The Art Collector Ion Minulescu

Shortly after World War I a new name amidst art collectors in the know started to compel recognition: that of poet Ion Minulescu. At that time, more intensely than in previous years, he would, due among others to his obligations as Director General of the Arts, visit exhibitions, converse with the fine arts representatives, be an ardent advocate of the thriving of these arts. He attempted on inner impulse, not only as an official representative, to give impetus to the artistic movement, which had been revivified by virtue of the activities of several artistic societies, led by the group "Romanian Arts" and by the professional solidarity of the Union of Fine Arts in the face of authorities. He was valued preeminently by the young artists, for – as painter Lucia Demetriade-Bălăcescu would disclose in her diary – at that time, they saluted his "qualities as an adroit collector of avant-garde painting." Therefore, the painter resumes, "everybody's dream was to grace the walls of his rooms." If he had just started to become known as an art collector, nevertheless, Minulescu had commenced setting up his collection a considerable number of years before, shortly after altering his condition by taking Claudia Millian as a wife, a poetess-sculptress and a teacher of decorative drawing. She encouraged him in his noble passion, more so by going on short commons in the household in order to facilitate expenses of the like, than with artistic advice, as Minulescu, with his firm sense, would not hesitate to buy a painting in an exhibition he would like. Only after its purchase, commonly concluded in installments, would he comment with his consort on its artistic value and establish its rightful place in the home. Coming into contact with the fine arts phenomenon and the initiation of the poet in this realm had come about during his student times, in Paris, where he had initiated a close amity with painters Ressu and Galanis, acknowledged by their fellows at the time under the name of "the Trinity." It has to be added that, on his return from abroad, Minulescu would resume his old friendship going back as early as his elementary forms, with painter Iser, who would illustrate his first volumes of poetry.1 The poet's friendship with Ressu and Iser had become very close, as all three of them were fiery upholders of renewal in the arts and were pertinaciously fighting Sowerism. As a result, they were the first artists from which the poet purchased paintings, when he wished to adorn his home at 22 Gendarme's Road. There, he would receive weekly visits from a number of writers, poets and composers, with whom he would read out and gloss the oeuvres of French symbolist poets. Thus, in 1913, Iser painted three panels in crayon for his drawing-room, rendering groups of nude women in a tryptical assembly. Later, inspired by Minulescu's poem Sentimental Bazaar, he would realize a thus-named painting, featured by a multitude of objects drawn from Minulescian symbology. Many more additions to these two works were made at a later date (among which the possessor valued the following the most): Odalisque, Salome, Columbine and Harlequin, Soldier with Side Arm, Peasants from Argeş2. Inspired by rural life, Peasants on the Field at Lunchtime by Ressu, his other friend, graced the lobby. The painter would, in 1942 make his portrait, in which he captures his whistful nature and depicts him in a characteristic pose , whilst lingering over a havana. In deeming Ressu as the best Romanian portraitist, he warmly recommended him to all his well-off friends and acquaintances, that they might commission their portraits there and so, many of them, as novelist Liviu Rebreanu and Tilică Burileanu, came to own very valuable portraits. Amongst the friends of the Minulescus we may also mention the families of the women artists Nina Arbore – complementing the collection with a number of engravings – and Miliţa Petraşcu, who contributed the Portrait of Claudia Millian (red ceramics), Maternity (bronze), Nude – Recumbent Woman (bronze), Christ (stone) and Cat (white sgrafitto in black marble). From the good and taciturn friend Dărăscu, with whom he constantly competed in sartorial English style, he only possessed a water color, naturally – a gift from the painter. Minulescu felt a high esteem for the art of masters Pallady and Petraşcu, with whom relationships were not as close-knit as with his two friends (Iser and Ressu) and as he could not afford to purchase a large number of their works, in the poet's home one could only find the Portrait of Claudia Millian by Pallady, painted in Paris, and an Interior by Petraşcu. Nonetheless, not disavowing his calling as a genuine collector, Minulescu directed his preferences towards the young generation artists who had made their debut immediately after the war and who started to distinguish themselves, at times