Victor Eftimiu

"Would you please not rank me among collectors, although I pretend I am a connaisseur, in the meaning of the French word," academician Victor Eftimiu told me on one occasion in 1965, seated on a bergère, clad in a night gown, rather worn down but adorned with fine embroidery, and in a pair of long johns like those the old men in Oltenia used to wear. Detecting my disconcerted gaze, the writer remarked that he did not have "a collection proper," but a well-furnished house, despite the fact that the number and quality of his works of art were greater and finer, respectively, than those belonging to the people who pretended and boasted themselves to be collectors; "Actually, I don't behave as a genuine collector." As he saw me admiring his night gown, he went on confessing that he had chosen to receive me in that clothing out of vanity, adding that, apart from allowing him to move freely, it was an old piece from Oltenia, with exquisite folk embroidery motifs, which he was glad to wear feeling the envious glances of the beguiling girls. As he said that, he cast humorous glances at the two mini-skirted girls who feigned that they were reading the tiles on the spines of the shelved books. "I can't help drinking my coffee from a Sèvres cup, a piece which could immediately be displayed in the place of honour in your museum, or impressing you, as I think I have already done when you were served confiture in a Delft cup and brandy in a little glass, a rare item from Bohemia, on an English tray from the 17th century. Your admiration for their beauty is my reward, and while you are savouring their charm, I am experiencing esthetical ecstasy myself. I have shared out many collectibles, even more now in my old days, just for the sake of the joy I was to offer." Eftimiu had been attracted by the caricatures of the literati since early manhood, when the walls of his room were covered with newspaper and magazine clippings showing the faces of those writers and poets he admired or intended to surpass. Their amusing presence was creating a tonic atmosphere that favoured his concentration on writing. Only after his success with Înşir'te mărgărite [Get strung, pearl] could he afford the luxury of buying a few of the original sketches signed by Nicolae Petrescu-Găină. That desire did not originate in the vanity of owing the master copy, but in that that colour, absent in cuttings, made the portrait-caricatures more expressive to him. Later on, absorbed by his literary activity, he could not find the time to refresh his collectibles until one day when being himself portrayed in caricatures – in a rather nasty posture – he felt highly exhilarated since that meant for him the baptism of fame. Therefore, he wished he had the original but as he did not dare to make approaches to the artist who had mocked him he had a brilliant idea – to go to the page compositor of the newspaper where the caricature had been published. He knew that drawings were not returned to their authors by custom, as they were considered unusable after printing. Tactfully, he then expressed his wish to a friend of his who promised to take action. In order to overcome the compositor's vigilance and remove any doubt on his part, the friend requested, at Eftimiu's suggestion, to be given all the drawings that were to appear in the paper for one year; furthermore, he promised to increase the price provided he received those published previously. This way, Eftimiu found himself the sole collector of caricatures in the country so more as a press campaigned launched against him soon after he had been appointed Director of the National Theatre popularised his face in all sorts of caricatures and, needless to say, he used the same stratagem. As a result, by August 1944 he had gathered thousands of caricatures and although he had lost his interest in such drawings he kept on collecting them since he had thus the opportunity to help those poor printers for services rendered on the long run. His success with Get strung, pearl and then with other plays, as well his marriage allowed him to have the interior of his house lavishly decorated. Given his predilection for long chats in the famous coffee shops of Bucharest, he would meet there not only writers, actors and journalists but also painters and sculptors whom he decided to ask for their advice.The latter were only too glad to help him – including Ion Theodorescu-Sion, Iosif Iser, Francisc Şirato – and even if he did not follow their advice entirely, it still guided him. In turn, they made Eftimiu achieve something for art progress and the support of important artists, which he did at the earliest opportunity. Once appointed Director of the National Theatre, one of his first steps taken, much to the performing guild's surprise, was to commission artists to create paintings and sculptures of Romanian and foreign actors and playwrights with a view to embellish the foyers and offices. The result was a range of paintings by Jean Al. Steriadi, Camil Ressu, Traian Cornescu and sculptures by Dimitrie Paciurea, Frederick Storck, and Oscar Spaethe; moreover, Ressu was commissioned to paint the curtain of the theatre, which triggered a huge scandal among actors. One may say that his precipitate dismissal from directorate in 1924 was largely due to this commendable initiative. That close contact with artists enthused Eftimiu to buy paintings with a view to have an interior