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National identity through women representation in N. Grigorescu's paintings.

Nicolae Grigorescu is one of the most important Romanian painters and he is largely acknowledged as the first impressionist in our national culture. After the official birth of this current in Paris, in 1874, and its admitted label due to Monet's inspiration, it was brought in our country too by N. Grigorescu. Other respected colleagues have to be reminded: Th. Aman, I. Andreescu, N. Darascu, J. Al. Steriadi. Although this current cannot be understand out of The Hill Sircle and the people animating the Parisian boulevards, it applies to a completely lyric apprehension sublimating the reality. Achieving symbolic value, this painting manner gets very close, almost next to poetry.

The two Romanian counties, Moldavia and Wallachia, carry on the noble mission of artistically synchronize Romania with Europe. From this point of view, Gh. Asachi's contribution is more efficient as he succeeded to impose art as a discipline at Academia Mihaileana, which had been founded in 1835. As a concrete result, many artists from Wallachia moved to Moldavia and Iassy became a capital of aesthetic refinement. For example, a fervent admirer of the European spiritual direstions and a campaigner for our national goals (independence, unity), Ion Negulici, tried to transpose the ideals of the nation into artistic works, although they are below average. Under Gh. Asachi's impulse, a kind of Maecenas, many Romanian young men studied compelling abroad. A true national artistic background came in sight. Besides Gh. Asachi, Carol Popp de Szathmary and Anton Chladek stood over Romanian cultural life and they also discovered Nicolae Grigorescu, helping him to be in the public eye. Chladeck embraced both young brothers, Gh. and N. Grigorescu, in his painting studio and their first art product was the adornment of Zamfira Abbey. The whole activity of Nicolae Grigorescu was closely overlooked by Anton Chladeck.

As a representative painter of Romanian culture, N. Grigorescu is well-known abroad due to some studies committed to him (Al. Vlahuta, (1) Barbu Stefanescu Delavrancea, Virgil Sioflec), but especially through his powerful capacity of imaging the national specificity. His artistic skills developed and took up the impressionist trend in Paris, a place where he was sent with a fellowship, in 1861, by Mihail Kogalniceanu in order to improve and to accomplish his potential. Kogalniceanu was impressed by his talent proved through the mural paintings from Agapia Abbey. Most of Grigorescu's time was spent in Sebastian Cornu's studio and he presented his first paintings, created in French environment, at the Official Salon, in 1868. According to Sidney Geist's statement referring to Constantin Brancusi, it might be considered that "Paris and its exotic arts" were not only a "pattern maker influence," but mostly "catalytic influence." (2) Having in mind the same observation, Andrei Plesu added: Grigorescu became "a Romanian countryman" agreeably to Goethe's conception, namely he became himself. (3) His personal structure of meditative countryman was in perfect harmony with Barbizon School (especially, Millet, Corot, Courbet, Theodore Rousseau). He absorbed easily the impressionist technique and, by bringing it to Romania, he has become a "crossroad classic" like Vasile Alecsandri. Both of them changed the public aesthetic taste, declining to reconfirm old ways to obtain success. Both of them succeeded to present the national identity into an ideal, pure manner.

Although the impressionist current is deeply concerned with landscapes, Grigorescu was focused on presenting people perfectly matched to the nature. The nature becomes a landscape due to a spiritual masterpiece or quoting Holderlin: a free man is only the one living in the center of the landscape as a participant, not as a spectator. So, a man may discover his own liberty due to nature. Apart of all these aspects, nature in Grigorescu's paintings burst with optimism which is a product of his patriotism and of his desire to present Romanian context as an idyllic one. It is almost a truism the fact the universal character of a culture lived in the very middle of its native nature singles it out and it has an impact upon aesthetic options, giving birth to art works revealing national specificity and the artist's values. Grigorescu stands for Romanian representative intellectual at the end of the 19th century. If Europe is already familiar with this phenomenon, Romania experienced the political, social, moral, aesthetic liberty only starting with that moment.