officially encouraged and backed by him. Thus, Corneliu Michăilescu, a promoter of cubism until 1929 and later of surrealism, would find full understanding with the poet3, despite critics who denounced a certain degree of favoritism. Minulescu, confident in the painter's talent, seconded him not only in person, by buying many of his works (Still Life, Archangel, Saint Francis of Assisi, The Baptism – latter three painted in oil, on a glass support) in time, but in overtly backing him up, as Director General of the Arts4, in obtaining the second prize at the Official Show, with the subject painting The Guardians of the Castle. The same seems to have happened in the awarding of the prize to Lucia Demetriade Bălăcescu's pastel The Painter and His Lady Friend, in 1927. In the duel in June 1927 which was to settle a point of honor between the critic of The Universe, V. Bilciurescu, and the painter Corneliu Michăilescu, accommodated in the end by witnesses of both parties, Ion Minulescu was also implicated.5 The poet took pride in keeping company with the few enthusiastic collectors of avant-garde painters and of those who co-exhibited their works. More even, he was an outspoken advocate of the innovating arts, braving it out and exposing himself to critics, in his capacity as Director General, a fact which often led to attacks by the right-wing press who would accuse him of having "sold out to the Jews." Among these painters, Maxy would make a portrait of his daughter, Mioara Minulescu, while Brauner – the Portrait of the Poet (1924). Likewise, he would enrich his collection with works of artists who, on various occasions, participated alongside the members of the group The Contemporary: Vasile Popescu, Petre Iorgulescu-Yor, Henri Catargi, Margareta Sterian, on whose art he would pin his hopes, later to be confirmed by each of them. A peculiar case, Minulescu, while he allowed painters to make his portrait, would not accept being immortalized in sculpture, although his closest friends, Corneliu Medrea and Oscar Han, insisted in doing so for a long time. Only upon the pleas of his wife would he concede into letting her pose for Han, for a portrait and a series of statuettes. Mioara's, his daughter's, sitting in a reclining pose on a sofa à la Madame de Recamier, sculpted in 1935 by Han, he shattered to the ground, saying he did not wish to give house-room to a funerary stele. Nevertheless, so powerful was his collecting passion that he instilled it to the loved ones, together with whom he would – from their trips abroad – collect objects of decorative art illustrative of the places visited: Murano glassware, pottery from various French shops, rugs and shawls from Egypt and Greece – scattered all over the furniture in the house. With respect to bibliophily, Minulescu's interest manifested itself preeminently in the realm of French books, followed at a great distance by the Romanian ones. From the first category, he owned first editions in special bindings, of the symbolist poets. As to Romanian bibliophily, he was primarily concerned with endorsing the issue of several volumes, and individually or together with other poets subsidized poem collections illustrated by well-known Romanian graphic artists: Drăguţescu, Dobrian, Iser, L.D. Bălăcescu, a.o. Ion Minulescu proved a considerable amount of good taste and refinement when, set up in his new abode in Cotroceni Avenue (currently Gh. Marinescu), he succeeded in creating a familiar interior to harmoniously house his little artistic patrimony. This has become today the most attractive art collection ever, although the successors' intention was to present a memorial home in the honor of the poet to the public. Though the collection was small-sized compared to others, it stood out even from its beginnings by its unity and permanent accessibility. This has largely contributed to the acquaintance with the creation of artists whose works can be admired by today's public in many of the museums throughout the country.
1 Iser would illustrate his further volumes of poetry and drama save Failed in Romanian Language, for which the writer found the zestful graphics of painter Lucia Demetriade-Bălăcescu more appropriate;2 in addition we have to mention the portrait in crayon portraying Claudia Millian;3 the painter made a portrait of the poet for the volume of verse appeared in "Manuscriptum";4 see Petre Oprea: The Role and contribution of poet Ion Minulescu in his capacity as a director general of the arts in promoting and supporting avant-garde art in the third decade, in: Values of the Cultural National Patrimony. The XV-th Essay Session of the Office for National Cultural Patrimony of the Municipality of Bucharest, 1995;5 see details in Petre Oprea: Unpublished Matters, in The Arts, Issue 11, 1988, where a number of disputes between critics and artists turned into duels, are amply addressed.

by Petre Oprea