"Just think that I paid it once, and it pays me off a lifetime instead."* Zambaccian on a canvas by Pallady Having great collectors represents as big a chance for a culture as having great artists. Flourishing arts are hardly imaginable when wealthy art-lovers are missing, not only because they pay for art but especially because it is basically their taste and choice that gradually constitute a selective grid, the criterion of evaluation and ranking for the artists of a certain time. Collectors shape the canon. They also interfere in the very production of the works of art, through commissions and public display. Frequently, our own grasp of a certain artistic age is actually a reflection through the centuries of the discerning taste of a certain individual collector who caught the spirit of that time. We find it normal and self-understood that masterpieces in collections and museums are great works of art, yet once, in the beginning, they were simply paintings and sculptures submitted to the judgment of an art lover. It is about some particular eyes that took the risk of seeing a masterpiece in a work, and enduring qualities in their own ephemeral pleasures. We inherit and perpetuate their perception, their enjoyment, and sometimes even their understanding. One cannot picture the Renaissance without Lorenzo de Medici, Impressionism without Ambroise Vollard, the avant-garde without Peggy Guggenheim, and, more recently, the Young British Art without Charles Saatchi. Krikor H. Zambaccian (1889-1962) is by far the best known Romanian art collector, and his figure was used even in novels by George Calinescu to portray the archetype-collector, the epitome of connoisseurship and good taste characterizing the good old times. As a journalist put it once, his truly appropriate name must have been Kollectian instead of Zambaccian. The offspring of a family traditionally involved in the Oriental carpet business, Zambaccian gradually added to his early elopement with music a stronger commitment to the arts and especially to painting. He became what one would call a (or better said the) professional collector of his times, an authority on modern and contemporary European and Romanian art, consulted by gallery owners, museums, artists, historians, critics and fellow art collectors. His comprehensive collection, bequeathed to the state, was finally hosted in a building functioning as a museum, the Zambaccian Museum, one can find nowadays on the Zambaccian Museum Street in Bucharest. A look into Zambaccian's life and ideas could therefore turn into a sketch of the ideal and accomplished art collector. Although it may seem merely a pastime, art collecting in the case of Zambaccian deviated from snobbish stances and assumptions into a real vocation, and he made a career in art collecting better than the one of a businessman in the textile branch, which he never dropped away either. A native of Constanta by the Black Sea, the young Zambaccian started there his career as an art collector, but although he was buying inexpensive art, he already aimed at great masterpieces:In the summertime, during the season, traveling painting exhibitions came to Constanta, organized by frame merchants, from which I bought two watercolors by Gore Mircescu, for twenty lei, and a seascape by Florian, for fifty lei. These were the first original works of art that I acquired, but I was not content with them, I wanted more, as I was obsessed by the paintings seen in the Arts Palace on the occasion of the Jubilee Exhibition of 1906, when numerous canvases by Grigorescu were hanging… After moving to Bucharest, Zambaccian took his vocation seriously, striving to ensure a theoretical background for his passion through acquiring a strong artistic culture and constituting a rich specialized library. He bought art from exhibitions, from galleries, from auctions of other art collections and directly from the artists. But more than that, decisive in his approach to the art of his time was the close relationships he established with the artists around him, as he enjoyed the friendship and esteem of many of them, whose ateliers he was regularly visiting, trying to understand their language, ideas, wishes and needs. Zambaccian was not only close to the art of his time, he was close to the artists, he had a sense of cultural, artistic communication and communion. He loved his time and liked the atmosphere of the art world, the "bon mots" and small-talk in the workshop, the professional insight in the museum, the high-life glamour of the vernissages. He praised the excess and strangeness, the dandyism in the figures of great artists, and was a man of the milieu, be it cafes or palaces:It is true that through my enthusiasm I was stimulating some of our most progressive artists and this made Sirato say I was a Romanian "Vollard." Yet some of his most remarkable observations referred to his fellow-collectors, that he knew and understood so well that one may say he actually endeavored an anthropological study of the human type called "the collector." From his notations one can distinguish the numerous varieties of collectors, their behavior, psychological structure and aesthetic propensities. Instead of a "human comedy" he shows a "collecting comedy" in which the characters are people like:…Iancu Kalinderu and Anastase Simu, mediocre people not driven by aesthetic preoccupations but whose pretentious caprice and vainglory were inoffensive and somehow