Our contribution concentrates upon one specific painting, a portrait of a woman. Its title is "Rudareasa." It can be admired at the Culture Palace in Iasi which ranks high as it holds 26 of Grigorescu's masterpieces. The onlooker has in front of him an outstanding, young, beautiful feminine figure with a very appealing sight. Each nation has such brushwork, full of mystery, but yet defining the essential features of the collectivity. We may call to record Vermeer's portraits or those related to Pissarro, Monet, Whistler, etc. But this is a very general assumption.

Let's get closer. The woman's face is represented ahead of us, straight, well balanced, but in a puzzling harmony. Her position emphasizes heroine's indefinable beauty. Even the meaning of the word "rudareasa" is a sealed one for many people regardless if they are native born or from abroad. According to Lazar Saineanu's dictionary, (4) the word designates a person who operates with gold in order to manufacture different kinds of objects. The woman is very aware of her magnetism and her eyes, absorbed in sadness and thought, do look forward to the onlooker. They convey a fulgent, beamy energy which challenges the onlooker to discover her identity. It may be considered the Romanian equivalent of "Mona Lisa." The black eyes are in contrast with that special white color experienced by Grigorescu in his last period of life. But the observation of the painting is clearly dominated by the woman's lips. They bring to light a subtle, riddling smile, asking again to explore her identity and all the rest she stands for. From a symbolic point of view, the mouth is always a mark for people's way to Hell or to Heaven. But figuring it out from the same point of view, the direct approach of a person has the benefit of an obvious religious connotation--the desire to contemplate divine essence. The onlooker may accompany this appealing woman in her loneliness, although full of hope and willing to experience a dreamy happiness.

It is the same magic message sent by the whole nation--a mild, calm, enduring and forgiving one, but worth to be known with its manifold values and virtues. This feminine character may be also mythological associated with Penelope, an imposing symbol of constancy and faith. The whole painting excels in harmony, confidence into a future compensating the hardness of the past. It is an exquisite metonymy of Romanian people, but not in a naive, nationalistic manner as the one encountered in Constantin Rosenthal's representation--"Romania revolucionara" ("The Revolutionary Romania.") Same artistic feminine ideals of Grigorescu may be found in other paintings too: Portrait of a Countrywoman, Thought-Side Young Woman, Portrait of a Young Woman with a White Wimple, Woman in Front of the Fireplace etc. In this particular painting, he wanted to mirror the soul of his nation with that black, empty background, nevertheless an expression of a long unknown history which renders uncomplaining patience. The many descending lines of her neck or of her shoulders connote sadness and resignation. The impossibility to observe her arms gives way to even a more free interpretation.

Other details of the painting are relevant too. The color of her clothes, lack of adornment despite her job, the light brightness and the grace of her face point out the same characteristics: purity, eagerness to be known and cherished, puzzling wish to reveal her. The beauty is inserted in her look and into the artist's mastership of impressionist foggy shapes. The chromatic expression is well controlled, without impure excitements and symbols of sophistication. All these hold good for the nation as well. Regarding this aspect, Grigorescu's confession when coming back at home from Barbizon is relevant: "My country has a feast-light. Its air is fresh, its sky and its scenery makes me startle as in front of a divine command." (5) The painter wishes to express the national identity through his canvas in the same way as Eduard Manet does ("A Bar at Folies-Bergere"), or Claude Monet ("The Cathedral from Rouen," "Le Boulevard des Capucines") or William Turner (all his paintings reflecting London or British atmosphere).

