How I Became A Collector

The feelings for beauty and for art in general are multiple and diverse; they follow an ascending path, turning into a passion for the sensitive person, who loves it and who vibrates with emotion in front of any artistic manifestation situated on the realm of perfection. Where does this feeling come from?! One cannot specify. Is it heredity that blends with talent, is it the challenge of the object in view, or is it a reality that triggers an emotional reaction in the most secret corners of the human spirit?! What is certain is that not all individuals react in the same way in front of a work of art; some, for instance, although are seized by emotion, experience it only as long as they see the objects, others start contemplating, some others analyse it – but are not further seized by the image of beauty; once the object is gone, the image is lost in the translucent veil of memory! Not anyone can appreciate beauty, not because they don't have the necessary training to do it, but because biologically, they are not designed to be sensitive to the great phenomena evinced by nature and forced into existence by the inspiration of the men of genius!The creator of beauty, of art, has this great quality of communicating, of transmitting his thoughts… in the work, only to those who experience the feeling the artist himself experienced and who, after contemplating the work, place themselves into the artist's view. It was said that the collectors are first of all businessmen – it may well be so! They invest money which they turn to good account. Not of this odious species am I talking about here! I am talking about the artist collector: once he has seen a good work of art cannot stand still until he gets it. The collector knows more than the spectator who visited an exhibition – a little more than the art critic – because he is not satisfied with making a remark, but he wants to gather together the works of art, with selfish ardour, in order to ceaselessly enjoy the sensation they generated, which is like a fascination, like an obsession, like an almost material satisfaction, necessary to his way of living; then, in time, the collection starts to identify with the collector, it personifies, it enters his life, lives and breathes through the latter, penetrates his nature, they merge into one being, so that the collection becomes alive, perennial, actual and of interest to the public by the diversity of the artist authors collected and – moreover – a school of documentation for those inclined to study it. Having these thoughts, I started to make up a collection which should present Romanian authors of good quality, gathering progressively works by painters, from protagonists of the beginnings to nowadays…This entire devotion dates from my childhood, since I began to be seized by the emotion of colours. Everything that represented colour attracted me, impressed me, the object contemplated triggered this sensation up to fascination and enslavement. Living in a region where they did a lot of embroidery, with red cotton thread, where the birds and the flowers had an intense colour, where the earth was yellow and warm, where the sunrise and the sunset dipped their blood spears in the Danube water, where the field was speckled with flowers, especially wild poppies, where the girls wrapped me in their loomed scarves – all this contributed to pinning to my retina the image that I didn't get rid of even during the time I made up the collection!I don't know if I have truly succeeded in making up a picture gallery able to represent the endeavour of art creators, but I know I have managed to bring together a series of paintings that have remained in the country as national value, symbolising especially the spiritual-artistic value of a people with great artistic possibilities…  Confronting the Police  One day when I was not home, I was visited by a militia agent. The maid servant told me that he had inquired about me, looked at the paintings displayed on the walls, and exclaimed: "All these are the doctor's paintings?" Shortly after, I received a call by which I was invited to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The next day, at the established time, I went to room x, where a lieutenant was waiting for me; two other agents came in and looked at me, observed me, studied my gestures, exchanging enigmatic glances among themselves, while I was on tenterhooks (the citizens called to the militia panicked, because in the communist period, even in the 1960s when this incident happened, one got out very hard and after atrocious pain; the author wrote these notes for publication and that is why he was very careful with the way he was expressing himself, a.n.). What might they want from me? I wasn't aware of anything guilty on my part. Perhaps, some document concerning my profession. Half an hour later I was called in the comrade lieutenant's office. He invites me to sit down at the desk and then he begins:"Are you an obstetrician?""Yes.""Do you perform abortions (they were forbidden and later punished with incarceration, a.n.)