Virgil Cioflec

Virgil Cioflec, later to become a writer and a collector, stands out amongst the moral and financial supporters of the initiators and founders of Artistic Youth Society (December 1901). With some of its founders, Gheorghe Petraşcu, Ştefan Popescu, Kimon Loghi, Ipolit Strâmbulescu and Frederic Storck, he had had long and lively debates in Paris, where they all were then studying, on the need to set up that society, on its aims and purpose. It was Cioflec who took the steps and brought together the artists mentioned above and the group animating the former Salon of Independents and Ileana Society – Ştefan Luchian, Constantin Artachino and Nicolae Vermont – through the agency of Luchian, as well as the group that was instrumental in co-opting Arthur Garguromin Verona.The first event organized by Artistic Youth Society in March 1901, judging by the works Cioflec owned and were on display, shows that at the time he was highly prizing the art of Vermont and Loghi above all, which made another famous collector, Krikor H. Zambaccian, appreciate half a century ago, mentioning his predilection for Loghi, that "I feel reassured today that the adolescent of those days was in good company."In the following years, Cioflec directed his attention towards Luchian's work and continued to show his admiration for Nicolae Grigorescu's – both were masters whom he would try to buy from as much as he could. By Grigorescu (in spite of the painter being a member of the Delavrancea-Vlahuţă group), Cioflec could only purchase a few paintings belonging to the artist's White Period; as for Luchian, he was one of the painter's most assiduous collectors, as well as a reliable supporter, both morally and financially. By 1916, the collector had succeeded in acquiring about 30 works by Grigorescu which closely followed all the major periods of the painter's creation. Noteworthy for the artist's years of apprenticeship and debut placed under the influence of the religious art is the small icon featuring Saints Constantin and Elena, signed "Nicu Grigorescu," 1836. The Barbizon period of the painter's studies in France (1862-1869) is represented by such testimony of his artistry as Self-Portrait, The Union of the Principalities, and The Painter's Dog. Works such as Cattle Heads, Turkish Prisoners, The Portrait of Atanasiade, also known as Bailiff or Boyar's Major-domo (the latter title given by Virgil Cioflec himself) belong to the years 1870-1877. Then, the period 1886-1895 is illustrated by Portrait of a Woman, Gypsies with a Bear, Haystack, At Posada, The Adzeman's House, whereas Morning in the Mountains, Ox Cart, and Clay Mug with Mountain Flowers represent the years 1896-1907. Alongside paintings were several drawings and watercolors, of which best known are The Painter and his Friend Bassarabescu on a Mountain Trip (pencil), Dr. Bernath's Siesta (pen), The Old Woman and the Painter (pen), Mosque (pencil), Peasant (pencil), French Peasant's Child (pencil), Jew (watercolor), Celebrities of Bacău (pen). As for Luchian's paintings, Cioflec was competing (apart from Alexandru Bogdan-Piteşti) with collectors Vasile G. Morţun and Ioan Nicolae whom he managed to surpass in the number of works since he was enjoying the artist's friendship. Artechino's notes on a price catalogue for the third exhibition of Artistic Youth Society (1904) offer us information about some of Luchian's works that were acquired by Cioflec (Cherry Trees at 150 lei), as well as by Djuvara (Under the Pear Tree – 200 lei), Anastasie Simu (Carnations – 120 lei) and the Ministry of Public Instruction (Autumn Landscape, oil painting – 200 lei). Virgil Cioflec continued to buy from Luchian on a regular basis, particularly from 1906 to 1908, when the artist used to visit him frequently; it was on one of those occasions that the artist achieved a portrait of Mrs. Cioflec (1907). Another outcome of that close relationship was the portrait of Luchian sculpted by Dimitrie Paciurea upon the request of the collector who had been dissatisfied with the hideous image of the painter signed by Oscar Spaethe. Displayed at the Artistic Youth Society in 1908, the portrait enjoyed unanimous appreciation that established the sculptor's status through a major achievement and generated warm sympathy for the genius painter who was then ill. Cioflec, a former classmate of Paciurea at Lycée Matei Basarab, would buy other representative works of his. In 1912, the collector acquired The Sphinx which