu designed his action plan: he would achieve a collection which was meant to be representative for European contemporary art, the French one in particular, to which major Romanian artworks were to be added, – everything in order to avoid any competition from the Pinacothèque or other Bucharest collections.In 1902, he was more than ever prepared to carry out his idea. Again, he made a long journey abroad, which became a yearly routine with him; he would travel, to Paris at least, and visit Official Salons where he acquired many works, yet without seeking expert advice. He bought at high prices, from artists, from personal or collective displays, from art galleries or auctions, whatever subject matter appealed to him, with special admiration for the art of those creators who held titles or official positions. We cannot mention anything remarkable, apart from the fact that he bought both paintings and sculptures, the latter being little favoured by the other collectors of the time. Actually, sculpture works prevailed during the purchase of the year 1904 when Simu planned to enrich his collection with plaster cast copies of ancient Greek and Italian Renaissance sculpture aimed to enhance its accessibility among the large public. At the same time, he was interested in acquiring Romanian artworks that he chose from the display of the prestigious Artistic Youth Society. Thus, whereas he added works signed by famous foreign artists to his collection – bronzes such as Child Pan Weeping by Claude Lorrain, The Genius of Progress by Jules Dalou, Hunting Diana by Alexandre Falguière, or a beautiful reproduction of Child with Dolphins by Andrea Verrocchio from the Fountain of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Anastasie Simu bought only a work by Constantin Artachino, Kimon Loghi, G. Mărculescu and Arthur Mendel each. After all that purchase, his collection started to be highly valued, given the fact that the works by well-known artists had been brought from abroad. Therefore, Simu started to buy massively: 34 works in 1905, out of which only 7 of Romanian art, and 83 works in 1906, 34 of Romanian art. Again, sculptures abounded in the lot of foreign art where one could admire two new acquisitions (Walking Lion and Walking Tiger) by Antoine-Louis Barye, other two by Claude Michel, called Clodion (Pan and Nymph and Sacrifice to Bacchus), and one by Auguste Rodin (Eternal Spring). This time, Romanian art was well represented by a fortunate large acquisition from the N. Predescu collection that was just being dispersed: three canvases (Hens and a Cock, Willow Trees, Clay Mug with Flowers) by Ion Andreescu, and seven paintings (Sunset at Barbizon, Mounted Officer, Amidst Trees, Head of Man, Calf Lying, Study of Oxen, Awaiting) by Nicolae Grigorescu, as well as two more from the personal display of the master at Câmpina in 1905. The end of the year 1906 brought further news about the future of the collection, which was generally disregarded by art lovers, used to all sorts of vain promises: Anastasie Simu advised them that he would build up a museum starting with the following year. The skeptics' doubts were severely shaken away when the foundations of the new museum were laid in May in 1907. However, pessimists still believed that the construction would be eventually abandoned, as it was customary then. They were at least entitled to think so when "due to some neighbourhood disputes, the Simu Museum could not get greater sizes, nor could it be better placed," for the collector failed to buy some more land from his neighbours, which would have allowed him to carry out his ideal project. As the building was being erected, Anastasie Simu got even more involved in increasing the number of exhibits for the future museum. For three years, he travelled to many countries and kept on buying with a view to display a panoramic view of European art in his museum: a brief but comprehensive inventory recorded 73 works in 1907, 101 in 1908, 71 in 1909, and 26 in 1910. On 21 May, 1910, the museum was inaugurated; designed like a Greek temple, it consisted of five bodies and housed 624 artworks. Simu's zeal for acquiring had greatly impressed the contemporary art lovers, collectors and artists since he was not after bargains. His collection continued to grow out of purchase made at the French Salon, at displays or auctions organised in different cities abroad. At home, he sometimes tried and managed to defend artists when the authorities had an ambiguous position towards them on various occasions. When Ştefan Luchian's painting On Maize Distribution was exhibited at the Artistic Youth Display in 1906, the authorities refused to buy it, while the official art critics left it out in their reviews. Yet, Anastasie Simu bought it on the spot. Three years later, in 1909, under similar circumstances, he would buy two more works, thus pinning the blame on official bureaucrats. Namely, he bought the model of the monumental The Union of the Principalities by Dimitrie Paciurea, achieved within the tenure contest for the position of a sculpture professor at the Fine Arts Academy – position which finally was not granted at all for "none of the works matches the stated criteria," according to the examiners. Anastasie Simu also purchased The Sleep by Constantin Brâncuşi for his museum at a time when the artist's works were criticised.On other occasions, Simu indulged in his artistic taste for academic art with educative content which remained constant from the very beginning – that is why such artworks could be found in the honour-display area in his museum. Laroche's Faust and Mephistopheles, for instance, was exhibited in a most favourable place for the donor considered it could stimulate the visitors to read Goethe. The same happened