?""When I have to.""How come?""When the woman cannot bear the pregnancy, I ask for approval and I interrupt the pregnancy.""Whatever! Let's say it is true. You have a vice, though.""A vice? I don't understand.""You have a vice and a very big and famous one. You like women, don't you?""Only as long as they like me back." "What about the card game?""I like it. I play a game with my friends in the evening, called pinnacle.""Do you like booze?""To an extent.""Still, doctor, you have a vice that you avoid. Think well at the vice you have and that you are practicing along with several doctors." "Lieutenant, you are suspecting me of something immoral; I told you I liked women but how did you come to the conclusion that I have a pathological vice for them?" "Your vice is not immoral and this very morning a painting was brought to your home, in order to be bought by you."Oh! I breathe as if rid of a heavy burden. "Yes, a painting was brought to me, Nude by Tonitza, the back of a woman, from Bratianu's heirs."The lieutenant went out and left me alone. I was overwhelmed with joy. Thank God it wasn't something else! Still, what has it to do with this investigation on paintings? I knew that several forgers were discovered and that a trial would begin; I might have bought a fake painting and I am asked to identify the person who sold it to me; meanwhile, the lieutenant comes back. "Yes doctor, I have inquired, and it is true what you say; but you have a vice that you don't want to specify and that does you credit."Hearing these words I recovered and plucking up courage I said:"Lieutenant, my vice for the painting collection is not a vice, it's a passion, don't be offended, I took your word tragically. I thought you were blaming me for belonging to a group of déclassé people.""No, doctor; let me put you up to date. A painting by Andreescu (The Reaping) was stolen from the Museum of Romania," and he shows me a photocopy of the painting."Of course, I know it. It was on the ground floor, in the third box, the wall on the left.""Exactly! We thought that you, being a collector, bought it.""How could I? I saw it on the wall, how could I buy it as a stolen object?""That is why we ask you, if you are presented with an offer for the painting, to stop the person and call this secret number so that we can come and arrest him; you will help us, won't you?""Of course, if it should happen."At a symphonic concert at the Athenaeum, I meet maestro Bunescu, the deputy manager of the museum. "Maestro, have they found the Andreescu?""No, they haven't.""Start an inquiry on the watchman, because he took it. Who could have taken a painting out of a museum?..." A few days later the painting was found. Luck strikes overnight! In Bucharest, there was an obstetrician who earned a lot of money; he became popular after having been introduced at the Palace as assistant, together with a PhD professor of the same specialty, for attending a royal offspring. Actually, he was a mediocre specialist, but he had a very beautiful wife, famous in town; slanderous tongues said that she was so beautiful and refined that the heir to the throne of Greece had developed a great passion for her!This felicitous couple was regarded by the aristocracy in Bucharest as a great art lover. Every Saturday, the two were seen at the roulette in Sinaia, where the doctor staked on huge amounts and often gained; one night I witnessed when he broke the bank and the Littmann brothers, the owners of the game, had to pay him, by exchanging the chips, a fabulous amount; all those present were dumbfounded at the doctor's luck and when the game began, a crowd of people rushed at the green table eager to win…In the next room they played baccarat. There, one could see only a beautiful lady, alone, with a long cigarette holder with a foreign cigarette in it. She sat straight, her shoulders slightly backwards, with an imperturbable facial expression, calm, cold, calculated; she concentrated on the game, handling the money with the tip of her long, thin fingers, with transparent nails, making untrammelled gestures and from now and then one could hear banco seule after which the croupier brought in front of her heaps of coins and banknotes. Rolling out towards the ceiling white-bluish smoke, without looking at the fortune in front of her, she continued the game indifferently, as if she were absent. She had, indeed, the temperament of an experienced gambler and she always left from the baccarat with fabulous sums. Thus, the happy couple, besides the income earned from practicing medicine, gained from this type of luck and as