Georges De Bellio, Friend Of The Impressionists

In 1878, Theodore Duret quoted the names of several amateurs (rather few, actually) in order to prove a fact that might have seemed a paradox at the time, namely that people with a certain reputation appreciated artists like Claude Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley and Berthe Morisot. They were amateurs that "had proven once their good taste by reuniting Delacroix, Corot, Courbet," that is to say, the works of the painters that Paul Durand-Ruel had been recommending to his clients for a long time. Thus, their artistic background was similar to that of the artists they admired, who had assimilated romanticism and realism. The history of Impressionism is strongly related to the activity of these people of good taste. Never had an artistic movement had to face such hostility and incomprehensibility. The 1874 and 1876 exhibitions had led to a terrible scandal. The press, the public, as well as the great majority of the amateurs considered them maniacs or impostors. The merit of those who, in spite of such negative current of thought, did buy their works is the greater. Their names, righteously transmitted to posterity, are forever bound to the glory of the masterpieces that spread all over the world, after having belonged to them. The amateurs quoted by Duret are Auriac, Baudry, Georges de Bellio, the editor George Charpentier, Victor Chocquet, Deudon, the businessman Jean Dollfus, the singer Faure, the baker Murer and De Rasty. Duret could have added his own name on the list as well as that of .Hoschede, who, even before 1894, owned paintings by Pissarro, Monet, Sisley and Degas, that of count Armand Doria and of the naval engineer, Gustave Caillebotte (himself a painter), who, since 1876, had been exhibiting his works together with those of the Impressionist group. They belonged to different walks of life but shared the same taste for the new style of painting. The name of Georges de Bellio has been often quoted among these first amateurs of Impressionism. He was known to be Romanian and to own a beautiful collection. The very important role that he played in the artistic life of his times would have undoubtedly deserved a more detailed analysis. He came from a world that was very different from that of 1890 Paris whose spirit he had identified himself with until "he became the most Parisian of the Parisians." Born in 1828, the future collector descended from a rich family of boyars originating from Macedonia. One of his ancestors, Steven, had settled himself in Bucharest at the end of the 18th century, following the invitation of an uncle, the abbot of Colţea convent. Steven got rich very rapidly and became great treasurer of Wallachia. His son Alexander married the daughter of Barbu Văcărescu who, in 1822, had even aspired to the throne. George de Bellio was Alexander's youngest son. He had three brothers, Steven, Barbu and Constantin. The elder brothers remained in the country, taking care of their assets and entering politics. The latter was a minister under the reign of Alexander Cuza and, towards the end of his life, he had a beautiful house built in the countryside; its architecture, inspired from ancient Romanian art, testifies to his refined taste.Georges de Bellio spent his early childhood in the paternal house in Bucharest. There were imposing family portraits on the walls, painted by artists such as the Serbian Pavel Giurcovits, who worked in Bucharest around 1824. There was also the effigy of an old hospodar, called Jean Caragea, who had been the family's protector. There was also another work, that of a modest artist, representing Alexander Bellio, his wife Irina, and their four children. The taste for art was not at all unknown in Bucharest. Among the great boyars there was one named Philippe Linche who owned a rich collection of paintings and miniatures, whose remains were preserved up to these days. Archaeological research or sheer hazard revealed some ancient sculptures and coins. The discovery of the famous treasure of Petrossa represented a very important event. The marvellous items of barbarian craftsmanship were deposed in the museum that had just been opened near the college of Saint Sava, which George de Bellio is likely to have attended. As for the frescos of the ancient churches, no one was thinking about them yet. Modern art was represented by family portraits and by the historical canvases of Lecca and Wallenstein. Charles Popp de Szathmary, romantic aquarellist fond of travelling and socialising began his carrier in Bucharest in 1834. During the very same period French drawers presented us with valuable images of that changing world. Charles Doussault, who worked in Bucharest between 1834-1844, at the court of prince George Bibescu, was one of those who socialized with the Bellios. A drawing in lead mine, signed by him and made in Bucharest, shows George and Constantin Bellio. George stands, leaning against the back of the chair on which his brother is seated. One can recognise his dreamy, innocent look on the face that was still that of a child at the time. His meeting Doussault left George de Bellio not only his childhood portrait; the French artist may be said to have been also his drawing master. A drawing that is signed "George de