beneficent. One has to remember that both Kalinderu and Simu were, and still range, among the most famous collectors of their time and both of them turned their collections into museums bequeathed to the State. Zambaccian was not particularly driven by envy in their characterization, even when he recounts the anecdote about the two bodyguards of Simu and Kalinderu who were sent by their chiefs to spy on each other's museums, to see how many people enter. Zambaccian simply singled out one of the persistent, universal features of some collectors, no matter the place and time, namely the fatuous will to build a monument for themselves by means of collecting art, despite their blatant lack of taste and true love for the works of art. He is not accusing, but accurately describing them:Simu had no special training and not even a distinct knack for art, but he had a passion and will to do, a faith in the eternity of these things. If Zambaccian does deplore something in people like them is their inability of grasping what indeed counts in art, as they stop in face of an external perception of an idealized – and often ludicrous – image of art. Anastase Simu for example, although possessing some masterpieces by major local artists like Grigorescu, Andreescu and Luchian, was actually collecting and exhibiting mainly French mediocre academic painting. He liked the painting that looked like distant great art, not the painting that was close, and real good art. On the contrary, Zambaccian was not only the most authorized Romanian collector of French modernism, but he was also the most significant collector of Romanian modernism. Another typological figure in art collecting was the journalist and pamphleteer Alexandru Bogdan-Pitesti, a radically different sort of collector than the two above mentioned:There was a mixture in this character, of a an aristocrat and a plebeian one, of a Christian and a barbarian, a tyrant and a rebel. Cynical and tender, generous and defrauder, Al. Bogdan-Pitesti tasted the abjection he served with cynicism. Al. Bogdan-Pitesti was so fond of liberty that he abused it. This man, anarchic when facing worldly rules, recognized only one hierarchy: talent.What Zambaccian wants to stress in this portrait is the fact that collectors of Bogdan-Pitesti's kind mirror with their artistic preferences their own development as self-made-men, as they incline to an art professing the highly esteemed talent, the element that singles out both the artist and the man of success. Al. Bogdan-Pitesti's enormous collection had a great influence on the development of art and art collecting in the first two decades of the 20th century, and its auction contributed to the expansion of many other collections, including the one of Zambaccian himself. Contrary to such collectors as Kalinderu and Simu, the self-assured Bogdan-Pitesti was a friend to many Romanian artists of his time, such as Iser, Darascu, Pallady and Brancusi, and his collection was largely devoted to them. Above all, however, stood Luchian, whose first major champion was Al. Bogdan-Pitesti, who, like Zambaccian later on, was a true promoter of the independent national art, against the fossilized art supported by the official Salons. Although Zambaccian clearly sided with him in many points, he still questioned the true aesthetic drive of Al. Bogdan-Pitesti's collecting activities, as they were showing some inconsistencies that better reflected the collector's voluntarism and scandalous, provoking nature than his artistic taste:I asked myself if his preference for a more independent and expressive art was not an offspring of his attitude of a frondeur rather than of his aesthetic sentiments… Opposing such a hypertrophied personality was another famous collector, the doctor Iosif Dona, who was emotional, pathetic and possessed-like when falling in love with a work of art, appearing as an embodiment of another type of art collector, the passionate one:At the auction of Al. Bogdan-Pitesti (1925), I met personally the doctor Iosif Dona, who was eager to acquire a painting by Luchian, the interior of the atelier, and he could not succeed, because there were many contenders throwing with thousands of lei, while the doctor risked only hundreds in order to calm them down. Seeing that he was trembling and congested, I dropped away the contest and advised the others to do the same and let the doctor win, as he was an old collector that needed protection … Doctor Dona was also one of the collectors that preferred the Romanian art scene between the two World Wars, and his collection was particularly rich in works of the artists that counted the most at that time, mainly Petrascu, Pallady, and Tonitza, showing that they satisfied a certain taste and encountered some expectations, of the kind of those of doctor Dona's. His comprehensive collection was bestowed to the state and nowadays works as a counterpart to Zambaccian's own collection of Romanian modernism, covering a period, an atmosphere and a way of living and feeling the bounteousness of being. More of a destiny than a typology, the art collector Lazar Munteanu interested Zambaccian also as a refined connoisseur that would take advantage of every occasion to acquire a work of art that seemed valuable to him and underestimated by the seller. But his fate was unfortunately more significant than his skills, as his large and indeed priceless collection disappeared almost entirely in a bombardment at the