they had a beautiful house, it had to be adorned with art paintings. In my wanderings in search for paintings, with or without dealers, I came to visit the family in order to see the paintings as a mere amateur and I didn't regret, as they had few, but good ones, by top painters – Andreescu, Grigorescu, Luchian, Petrascu, Tonitza, Pallady. I was immediately struck by the painting Corner on Povernei Street (today at the ConstantaMuseum)."Doctor, I dare to tell you that I like this painting very much. Would you like to sell it?""How did such a thing cross your mind?!""I tried to have a painting by Luchian in my collection and I haven't succeeded yet; you have many paintings by Luchian and of higher quality, so you could do without it.""No way!"I left fascinated, obsessed by the painting but also disappointed that I couldn't purchase it. A few years passed and I learnt from the dealers that the owner of the painting was involved in a political trial and that he was in prison.Sorry as I felt for him, the collector passion got through; how cruel people are! I started to track the painting. Indeed, the beautiful lady, the doctor's wife, started to sell things from the house. A dealer who knew my wish, proposed her to sell the respective Luchian. Prompted by the dealer I paid her a visit and I reminded her that I liked the painting which the doctor didn't want to sell. She didn't remember, but anyway she wasn't willing to make a transaction. More time passed! The dealer was dangling about it, like a bloodhound around the game, until one day when he told me:"Doctor, do you have 5,000 lei?""No, I don't.""Too bad! You lose the Luchian…until tomorrow at 8 you must have them, because tomorrow is the appeal of the trial and she needs the money."Good Lord! Where should I get that much money? And in less than 12 hours; again I rushed to my colleagues who had lent me money before, but with the reproach: "When are you going to give up this folly?""I don't know, but give me the money." So, at 10 p.m. I had the sum. I called my dealer: "Here is the money; what do we do?""What do we do? We give her a call to say that we have the money and tomorrow morning we get the painting." All night long I tossed in my bed; although the lady had promised to wait for us, I was distrustful and brought the dealer to my place at the break of dawn. "What if somebody reaches ahead of us?!" So, together with the dealer, at 5 a.m., we were watching the door of the lady's apartment like two chapfallen dogs! We hadn't been waiting for long when the dairymaid came and looked at us as if we were two tramps or robbers."Look auntie, ring the bell and tell the lady that two persons are here for the painting.""God forbid! I must be crazy to wake the madam at such an early hour?! I'm leaving the milk at the door and go.""Wait, don't go…" and I start rummaging my pockets. The woman takes the money, examines us and then says:"Look, I ring the bell, but then you deal with the whole thing yourselves!""It's not the bell that we can't ring; if you don't want to talk to her, give me the money back." The woman quickly calculated: the one hundred lei banknote represented about 30 kilo of milk and a lot of coming and going, so the woman rang and the lady came out presently."What is it, Maria?!""Look, madam, there are some gentlemen here and they wish to speak to you!" Then, to us: "Well sirs, is this proper time for haggling?""We brought you the money," the dealer cut in and I held out the pile of banknotes. "Doctor, you are rather frivolous! Coming here at daybreak!" "I was afraid that somebody else might reach ahead of us.""You were right! The maestro Silvestri is also interested."I was dumbfounded and, hands shaking, I started counting the money, 5,000 lei, then relieved:"You see, madam, that's why we hurried. Maestro Silvestri is a redoubtable competitor.""Precisely. Here is the painting.""My respects madam, compliments to you madam," and so on."Doctor, you are a nice man, but do let me know when you will quit this folly of yours.""I won't quit madam, ever!" We started at a gallop down the stairs, jumped over two steps at a time, the dealer ahead, with the painting, I, behind him, hardly catching my breath. We arrived at a pub that was just opening the shutters. We sat at a table. The first wine glasses found their way down our throats, at one go, we lacked sleep and we were dehydrated with excitement; then, we set the painting on a chair, so that we could look at it from a distance."Beautiful!" I say."Beautiful," says the dealer."It's worth the money! I was so nervous! If we hadn't come so early, Silvestri would have snatched it." And we started laughing at how we got ahead of Silvestri – the scene with the dairymaid and the lady with sleep-swollen eyes, slightly smeared by mascara. "Great trick!" We laughed and laughed, we looked at the