heralded Paciurea's concern with the universe of chimeras, and bought one Beethoven bronze bust, the other copy being purchased by Simu. By Luchian's death, the collector already had about 20 paintings and countless pastels, watercolors, and drawings. As for Grigorescu's paintings, in June 1930 Cioflec donated them to the ArtGallery that was to bear his own name at the Institute of Classical Studies in Cluj. Among the works donated by Cioflec, worth mentioning are Towards the Graveyard (pastel, 1903), Willow Trees (1906), Landscape at Brebu (1908), Kitchen at the Monastery of Brebu (Monks' Kitchen) (1908), Landscape at Moineşti (1909), Chrysanthemums, Self-portrait (1906), Zizi Cioflec (1907). Although he was well acquainted with all of the Artistic Youth Society members, Cioflec acquired only few works by Vermont and Artachino dating back to their debut years, shortly before the 20th century, when the two artists were considered promising talents. Years later, Zambaccian recollected one occasion when he questioned Cioflec on his opinion about the work of Petraşcu – who had become the most outstanding painter of Artistic Youth Society after Luchian's death; the answer was: "«Petraşcu's cello has one string only, but he plays well on it.» «But then, why haven't you got any of his paintings in your collection?» He shook my hand and left in a hurry without a word." Neither was Cioflec an admirer of Petraşcu's rival, Theodor Pallady, by whom he had only a few paintings in his collection. His reserve was largely due to his being rather parsimonious – he had not managed to buy anything cheaper from either.After Grigorescu and Luchian, the collector's admiration redirected towards the art of Camil Ressu and as a result, he became the main buyer of the artist's major works from 1911 to 1920, namely Burial and The Academy on the Patio. Immediately after World War I, his interest in Ressu's work dropped as he felt more attracted by Iosif Iser's paintings, in particular by those featuring peasants and Tatar women. Around 1925, after he had experienced the bitterness of politicking in his position of General Director of Fine Arts in the first Ministry of Arts, established in 1920 and led by Octavian Goga – an office where he failed to do anything remarkable –, after the deception he had felt following his fiasco as a writer and art reviewer (some of his articles having been rejected by the review Gândirea /Thought), and after he had had problems in managing his fortune, Cioflec's concern for his collection started to diminish. Consequently, he started spreading out some of the works, despite a short-run passion for Nicolae Tonitza's paintings, his nudes in the first place. Nonetheless, his love for art and the pride he took in his collection were stronger than his resentments against the artistic life generated by that chain of failures. He then launched out into editing and publishing monographs – Grigorescu, Luchian – (debatable as regards the authenticity of some unknown works, according to part of experts), and aimed to make his name memorable by a striking donation. The event took place in June 1930, after one year's negotiations with the Chancellor of the University of Cluj, Sextil Puşcariu, and so Cioflec set up most of his collection in that city which was then lacking such authentic Romanian values.The donations consisted of 2 busts by Paciurea, 77 paintings and drawings, including masterpieces signed by Grigorescu (31) and Luchian (19), as well as 22 representative works by Ressu, Iser, Tonitza, Marius Bunescu, Aurel Ciupe, Rodica Maniu, Petre Iorgulescu-Yor, Sabin Pop, Anastasie Demian, etc., and by the promising talent Lucian Grigorescu, the collector's last passion after Tonitza, starting with 1926. The collection thus managed to epitomise the Romanian art from the second half of the 19th century to the moment of donation. Seeing his dream fulfilled, Cioflec abandoned collecting; besides, he would trade the works he still possessed, well-known being the 1940 transaction, when he sold to Zambaccian The Little Fair-Haired Girl by Grigorescu, Flowers on Stairs and Pot with Chrysanthemums by Luchian. On the other hand, by 1948 when he committed suicide, he had expanded the permanent display of the "Virgil Cioflec" ArtGallery (finally reaching 325 artworks), as he had stipulated it in the donation document, by the proceeds gained from the three-million fund, equivalent to the appraisal of the collection.

by Plural magazine