Bellio" dating from 1844 still exists; it represents Romanian soldiers and it is but a copy of one of Doussault's aquarelles. It is then that de Bellio acquired a liking for drawing which he had been probably practicing for his medical studies. Since their early years George and his brother Constantin had been good friends. After 1851 they entrusted their elder brother Barbu with the administration of their wealth and they moved to Paris. In 1863 they lived together on Grange Batalliere. It is here that Victorine, the daughter of George de Bellio and Catherine Rose Guillemet were born. Then it seems that the relationship between the two brothers grew cold. Constantin committed suicide in a hotel room, weary of a life that he considered monotonous and useless. As for George, he had his research and his passion for art. Very little is known about his youth spent in Paris under the Second Empire. As he was interested in homeopathy he practiced it occasionally, for his own entertainment or for his friends' benefit. He also dedicated himself to research on various topics that left some traces in his manuscripts. One of these, found accidentally, represents a study on the effect of hashish. He was also interested in various domains related to his amateur preoccupations, such as bookbinding, stamp preservation, photography.The origins of his collection remain unknown. What we know for sure is that in 1864 he participated in the sale of Delacroix' atelier and he bought a copy after Rubens and an Etude de Chevaux (Horse Study). He often visited the antiquaries and he attended the auctions held at Hotel Drouot. Thus in 1871 he bought a bust of a young girl by Lucca della Robbia. From 8 to 16 December 1871 he assisted at the sales at Bouvier in Amiens in order to acquire a 17th-century Italian grey-scale painting, then a round tray "with mythological themes interwoven with caryatids and grotesque masks"(25th of February 1875), followed by "a Louis XIII silver box (25th of February) and an "ancient wooden Japanese mask" (14th of February 1879). In order to have a Dutch chandelier that was not sold at an auction, he proposed to the expert Rif to buy the object from him "asking the latter to add to it a round Persian cup with golden copper handles." (25 January 1875). We have but very little information about the first paintings that he bought. Before he met the Impressionists on the 14th of March 1874, de Bellio paid 299 francs for a small painting by Theodore Ribot.If at the Impressionists' exhibitions in 1876 the only amateurs who lent paintings by Claude Monet were Chocquet and especially Faure, at the one of 1877 they were more numerous. Out of 29 paintings exhibited by Monet, 10 belonged to "M.H," initials that covered the name of Hoschede in whose dwelling in Montegeron the artist had spent a part of summer the previous year. Gustave Caillebotte, Edouard Manet and Theodore Duret lent Monet's paintings as well. It is at this event that George de Bellio, who was to become their most reliable support, made his appearance. In the exhibition catalogue there are mentioned three paintings by Monet belonging to this new friend of the Impressionists: Les Tuileries (TuileriesGardens), Le Parc Monceau (MonceauPark) and Le Pont de Rome, gare Saint-Lazare. (RomeBridge, Saint-Lazare Railway Station). George de Bellio hadn't known the Impressionists for long. A self-portrait by Renoir, painted towards 1875, had been bought by the Romanian collector with the help of Chocquet. It is said that the latter had found it in the artist's atelier and had negotiated it for his friend, offering 1000 francs, which was much money at the time. It is possible that George Bibescu, who was related to G. de Bellio and a friend of Frederic Bazille, should have brought his contribution to the building of the relationship between de Bellio and the Impressionists. Renoir had painted in 1868 the ceiling of Bibescu Hotel in Paris. George Bibescu, who also owed paintings by Renoir, helped the artist during the events of 1870. It is he who took the artist to Grenouillere for the first time, a place that was to become famous due to Renoir and Monet's canvases. De Bellio bought from Berthe Morisot three of the paintings that the latter had exhibited in 1976: Au Bal (At the Ball), Dejeuner sur l'herbe (Breakfast on the Grass), Une Perche de blanchisseusses (Laundresses' Pole) , which seemed to prove that he was going to see the second Impressionist exhibition.. Without caring at all about the attacks that the press had launched against "the four or five alienated people among which a woman" (in the words of Albert Wolff), a fourth painting joined those that de Bellio had recently bought, that is Paris vu des hauteurs du Trocadero (Paris seen from Trocadero Height). The Romanian buff is believed to have met his future friends in 1876. Monet wrote himself to Bellio, the 15th of January 1878: "You have already done so much to help me out of the crisis which I have been going through myself for two years…"Before going to Montgeron, to the Hoschades, Claude Monet had received the visit of George de Bellio at Argenteuil; the latter had been brought by a certain Collot, a friend of the artist. On the 4th of February 1876 Monet had invited Chocquet to have lunch with him and Cézanne, to the