to the large painting The Year 1000 by Pierre Gourdault which was highly appreciated by the public, who used to stop and admire it at length. One weighty criterion Simu considered in buying works was the artists' credit and honours. When he showed the visitors round his museum, which he did tirelessly and with great enjoyment, he would emphasise the value of a certain painting by highlighting the artist's official titles. For instance, he would underline that the canvases Boy in the Sunlight and Canal in Venice were very beautiful as they were painted by the renowned artist Henri Martin, member of the Academy, Commander of the Légion d'Honneur, member of the jury, prize winner of "Hors Concours" Gold Medal, the master who had made paintings for Paris City Hall, the University of Toulouse, the State Council, and so on and so forth.After the museum was established, he let himself convinced to buy artworks against his own taste when counselled to fill in some gaps in his collection. Upon the advice given by his wife's nephew, painter Eustaţiu Stoenescu, Simu purchased a few works signed by celebrated artists, including Eugène Delacroix, Diaz de la Peña, Jean François Millet, Camille Pissarro, Jean François Raffaëlli, Auguste Renoir, Théodore Rousseau, Paul Signac, which would become the jewels of his collection. He also followed the advice to commission Emile Antoine Bourdelle to portray Mrs. Simu and he further bought his sculpture Eve (The Fruit). After 1920, his counsellor was Marius Bunescu, a volunteer curator, but the law of property expropriation diminished Simu's income, and subsequently he was compelled to limit the number of acquisitions and buy graphic works in the first place; they would be displayed later, after the donor's death, in the Simu House-Museum. In those years, he had his portrait made by Bourdelle.Along his whole life, Simu persisted to publicise his museum by any means and manoeuvres. He wanted each of his new or potential acquisition to be advertised in newspapers, as well as the visits paid to his museum by various celebrities en passant through Bucharest. In order to persuade them to sightsee it, he used to send them invitations at their hotel, accompanied by the catalogue of the museum designed by art critic Theodor Cornel, who was his main adviser as regarded both the display and advertising. Moreover, he finally managed to negotiate with the authorities that Mercur Street where the entrance to the museum was located should bear its name. Zambaccian said once that Anastasie Simu "would sometimes stop in front of the edifice and ask candidly the passers-by, children in the first place, « What building is this? », and he was satisfied when they answered « The Simu Museum. » " Sometimes, he purposely got on the tram that had a stop called Marghiloman outside the museum and, adopting its name to the institution, he asked for « one ticket to Simu. »" The propaganda arsenal did not stop there, however. The founder of the museum would also carry out surveys that were corroborated with the interest shown by the public in other museums, the Kalinderu above all. He often sent his servant man to find out how many people entered the museum set up by Kalinderu, being not aware that, in turn, the other collector also sent his trusted man to observe the same thing.More often that not, due to that advertising enthusiasm, Simu was harshly criticised for the quality of his museum, especially after 1920 when the young generation of artists could not find themselves on its panels. At the time, Simu was no longer willing to refresh its collection, considering the display as representative, according to his own words: "The SimuMuseum was meant to represent the art that was being produced in my days and in the way we understand it." The art critics agreed to that, as they also agreed to his lack of artistic taste.Zambaccian, who spread many malevolent anecdotes about Simu, told one story that was suggestive in this respect. "One day, Simu greeted me when I was just leaving from the framer's shop with a small landscape by Aman under my arm. He put on his monocle, then took the painting in his hands and asked me:'Do you think this is a genuine Aman?''Yes, I do.''I can't believe it!''Why not, Mr. Simu?''Well, it certainly doesn't look like mine!' With Anastase Simu, such surprises were not unusual: he was overconfident and loathed competition." The culmination of the collector's ambition was on 17 November 1927 when he donated his museum to the Romanian nation, with all its artistic patrimony, during a ceremony attended by the whole Government. In 1935, after his death, the State was made his legatee for his entire fortune in order to keep up the museum maintenance. His will also provided that his dwelling become a museum; his wish was fulfilled in 1937 when the A. Simu House-Museum was inaugurated, with a display of graphic arts.His deed was extraordinary, for he presented a whole museum to his country without any benefits from the Government – on the contrary, he also provided the authorities with the endowment funds required both for the maintenance of the building, and for further acquisitions. Nonetheless, his good example was not followed by other collectors, even if there were many who had comparable, if not much larger possessions. The Anastasie Simu Museum was the only institution of its kind that played a very important artistic and cultural part between the two world wars, if we take into account that as concerned Romanian art at the beginning of the 20th century, the State Pinacothèque and the Kalinderu Museum had parted with their most representative Romanian paintings by sending their collections to Tsarist Russia (1916), from where they were only returned in 1956.

by Plural magazine