Barbu Slătineanu, A Lover Of Beauty And A Victim Of Bolshevism

Member of the Academy

Barbu Slătineanu was one of those people that draw your attention at first sight. The first time I met him was by chance: I was a doctor and I went to see his brother-in-law, Playno, who lived in the same house on Obedenaru street. Ever since, I considered him a special person. As a child, I had known his father-in-law, the great diplomat Alexandru Lahovari, and especially his mother-in-law, Ana, née Kretzulescu, who lived to be almost a hundred and who could remember everything, events from the second half of the 19th century as well as from the First World War, which she recalled with talent and humour. It is through them I had heard about Barbu and his qualities. I came to know Barbu Slătineanu better in 1950, when I started attending his famous literary circle, where I met remarkable personalities of Romanian culture, such as Şerban Cioculescu – whom I had known since 1942-1944, when I would meet him at Nestor's coffee shop, Vladimir Streinu – whom I had had as a teacher in Piteşti under the name of Iordache, Alice Voinescu – whose nephew is a neurologist, just like me, the painter Wanda Sachelarie, who had begun to make a name for herself in the Romanian visual arts, Dinu Pillat or Mircea Niculescu, former high official in the Ministry of Finance, currently earning his living by making anatomic moulds for the Medical School and playing the violin in, I think, the Radio Orchestra. Barbu's wife, Alexandra – though everybody called her Picci –, a very talented sculptor, would also attend these meetings. Very often, his daughter Sandra (who was later to marry J. Sturdza) was there too, and every now and then, his son Stroe, whose past had been tormented by the political police. Among them, as a sort of secretary full of humour, would float Marta Greceanu. At these meetings, the participants would read from their creations, but mostly start heated discussions, which, given the intelligence and culture of the people involved, reminded one of what the Renaissance academies must have been like and contrasted dramatically with the oppressive, boorish atmosphere that characterised the Bucharest of the first communist decade. Barbu had inherited from his father, Prof Alexandru Slătineanu, whom friends called the 'Turk,' the intelligence and meticulousness, but mostly the taste for beauty that characterised his whole life. He had also inherited a remarkable art collection which, under the pressure of the authorities, he had partially donated to the state, and with which he had started the 'Slătineanu collection' that remained in Barbu's houses and in his custody, a collection that continued to exist for a long time, until Tamara Dobrin, Ceausescu's Minister of Culture, had the stupid idea of banning all private collections and of gathering them in a museum devoid of any personality. I can remember even now how proudly he would present his collection, describing each object lovingly, showing the inherited items, but also those he had acquired himself, and taking out for friends the valuable pieces that he had not donated. Particularly interested in ceramics, he had gathered throughout the years a significant number of bowls and other pottery, which he did not only collect, but studied as well. He became one of the great experts in the field, publishing papers that have remained reference works. Barbu Slătineanu was not only a lover of art, a specialist in ceramics, but a gifted writer as well, as you can see in this book. He was a charming story-teller, full of humour. He had funny ideas. I remember I once paid him a surprise visit and I found him writing busily at a desk full of photographs, while his wife and mother-in-law were reading in the same room, but gagged with a scarf so that they could not bother him with their talk. Life was in general incredibly picturesque on Obedenaru Street, and the environment was characterised by an original bohemian atmosphere, full of unusual magic, enhanced by the museum-like ambiance. He had been a good sportsman and he liked to talk about his sporting exploits. I remember how he described his participation in a bicycle tour of Romania. In the '50s, he was clearly suffering because of the fact that, for reasons he never mentioned to us, he did not go out anymore. I have the impression he had imposed a kind of forced domicile on himself starting with 1947, when he had been investigated by the secret services and had had an infarction. In spite of his optimism, he was, after all, a sick man, suffering, among other things, from diabetes. It was only in the late '50s that he started going out again. I remember meeting him once on Calea Victoriei and taking him home on my motorbike. He was a hedonist. He liked to eat well, although his illness imposed a lot of limitations. The snacks and dinners he served at his place were simple, but of high quality. On such occasions, he enjoyed making all sorts of gastronomic comments and observations, claiming that this too was part of the human aesthetic preoccupations. Although we had got used to what was going on, the news of his brief arrest in 1958, together with other members of the literary circle, was shocking. I never saw him again, because he refused any visit, trying to protect those who might have wanted to see him. A year later, the political police was on him again. This time however he never came out; he died during the investigation. There were rumours that he let himself die to avoid a prison sentence that would have been a disaster for his family. Fate wanted it that this man, who had never harmed anyone, who was a lover of art and a creator in the field of culture, should end his life, like so many others belonging to the Romanian elite, crushed by the despicable communist tyranny.

by Constantin Bălăceanu-Stolnici