probable purpose of showing him his paintings. The 7th of July, the painter made an invitation to de Bellio; the letter he wrote to this end shows that their relationship was at its very beginning: "Dear Sir, I would be very happy to show you my latest canvases (Paris views). It would be very nice of you if you could spare a few hours and pay me a visit. Why don't you make the arrangement with our mutual friend Collot and let me know the date of your arrival." After 3 weeks, on the 20th of June, de Bellio was again called by the artist: "I have been working hard since your last visit. I have now a whole series of new canvases, which I believe to be quite interesting. You could choose one painting first and then, if you let yourself seduced by some others, it would be an appropriate moment to do it because I am again prevented from working by a terrible lack of money." He was probably referring to Pont d'Argenteuil (ArgenteuilBridge) that belonged to Bellio's collection. The visitor had bought a painting without taking it, but soon he was to choose Les Tuileries and Le parc Monceau, exhibited in 1877.During the winter of 1876-1877, Monet spent several months in Paris, painting his first series, that of Gare Saint-Lazare, whose 7 versions were presented during the third Impressionist exhibition. Before the opening, de Bellio had bought one of these versions, Le Pont de l'Europe (The Bridge of Europe) The 1877 exhibition, although less frowned upon, brought very little profit. Foreseeing this result, Monet refrained himself from participating in the auctions that his friends organized after the closing of the exhibition. His financial situation was very precarious and it forced him to resort to de Bellio's help, as his Argenteuil creditors harassed him ceaselessly. The painters were travelling with their canvases under their arms but the amateurs showed indifference to their visits. Clemenceau recounts that while presenting a marine painting to the singer Faure, Monet was turned down by the latter who invited him to bring him "genuine paintings" next time. Advised by knowledgeable people like Duret and Durand-Ruel, Faure was however one of the fervent buyers of new painting. In such difficult moments the only help that artists could get was from several amateurs, de Bellio, Chocquet, Murer. "But these amateurs were so few that it was always the same people that we resorted to for money," Renoir recalled later. "Every time one of us needed 200 francs, he ran to Café Riche, at lunch time. He was certain to find there Mr. de Bellio, who bought whatever painting was brought to him, without even looking at it." Monet managed to leave Argenteuil due to Bellio's help; the latter had bought from him paintings worth 1000 francs. On the 15th of January 1878 the painter asked de Bellio to lend him the rest of the sum he needed in order to check out. The fourth Impressionist exhibition took place on the 10th of April 1879. 6 out of the 29 paintings created by Monet were lent by Georges de Bellio: La Rue Montergueil, fete de juin, (Montergueil Street, June celebration), Effet de brouillard (Fog effect), Impression, Parc Monceau, Coucher de soleil, (Sunset), Paysage d'hiver (Winter Landscape) and Petit bras a Vetheuil (SmallRiver Arm at Vetheuil). These were among the last paintings that Bellio bought from Monet. The collector would not approve of the post-impressionist experiences made by Monet and Pissarro. Many of Monet's works that he owned had been painted before 1880, like most of his other Impressionist canvases. He was one of the first people to take interest in the art of Berthe Morisot, from which he bought some paintings in 1886. Three of the works from the 1877 exhibition belonged to him: Scieur de long (Sawyer), Rue de village (Village Lane), Les Gressets, villages aux environs de Paris (Les Gressets, Villages Neighbouring Paris). He had undoubtedly started collecting landscapes by Pissarro by the time. Having collected paintings for so many years, before his becoming acquainted to the Impressionists, helped de Bellio to find his true vocation, namely that of an amateur of new painting. One must also take into consideration certain circumstances of his life. As he lived in the great city of Paris since he was very young, his encounter with the Impressionists revealed to him an art dedicated mostly to the poetry of the urban landscape, that Baudelaire and the Goncourts had discovered before him. Among the first paintings that he bought were several Parisian landscapes by Berthe Morisot, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir. De Bellio was charmed not only by the urban themes chosen by these artists but also by the lively, spontaneous spirit of their art, representing the fruit of bold experiences and of a strict observance of the coordinates of the sensation. It is his scientific curiosity that pushed him to be among the first people who accepted the results of these artistic researches, rejected at the time. This did not prevent him from protesting when Pissarro and Monet sacrificed the inspired liberty of their vision to the constraints of the system. Just as his collection shows, Georges de Bellio remained faithful to his first love, the Impressionist movement.
Translated from the French by Fabiola POPA

by Remus Niculescu