On the whole, the painting is so mellow and bright, so that it would resemble glaze or precious stones. The artist is more concerned by the soul of his character than its physic appearance. The latter has very few to say especially in a period in which the female portraits (nudes prevailing) are too many. The painter chose reasonably a discreet form of expression, a sober cast of colors, because he is willing to impose a noble artistic ideal to the society. This is mainly referring to a rebirth of good taste. He rejected the enforced classical portrait, full of realist details, almost naive. He disliked also fashionable art, meant for reception rooms, conventional meeting, and so he declined the flatness and the runaway success. He devoted himself to the national specificity, to nature and love, but revealing the pure essence of what is true-born, uncoined. He fought to understand the various forms of existence and he marked them out in a suggestive way.

Everybody knows that another painting is put forward as an eloquent example for revealing the national characteristics--"Car cu boi" ("Cart with Oxen.") This theme may be met at Stefan Luchian, Ion Andreescu, Corneliu Baba, Stefan Dimitrescu too. However, Nicolae Grigorescu seems to be the most sensible, responsive to Romanian environment and he is truly willing to present his own vision for this country, its people and its nature.

The painting mentioned and commented upon, "Rudareasa," is also an example for Romanian artistic dawn of introducing female figures into public attention. The interest in gender and gender roles has begun. Afterwards, scholarly books, articles, basic research concerning gender issues are appearing. Many journals have recently dedicated special articles regarding the fact that research in economy, business, management and organization has been gender-blind. Hence, researchers are gradually starting to take gender seriously as a crown-element of social ordering. (6) Gender has been considered a major reason for differences in readers or onlookers response. It is also seen as a cultural construct.

Grigorescu's feminine representation epitomizes the Apollonian period of Romanian culture: harmony, order, work, discipline, asceticism, rationality. From this point of view, the painter has also promoted modernity. Post modernity, nowadays, prefers disorder to order, ambiguity to certainty, shallow to profound, differences to similarities, individuality to universality, past to present, etc. (7) Cultural gender portrayals were imperious and the following decades, even centuries, have dealt with this interesting subject. Many academic studies and research activities have pointed out gender as a generous social resource. It is also a cultural format which began to come into prominence in Romania too. This is no wonder because gender is an issue that strikes a very basic characteristic of human beings, affecting the way we interact with one another. (8) Romania walked in a long tradition of female painted representation of the country as a stem of Motherland connoting life, love, fertility, unique fairness and emotional response. Nicolae Grigorescu has fostered this female stereotype into Romanian modern painting.


Al. I. Cuza University, Iasi

Ecological University, Bucharest

arodette@live. com


(1.) Al. Vlahuta's contribution was translated into French and it was presented at the Official Salon in Paris, in 1911.

(2.) Cf. Geist, S. (1982), Brancusi--The Kiss. Bucharest: Meridiane.

(3.) Cf. Plesu, A. (1985), Ochiul si lucrurile. Bucharest, Meridiane, 67-68.

(4.) Saineanu, L. Dictionar universal al limbii romane. vol. IV, 413.

(5.) Vlahuta, Al. (1969), PictorulN. I. Grigorescu. Bucharest: Tineretului, 97-98.

(6.) Cf. Katila, S., A. Kovalainen, and S. Merilainen (2006), "Special Issue on Gender, Organization and Society," The Finnish Journal of Business Economics, (3)2000; apud Hakala, U. "ADAM in ADS: a Thirty-Year Look at Mediated Mascilinities," Advertising in Finland and the US. Publications of Turku School of Economics, 27.

(7.) Brown, St. "Postmodern marketing?" European Journal of Marketing vol. 27, no. 4: 50-65.

(8.) Salzman, M., I. Matathia, and A. O'Reilly (2005), The Future of Men. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 14-15.

Odette Arhip teaches Theory of Communication, Nonverbal Communication and Semiotics Applied in Advertising. She translates for Polirom and Al. I. Cuza University Publishing House. She had 3 postdoctoral fellowships in Austria and Finland. She is developing a collaboration program with Vienna University, Romanist Department (Ph.D. professor and Academy Member Michael Metyeltin).
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Author:Arhip, Odette
Publication:Journal of Research in Gender Studies
Article Type:Report
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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