Influente franceze în arhitectura si arta din România secolelor XIX si XX: antologie

TitleInfluente franceze în arhitectura si arta din România secolelor XIX si XX: antologie
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsHariton, Silviu
Author(s) of reviewed materialIoan, Augustin

Title translated:
French influence on the architecture and art of Romania in the XIXth and XXth centuries. Bilingual (French-Romanian) edition. Full title: Influences françaises dans l’architecture et l’art de la Roumanie des XIXe et XXe siècles / Influenţe franceze în arhitectura şi arta din România secolelor XIX şi XX.

PublisherBucharest: Institutul Cultural Român
ISSNISBN 973-577-504-2
Review year


Full Text

French influence on the formation of modern Romanian (high) culture was such an obvious fact to both actors and observers that for a long time there seemed to be no need to historicize the phenomenon. The well known insights of Pompiliu Eliade on the role of Russian occupations and Phanariots rule as agencies of reception and dissemination of French culture in the Danubian Principalities was matched only, at least to some extent, by John C. Campbell’s research on the 1848 generation of Romanian boyars/intellectuals educated at Paris [1] but the French influence in its most crucial period, between 1848 and the inter-war period, has largely remained unexplored.

Since 1990s, a plethora of books and articles aim to fill this gap, many of them concentrating on urbanism and architectural style(s), sculpture and monument “mania,” painting, fashion and at times on literature. As a part of this trend, Romanian philosopher Augustin Ioan has gathered a collection of texts written by some of the most prestigious Romanian art historians and essayists.

Architecture receives most of the attention in Influente franceze în arhitectura si arta din România secolelor XIX si XX: antologie. Augustin Ioan contributes two essays on “Bucharest as PariStanbul” and so-called “nationally specific” architecture (it is not about the Neo-Romanian, but an adaptation of the 1960s-1980s Communist architecture), approaching themes similar to the ones treated in his previous work [2]. Ana-Maria Zahariade, co-winner of 2003 Herder Prize, translates a contribution to a previous conference dedicated to “France and Eastern European countries” (London, 1999). Bogdan Andrei Ferzi summarizes his recently published book on the history of Bucharest’s architecture and urban design [3]. Moreover, there is an interesting essay by a French Catholic monk, Matthieu Gosse, who reflects on his experience of building a Catholic/“Western” monastery in an Orthodox/“Oriental” context, the neighborhood ‘Bucurestii Noi.’ 

While Ana-Maria Zahariade concentrates more on architecture per se, Bogdan Andrei Ferzi focuses on the Romanian attempts to establish Bucharest as a “small Paris.” A.M. Zahariade points to Ecole des Beaux-Art as the main source of inspiration for Romanian architecture through French architects who were active in Romania (eg. Xavier Villacrosse, Lecomte du Nouy, Albert Galleron, Paul Gottreau and others) and Romanian students who went to study architecture in France (e.g. Ion Mincu, I.D. Berindei and others). Between 1858 and 1929, there were seventy-four such students, sixty of whom returned to Romania while fourteen staying abroad. Some of the architects who returned contributed to the foundation of the Society of the Romanian Architects and the School of Architecture in the late nineteenth century – both of these institutions had Francophile milieus. A.-M. Zahariade shortly surveys the influences of French Classicism, Romanticism, Eclecticism as well as Art Nouveau, Modernism and Art Deco on Romanian architecture, pointing to the ideology of modernization as a factor of reception and syncretism.  

A.-M. Zahariade’s survey is deepened by Bogdan Andrei Ferzi’s analysis, concentrated on the urban development of Bucharest as an illustration of French influence. As is well known, Hausmann’s Paris influenced most of the important European cities in the nineteenth century in their efforts of restructuring (Vienna after 1859, Florence in the 1860s, London, Berlin, Dresden, among others), but French influence came to Bucharest in a period of constructing modern Romanian culture: the terminology concerning the urban space is directly taken from French, like so much of the vocabulary describing non-rural spaces and activities (boulevardchaussée/şosea, quai/chei, esplanadepassage/pasaj, trottoir/trotuar, the Bulgarian obor was replaced bymarşeu while the Turkish kaldarim by pavaj, etc.); the legislation on urban spaces was directly influenced by the French one, the only regular correspondence between Bucharest and other capital cities being the one with the Paris mayoralty; Emanoil Protopopescu-Pache and Nicolae Filipescu, mayors of Bucharest mostly associated with the program of systematic reconstruction of the 1890s, have also been educated in Paris in the 1860s, like many other Romanian politicians. Still, as Ferzi concludes, Bucharest did not become a copy of Paris since only the monumental buildings can be associated with the French Eclecticism, while most of the houses were built in the so-called Neo-Romanian style after 1900.  