design worth the fame of a writer who was weekly entertaining guests, colleagues, admirers, as he had got into the habit of receiving anyone who had business with him or simply wished to see him, at his place, from 6 to 8 in the evening, three times a week. First, he timidly bought works by Nicolae Tonitza whom he had met as a journalist, then by Steriadi, Ressu, and finally by Nicolae Dărăscu with whom he eventually became close friends. He would buy one or two of his paintings, mainly with women, almost quarterly. At some moment, Eftimiu started to purchase works by Magdalena Rădulescu as well. Out of the ten works signed by Tonitza, worth mentioning is a portrait, Veroshka – a study for the Spleen panel – that was about to create a dispute between him and collector Dr. I. N. Dona who, at the first "Group of Four" exhibition in 1926, hasted to reserve the painting by placing his visiting card on it, though Eftimiu had expressed his wish to have it. Later, seeing the writer's great upset, Dr. Dona gave up in his favour. Eftimiu acquired paintings by Tonitza at the next "Group of Four" exhibitions – Woman with Yellow Tie (1927), and Dolls (1928), and from the artists' studio – Nude Seen from Behind (1928). Eftimiu bought Vase with Roses (1929) from Lazăr Munteanu who started to sell his collection, after 1949, and Mother with Child, both by Tonitza too. He would not purchase any work signed by the other members of the Group for their art did not look attractive in his eyes. It was not until 1947 that he bought a few of their paintings from middlemen. Thus, he had only two or three works by Şirato, including Lake Tekirghiol, one of most interesting pieces, and one small work featuring peasants by Ştefan Dumitrescu that was to be destroyed during the bombardment raids in August 1944 which also ruined many other paintings in his apartment, in particular those signed by Nicolae Dărăscu. He had become a close friend of the latter whose works were all over his house. The painter's representative creation had been torn down in great number during the Nazi raids in the same year; nevertheless, the collection still counted 16 canvases so that Dărăscu's retrospective painting show organised by the Republic's Art Museum in 1966 displayed a few masterpieces including Great Mosque in Balcic, Still Life with Fish and Melon, Still Life with Kobsa and Brushes in Clay Pot, View from Venice, Sailing Ship in Lagoon, Gondolas, Houses among Hills, and Market. Magdalena Rădulescu's art had also appealed to him a lot since the first displays, so he finally acquired about 14-18 paintings – worth mentioning are two portraits of women and a painting with running wild horses.Although Eftimiu appreciated sculpture mostly, he could only have statuettes in his house, therefore he chose a few pieces that had a practical function as well, such as ashtrays or presse-papiers, signed by Storck. Only once did he wish to have a portrait: in 1920, he asked Paciurea who had been commissioned a Shakespeare bust for the National Theatre to cast another copy for himself as he liked it and intended to have the image of the great playwright under his eyes − but he could not find a proper place for the sculpture which was bulky. Luckily, Octavian Goga had seen the work at the theatre and showed great enthusiasm towards it, so Eftimiu presented him that copy.The second sculpture which was brought to his house was a portrait of himself by Paciurea, a gift from his admirers. In 1929, on Eftimiu's 50th anniversary, the Mayor of Bucharest, Dobrescu, had the initiative of setting up a committee of the writer's admirers that planned to offer him a plaque. Eventually, they turned to Paciurea who was to achieve a bust of Eftimiu, which the feted person accepted and even sat for it. As the presence of his own image in his study was cumbersome, Eftimiu suggested the donors, lest he should offend them, that the work be solemnly placed in his dining room on his next anniversary, which was merrily approved amid glasses' clinking. However, that was not satisfying either, and the following year, on the same occasion, he proposed to have it removed to the hall upstairs, an idea that met the enthusiasm of his table companions. On the writer's anniversary of 1932, an admirer who was in a state of wine euphoria put forward the idea of having the bust relocated to the lobby of the apartment building so that it could be seen by as many as possible. The operation could, however, be hazardous for the work cast in gyps; therefore, the committee decided with great enthusiasm that it be cast in bronze. Then Eftimiu commissioned two copies. When they were taken out of the foundry, his friends had one of them set on a stone pedestal in the building inner yard because the writer had turned down the idea of having it placed in Cişmigiu Park, as the initiators had wished. Alongside paintings, Eftimiu also possessed Sèvres, Meissen, vieux Saxe porcelains and 17th-18th century Italian majolica, pieces of Louis XV furniture, rugs, as well as Romanian folk costume items (blouses, raw silk scarves and homespun wraparounds, skirts mainly) he used to offer to the foreign guests who were visiting them. After Eftimiu's death, the Romanian Academy would have become the legatee for all his assets and an even larger art collection had the air raid of 24 August 1944 not destroyed a large part of the works housed in his apartment.

by Plural magazine