end of World War II. Disappeared in the blazes were some of the rare and precious still-lifes by Grigorescu, and one of the masterpieces of Andreescu, the Village Outskirts of 1876, together with dozens and dozens of works by Pallady, Tonitza, Luchian, Petrascu and hundreds of objets d'art and rare Oriental carpets. Yet, a "predestined collector," Lazar Munteanu started to build again his collection, working as a case-study for that type of collector that needs art on a daily basis, not only as an investment, but as a way of living that transcended the cultural role of art and reached its deeply human necessity. A relatively amusing kind of collector is singled out in the case of Apostol, the cultured waiter from Continental restaurant, who acquired, by pure passion, some relatively modest paintings that were later on exchanged for better ones. Thus he succeeded to amass valuable works by Luchian, Grigorescu, Pallady, Petrascu, etc. Somehow linked to this type is the case of the doctor Mircea Iliescu, an employee of Cantacuzino Institute who treated and consulted gratuitously many artists, his collection reflecting his patients' list, containing works by Petrascu, Pallady, and Tonitza, the latter ones being treated by Mircea Iliescu until death.Another kind of art collector, not so rare as it may seem to be, is the self-deceptive one, the one who thinks of himself as being in possession of inestimable masterpieces, while his aesthetic perception, cultural experience, or plain dullness preclude the acknowledgment of the sheer fakes he takes as masterworks:Years ago a friend invited me to see a collection of paintings by famous artists such as Titian, Correggio, Rubens, Van Dyck etc.[…] I wandered through the vast rooms of the apartment carefully looking at the sumptuously framed paintings, hanging on thick red strings. […] The majority of those canvases were copies attributed to old masters. Was there a reason of interrupting the beatitude of their owner, a man in his eighties that lived until then with this belief? Yet the opposite situation was also faced by Zambaccian, who actually went through the whole range of paradoxical circumstances that an art lover could experience:… when Sever Movila told me about a Bernardino Luini in the collection of his father, I accompanied him rather skeptically after the experiences I had had with other much praised collections. But my surprise was great when I recognized, amid the numerous darkened paintings, a beautiful woman portrait by Rembrandt, then some Italian canvases, a Teniers and a Brekelenkampf, two compositions by Tiepolo… This story evokes again the problem of the numerous universal masterworks once in the possession of Romanian aristocrats and art collectors, but then vanishing following either immigration, the state's disinterest, or financial problems that finally made significant works of art leave Romania for good. Such was the case of the first major Romanian collection, the one of the famous politician and ministry Mihail Kogalniceanu (who discovered the painter Grigorescu when the latter was a church painter), comprising valuable works by Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Rubens, Tiepolo, Boucher, Millet etc. His collection although firstly offered to the state, was eventually sold in public auction in Cologne in 1887. Contrary to much of this typology (and sometimes pathology) of art collecting, Zambaccian was not only a professional of the aesthetic taste, but also an extremely responsible conscience. Much of the modern French painting in the public collections and museums in Romania is due to his diligence in following, in ateliers and galleries, the careers and works of the significant artists of the time. He met and discussed with such artists as Matisse, Marquet, Bonnard, Maillol, and he collected works by Cézanne, Renoir, Matisse, Bonnard, Marquet, Derain, Dufy, etc. He spent huge amounts of money on them, but, more significantly, he also spent lots of money on the comprehensive collection of Romanian art. However, most puzzling and also distressing is the fact that the amounts of money paid by him on works by the significant Romanian artists of his time, that actually remained significant artists until now, are much bigger than the prices that these works may attain in auctions nowadays. While he paid in the thirties the equivalent of a flat in downtown Bucharest for a work by Petrascu, today a work comparable to that one is five to ten times cheaper! The reason is that by that time local art was valued roughly at the same level as the Western one, because many Romanian artists studied and exhibited abroad, but also because the taste for the local art developed a kind of competition among local collectors. The fifty years of communist rule eradicated both the possibility of freely studying and exhibiting abroad and the art collectors' contest. Artists were cut off the international art scene, and this was catastrophic not only for the contemporary artists, whose ranking depreciated rapidly, but also for older masters, whose works tended to be underestimated. Thus nowadays the local art scene suffers both because of lacking artists such as Pallady and collectors such as Zambaccian. It lacks a golden age of making and appreciating art.
* In K. H. Zambaccian, Pages on art, Meridiane, Bucharest 1965, p. 318. All the subsequent quotations from Zambaccian, here in italics, come from the same source.

by Erwin Kessler