The nostalgia for pre-1940 “small Paris” and for the implicit uncritical admiration of Western urbanism is sharply challenged by Augustin Ioan. In the first essay, “Bucharest as “Paristanbul,”” his most important point is that the main cause of the urban chaos in Bucharest nowadays rests with the way Western urban concepts were implemented without taking into account the locally existing urban tissues (the churches, caravansarais, gardens, etc). By pointing to Dana Harhoiu’s attempt to find a geometrical and therefore rational interpretation of the sacred spaces in Bucharest (churches constructed in the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries), an interpretation which indeed does not fit [4], Ioan exemplifies the binary opposition Western (organized, rational) – Eastern (sprawled, hooked) strongly drawn on by many contemporary Romanian (architects) who have accordingly dismissed the solutions of an architecture “from below.” A second essay, on “nationally specific” architecture, surveys the typology of possible solutions within “critical regionalism,” a trend in international architecture of the last decades. 

Looking more like an appendix to the analysis of architecture, Ioana Vlasiu’s and Magda Cârneci’s contributions are focusing on the inter-war generations of Romanian sculptors and, respectively, painters [5]. As Ioana Vlasiu shows, while Auguste Rodin’s impressionism has greatly influenced Constantin Brâncuşi, Dumitru Paciurea and Frederick Storck, Emile Antoine Bourdelle’s emphases on pure form, promoted also by the art collector Anastase Simu, had an even greater influence on the generation of Romanian sculptors from the inter-war period like Ion Jalea, Oscar Han, Miliţa Petraşcu, Céline Emilian, Irina Codreanu, Fanny Moscovici. The difference of these options was evident in 1919-1920 in the attitude towards the artistic sculpture inspired by the Great War. Painter Francisc Şirato, one of the most influential art critics of the period, has condemned the sentimental rhetoric of this type of sculpture, considering it under the influence of Rodin. According to Magda Cârneci, while in Europe Cezanne was used as a symbol against the inter-war vanguardism, in Romania he was admired for his geometrism in approaching nature, inspiring a large number of painters like Iosif Iser, Camil Ressu, Lucian Grigorescu, Nicolae Dărăscu or Ion Theodorescu-Sion, both stylistically and topically. 

Assembled on the occasion of Sommet de la Francophonie which took place in Bucharest in late September 2006, the collection resembles, at least for a historian’s eye, the style of collective volumes published with the occasion of the international congresses in order to show (to the “foreigners”) examples of “the state of the art” in one’s national context by summarizing or offering excerpts from the authors’ previous work. The problem with this approach is that it only engages local debates, and therefore most of people they aim to address usually do not read them because their topics and approaches cannot easily be linked to the wider international debates. To some extent, this is the case with this volume. However, even if it lacks a unified and explicitly framework, this collection offers several diverse perspectives on French influence on Romanian art during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that are in themselves rich in information and full of insights.


[1] Pompiliu Eliade. De l’influence française sur l’esprit public en Roumanie (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1898); John C. Campbell. French influence and the rise of Roumanian nationalism(New York: Arno Press, 1971) represents a PhD thesis defended in 1940 at Harvard University. 
[2] Radu Dragan and Augustin Ioan. Symbols and Language in Sacred Christian Architecture(New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1996); Augustin Ioan. Power, play and national identity(Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Fundation Press, 1999); A. Ioan. Bizant dupa Bizant dupa Bizant(Constanta: Ex Ponto, 2000); A. Ioan, Place and Placelessness - Reinventing Post-Totalitarian Environments (Collegium Budapest, Publications nr. 62, 2002). An English version of the first text: 
[3] Ana-Maria Zahariade. “French influence on Romanian architecture,” French Cultural Studies, vol. 11, part 3, nr. 33, pp. 291-430; Bogdan Andrei Ferzi. Bucarest et l'influence française. Entre modèle et archétype urbain: 1831-1921 (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2005) 
[4] Dana Harhoiu. Bucureşti, un oraş între Orient şi Occident/Bucharest, a City between Orient and Occident (Bucharest : Editura Simetria, 1997). 
[5] Ioana Vlasiu’s text is also a part of her previous excellent Anii 20. Traditia si pictura romaneasca (Bucharest: Editura Meridiane, 2000).