More Parisian Than The Parisians: Georges De Bellio

Everybody knows Monet's famous painting, Impression, sunrise. The canvas, considered to be Impressionism's manifest, due to its style and title (the latter was chosen to designate the group of artists who had the same style of painting and were united by the same esthetical ideals), was once in the collection of a Romanian, Georges de Bellio.In 2003, the 175th anniversary of Georges de Bellio's birth was celebrated. Living on the Seine's shores, he became one of the great collectors and protectors of the Impressionists. Georges de Bellio belonged to a rich family of Aromanians established, since the 18th century, in Romania. Its roots were from Pella – that's how they got their name: Pella-Bellu-Bellio. In 1817, the emperor Franz I of Austria ennobled Constantin Bellu, and the baron title was transmitted to the relatives, since he didn't have any progeny. George (1828-1894) was the youngest of the four sons of the aga Alexander Bellu. In 1851 he leaves to Paris in order to study and he stays there for good. Even if he didn't show off his nobility title, like so many other co-nationals who, once across the border, arrogated titles more or less imaginative, those who knew about his aristocratic origin, were using, in talking to George, the particle "de." He studied medicine, but never practiced it except for the relatives and friends. A curious and passionate nature, he experimented on homeopathy in the chemistry lab that he organized at home. Attracted by arts, he regularly visited museums, exhibitions and artists' studios, he participated in auctions and knew all novelty concerning the visual arts. As he was interested in the recently discovered photography, he became friends with the great Nadar and was member of the French Photographic Society even since 1855. The irreproachable taste and his penchant for valuable objects transformed him into a refined collector.His house had valuable furniture, porcelain, faience, bronze objects, 17th century Italian drawings, Kabuki theatre sculptures and canvases. From Eugene Delacroix' workshop he bought, in 1864, at the auction following the artist's death, a horse study and a copy after one of Rubens' paintings. The friendship with the Impressionists, who belonged to the avant-garde at the time and were poverty-stricken, was yet to produce. And it did, in 1874, when he bought The Seine at Argenteuil by Claude Monet, a painting that had belonged to the collection, dissipating at the time, of Ernest Hoschede. The next year he bought a self-portrait of Renoir's, and in 1876 he took three of Berthe Morisot's paintings from the exhibition organized by the Impressionists. He becomes friends with Monet and he helps him a lot with money as well as with medical treatments for his family. He keeps an interesting correspondence attesting the role of protector that he played during desperate times of the artist's life, when he was to be evicted for failing to pay the rent, as well as when his wife was ill.Georges de Bellio showed the same understanding and support for other Impressionists as well, especially for Alfred Sisley and Auguste Renoir. The latter was grateful to remember the generous help of the Romanian doctor: "Every time one of us urgently needed money, he would rush to the Riche Café, at lunch lime; he was sure to find Mr. de Bellio there and he bought, even without seeing, the painting that was offered to him." Not only that he was buying paintings that he hadn't seen (or canvases that hadn't been painted yet!), but he also offered generous meals at the same cafe where he used to lunch; since 1886 and until his sudden death, in 1894, monthly "impressionist dinners" took place on Thursdays, gathering painters like Monet, Pissarro, Caillebotte, Sisley, Renoir, Guillaumin, sometimes even the misanthropist Cézanne, but also poets, writers and critics, like Mallarmé, Octave Mirabeau, Edmond de Goncourt. There were occasions of intense discussions about art and literature that Bellio was presiding with his bonhomous smile. His help took other forms as well: at the Impressionist exhibitions, he would bring pieces of his own collection in order to complete the display, when necessary. In 1889 he contributes with a large sum of money to the acquisition, through public subscription, of the famous Olympia by E. Manet, in order for the painting to be exhibited in a museum; it is true that the canvas didn't reach the Louvre, as everybody wished for, but by its display at the Luxembourg Palace, it became the first Impressionist painting in the State's patrimony.Georges de Bellio's collection was getting richer day by day: in 1878 he bought Impression, sunrise by Monet, a representative work of Impressionism. His daughter, Victorine, was painted by Renoir in 1892. The collector intended to build a gallery in which to display the valuable canvases, over 300 of them at the time. But he couldn't accomplish his dream because he passed away into the world of shadows. The collection, inherited by his daughter, was inventoried long after his death, when some of his works had already taken other destinations – most of them were Impressionist paintings (Monet was represented in the collection by 30 pieces). In 1957, the heiress donated the canvases and her father's archive to the MarmottanMuseum in Paris, but not under the name of Bellio (she used her marriage name, Donop de Monchy). Therefore, only few people – and especially the researchers and connoisseurs – know that the valuable Impressionist dowry of the museum – to which the donation of Monet's son was added later on – comes from a Romanian.In order to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Georges de Bellio's birth, two museums from Ploiesti, benefiting from the collaboration of several specialists from Bucharest and Craiova, organized exhibitions and other parallel events in his homage. In the spring, the Prahova Regional Art Museum opened an exhibition containing etchings belonging to the Romanian Academy's Graphics Cabinet patrimony, signed by Impressionist artists who used to be Bellio's friends and whose paintings Bellio used to buy in order to support them financially. The event was doubled by the appearance of a substantial catalogue, well illustrated and printed under special graphical circumstances. Two studies, signed by Alexandru Marinescu and Ruxandra Ionescu, essential for the understanding of the collector's biography, can be found there, as well as Monet's letters to Bellio and the latter's to Mihail Kogalniceanu for whom he acted as an art counselor, recommending various canvases worthy of acquisition. Among the illustrations, there are Bellio's portraits made by Giovanni Boldini and Nicolae Grigorescu, as well as his daughter's portrait painted by Renoir, all of them to be found now at the Marmottan Museum in Paris and reproduced in colors (and that is a first) in our country.The other event took place at the Bellio mansion in Urlati, a house that belonged to the collector's nephew, Alexander Bellio, a collector himself and also an important photographer of rural idyllic settings, composed under the influence of Grigorescu's graphics and shot on the mansion's grounds. The welcoming hostess was Lia Maria Dulgheru, the general manager of Prahova's History and ArcheologyMuseum. Her usual enthusiasm and contagious high spirits moderated an evocation of the distinguished collector's personality. A board with Georges de Bellio's effigy was also launched, and an exhibition containing Theodor Aman's paintings, as well as 19th century boyars' portraits painted by anonymous authors, was organized (itinerant painters attracted to the Romanian Principalities by the promising market represented by the high life's transit from oriental to western fashion, of which easel painting was a part). These canvases, belonging to the Art Museum in Craiova, were admired by the public until December. They admirably complete the beautiful interiors embellished with the typical furniture and decorations of a boyar's mansion.The events organized in homage of Georges de Bellio – of whom the contemporaries said that he was "more Parisian than the Parisians" – meant a necessary act of reparation of a biography not well enough known in our country, yet so strongly linked to the Impressionists' destiny, a biography mentioned by the historians of this artistic movement, as well as by John Rewald, in his monumental study. The works that temporarily belonged to the illustrious protector, now displayed in the world's greatest museums, were often reproduced in books to be found on all meridians.

by Adrian Silvan Ionescu