The Professor George Oprescu Collection

Once, the art lover, strolling along the streets of Bucharest, would stop in front of certain houses – either known to him or not – that confined within their walls innumerable works of art. Around these art works there endured a name, that of the people who had gathered them, who loved them and, out of a lover's generosity, would happily share their joy with others. These names were Dona, Slatineanu, Zambaccian, Minovici or Oprescu. It is to the last one's house that we are now guiding our memory.Bucharest was enlarged in the first half of the 20th century by two contrasting districts: one to the east and the other to the west. The eastern one is sumptuous, with big, glamorous houses, lodgings of the high bourgeoisie. The one to the west, Cotroceni, is more unassuming, warmer, with pleasant, comfortable houses, inhabited mainly by intellectuals. It is here, at number 16, Dr Clunet street, that Prof George Oprescu bought a piece of land and built a house in the year 1929. Back then he was Secretary of the International Committee for Intellectual Co-operation of the League of Nations and lived in Geneva (1921-1930). Upon returning to the country – invited to occupy a chair at the University – it is in this house that he was to accommodate the fruit of his passion for collecting, a passion that he had confessed to ever since the time when he was only a young graduate (1904). After a short interval that he spent in Giurgiu as a teacher of French, Turnu Severin was the place where, while serving as teacher and headmaster of the Trajan High School, he would spend his spare time travelling all over that area so rich in folk art. As his admiration for it went as far back as his childhood in native Campulung, he would commence collecting folk embroidery and ceramics here. Later, when he had been appointed to the ClujUniversity, Transylvania would open his appetite for ceramics made by Transylvanian Saxon artisans and Biedermeier furniture. It is also here that the professor would discover the charm and beauty of oriental carpets, a passion that was to remain with him to the end.Little by little the Professor's house would fill to capacity with paintings and sculptures, drawings and engravings, Far Eastern art, bibliophile editions, furniture and ceramics, embroideries but also those objects dear to one's heart, of no artistic value, capable however of humanizing a home-museum, the result of his prolonged journeys across Europe.It is perhaps time we asked ourselves what a collector is. Intuition, passion, innate taste and erudition are the essential traits of a genuine collector. Assisted only by erudition, a person may put together a notable ensemble of works of art of undisputed value, but his house will be no more than a museum gallery; it is the delight provoked at once by art works bearing a glamorous signature and by an anonymous canvas, the daring adjoining of completely different objects and the feeling that somebody actually lives in that house that define the real collector.In the hallway, on top of a 17th century trunk, Khmer sculptures stood out against an oriental Kuba carpet, while on another wall there hung Romanian paintings by acknowledged masters, as well as two canvases signed by Géricault and others by Lebourg, Bonnington, Paul Huet, Forain. Next door, in the room that accommodated the almost 10,000 engravings and drawings (16th to 20th century, from A. del Sarto to Picasso), Gothic sculptures faced a portrait by Largillière and another by Courbet, while Monticelli could be glimpsed from among old Chinese paintings. On the French 18th-century table, the shining enamel on an old peasant vessel stood in no contrast with the elegant wood carving on the furniture. In the large room that housed the library the old Persian ceramic pieces (16th to 20th century) did not clash with the Romanian folk ceramics, all overlooked by an Italian 16th century Madonna, undoubtedly the work of some renowned master. On the walls and floor, oriental carpets – often overlapping – dominated by the strict geometry of the three Holbein-Teppiche. The staircase that used to lead to the upper floor, "papered" with Romanian and foreign paintings, opened on to the Professor's study. French countryside furniture from the 18th century, Flemish, Dutch and Italian canvases (two paintings by Magnasco), a child's head by Brancusi, carpets and many photographs of people close to the Professor (H. Focillon, Valéry, Einstein, Th. Mann, Enescu, Gilbert Murray, Talbot Rice and others).The feeling that the house is lived in, that you can caress the softness of a carpet, the warmth of patina-covered wood, that on a table there are open books, while on another there are papers and work sheets, breathes life onto the art works, humanizes them, brings them close to us.A lesson in art and a lesson in feeling, the George Oprescu collection has gladdened as well as instructed many people, constituting thus a cultural landmark in Bucharest.

by Radu Ionescu