Artists are wanderers par excellence. This is the case not only for the itinerant artists of the Middle Ages, those architects, stone-carvers, painters and stained-glass artists that moved their workshops all around Europe, building and embellishing cathedrals here and there. Like some artistic missionaries, they carried and disseminated a kind of neutral if not abstract visual expertise from one place to another, stylistically unifying disparate landscapes, rarely open to influences emerging in situ. Much later, romanticists revived the travel as a crucial initiating experience, be it mystical, such as in the case of the German romanticists Caspar David Friedrich and Philip Otto Runge, cosmic, like in the case of Turner, or imaginative and exotic-vitalist like in the case of Delacroix. They too imposed their inner, spiritual patterns onto the places seen and depicted, either revealing their profound mystery, their exhilarating magnificence, or their enchanting appeal, but always enveloping them in the scintillating mist of an imported symbolism.Realists such as Courbet, followed by the plein-airists of the BarbizonSchool attempted, for the first time, to get rid of the inner prejudices associated with the initiating experience of those artists wandering around in the world in order to experience the same, inner truth that transcended the landscape proper. They aimed at the truth of the places, of the landscapes, at the purely visual genius loci. Perhaps this was also purely an ideal stance, provided with its own, naturalist, objectivist, even somehow scientist symbolism and prejudices. Nonetheless they appear to be the first artists who were not only cruising through the world with the task of finding in it something more than itself, a sense transcending the visual experience of the simple traveler. Instead, they inaugurated the emergence of that kind of artistic mood that nowadays each amateur photographer appears to share, that is the feeling of catching the being-there, being in a certain place at a certain time, simply commemorating the impression of a fleeting experience. Something like a self-edited and self-addressed, limited-series postcard. Free from symbolism and neutralism, the landscape as the remembrance of the ephemeral marks one of the points specific to a modernist experience.To this later, rather modernist experience of the landscape had inclined much of the Romanian artists travelling, from the end of the 19th century until mid 20th century, in a fairly open European landscape. Significantly, there are very few works representing spots in other areas than Europe in the totality of the Romanian landscape genre. This means that, starting with the first Barbizonist, great Romanian painters of the 19th century, such as Grigorescu and Andreescu, until the mid-20th century landscapists such as Lucian Grigorescu, the chosen spots were already "cultured" areas. They painted forests, but there were the consecrated ones of Barbizon. They also painted the sea and the shores, but these were also the consecrated ones of Brittany and Normandy. It is certainly a first-hand, authentic experience. Yet it is also a private experience turned into a cultural topic, as if a studio study of a standard skull or a still life. This school-like, though free experience of the immediate relationship with the landscape has two main consequences. One is the restrained area of interest of the travelling Romanian artists, which is reduced almost exclusively to France and partly Italy. Romanian artists were at home in France like any other French artist. They were not enthusiastic only for the attractive, tourism-bound spots like Notre-Dame de Paris, captivating the eye of the foreigner, but especially for those intimate, not so blatant landscapes opened to the insider's eye, like the courtyards in a small village in Ile-de-France, or the cold and clear atmosphere of Brittany's coast. On the contrary, the same perspective made Romanian artists behave mainly like tourists in other areas. Such is the case of Iser, who depicted in Istanbul the picturesque bazaar, but especially the case of numberless painters who singled out Venice from the whole Italy, tirelessly portraying San Marco and its surroundings as if that was the New Barbizon in postcard edition. The second consequence of the French-school model of modern landscape is the rise of an autochthonous Barbizon in the twenties, a place considered as exceptionally suited for studying nature, light, and colour. That place was Balcic, a beautiful tourist resort in the southern Romanian province of Cadrilater, which was later annexed by Bulgaria, at the beginning of World War Two. Balcic was not only the place where the royal family of Romania built a fanciful, private villa, but also the location frequented by many well-to-do personages of the time. From this point of view, it was not at all a true, secluded Barbizon or pristine Brittany. Highly socialized, Balcic nevertheless corresponded to the profile of many Romanian painters of the time, who were also very mondain figures. Thus, the landscape, which was their favourite subject-matter at Balcic, was also self-referential, as it was backed by an invisible, but perceivable and lived social landscape that supported, like a pervasive common sense or a transparent background, the natural, depicted landscape. One may say that the landscapists at Balcic were not particularly studying the effects of external light, although that sunny place was favourable to that, but rather the coloured fervor of an inner light. Balcic epitomized a unique moment of Romanian art, a moment of plenary achievements, of confidence and self-assurance, a bountiful time of "luxe, calme et volupté".

by Erwin Kessler