painting and laughed!The publican approaches curiously and asks us:"What's there to laugh in this painting? Just some poplars.""Yes, but you didn't see that at their root there are some flower pots.""So what?""So what?! It means that from those flower pots the poplars grew." Then the dealer:"Can't you see they are the solitary poplars by Eminescu?"The publican remained flabbergast for some time, then:"Stop making fun," and he made a sign suggesting that we were thick-skinned.We paid the bill in roars of laughter, while the publican added: "I have seen drunken people at daybreak before, but so cracked as the two of you, I have never seen!"Epilogue: a few days later, at the Ionica barber's, I meet maestro Silvestri."You tricked me, doctor! You took my painting!""I did not, maestro. I bought it with 5,000 lei.""Will you give it to me for 10,000 lei?"No!""For 12-15,000 lei!""No, maestro, because this painting of great value must be seen by all art-loving people!""What do you mean?""I am donating it to the state!" Which I did – now it is at the ConstantaArt Museum. Visiting the Dr. Dona Collection I was quite familiar with the Dona collection and even with doctor Dona, as I had been attended as a patient by him, in my childhood.I had visited several times the museum in General Dona Street, I had read Vlahuta, who tells about the great Grigorescu, behind whom, especially when he painted landscapes, there was doctor Dona. Here there is, I said, a man born and raised in an atmosphere propitious for assimilating the secrets of art, which allowed him to make up a very select and valuable collection. The room in the left, as you enter the museum, is entirely covered with paintings by Grigorescu.One day, visiting the museum, I renewed my acquaintance with Dr. Dona; he didn't suspect that I was a beginner in the collecting business myself. After having exchanged some etiquette and professional words, since we were both doctors (but Dr. Dona didn't work as a doctor anymore, except for his friends), I reminded him that in 1928 I had treated a 16-17 year-old patient with appendicle peritonitis, who came to Carmen-Sylva [resort] in full season, as she was dancing at Popovici restaurant. She was the daughter of a well-known oil magnate from Campina, and I thanked him for the substantial fee I received due to his intervention, as family friend. This memory together with that of the patient made me enlist his sympathy, which covered the purpose I had come for, that is, to buy one or two paintings.Buying a painting from a collector is a tough trial! This would mean cutting off one of his fingers, taking out one of his ribs, and so on. The collector, a true Harpagon, gathers, collects, doesn't eat, doesn't sleep; it's quite something if one can snatch a painting from him. I had heard that when Dr. Dona donated to the state his picture gallery, the nudes were not taken (under the pretence of a false decency imposed by the communists, a.n.). From a monograph, I knew that Dona had four or five nudes by Tonitza, of rare beauty. The next day I showed up at the Dona museum again, with the intention of seeing the nudes by Tonitza. Dr. Dona seemed to be waiting:"Ah, my colleague, you have come! Do you want to see the nudes? Fine." And he put his finger on the lips as if it was some kind of a secret. A few minutes later, he invited me in a neighbouring room, where the nudes were, on the floor, leaning against the wall. When I entered and saw the nudes, I was astounded! It was as if I had stepped into the Olympic sanctuary of the most beautiful goddesses of mythology. Noticing my perplexity, Dr. Dona kept looking at me."Doctor, give me a chair to watch them closer and at leisure." Dr. Dona got me a chair and, to my great surprise, he locked me in, in case I would vanish, through the back door, carrying a painting under my arm; since the state refused to inventory them, he wanted nobody to know where they were, or who knows what he was up to? Approximately an hour later, Dr. Dona unlocked the door and, laughing, he drew closer."Tell me, which did you like best?""I liked all of them and almost to the same extent.""All? One can tell you are an obstetrician. You are keen on making a harem, but I regret to tell you that I am not selling any painting.""I thought so, but if the state won't have them at the museum, why not giving one up to me?"Doctor Dona sat beside me to tell me a story. "A young man visited the museum and just like you asked me to yield up a painting to him; naturally, I turned him down. The young man insisted, saying that he was obsessed, that he suffered from insomnia, that he couldn't get on with his work and so on. At his insistence, I finally yielded up the painting to him. The man was happy, hugged me grateful, and some time after this, when I was visiting a friend, I found the painting on the wall.