A major talent undone by cliché or the perfect pastoral visionary?
Romania’s signature painter Nicolae Grigorescu undergoes an extensive retrospective
Criticising Romania’s master painter Nicolae Grigorescu for being sentimental is similar to claiming Lennon and McCartney would have been great songwriters, if they had only stopped going on about love.
This exhibition at the National Museum of Arts of late 19th century artist, famed for his paintings of oxen pulling a cart, shows a well-trodden route to the viewer’s heart.
Exploiting themes of the bildungsroman, Grigorescu shows the shepherd boy assuming responsibility for his herd and the first flush of sexual awakening in a pubescent girl. He is heavy on nostalgia, capturing sunsets over the Danube, the sun and wind through the trees, an old woman with a crooked back among geese, or those cows, those poor tired cows, trudging back and forth for Nicolae to paint again and again. Every subject is a force of emotional manipulation.
The retrospective goes further than country matters. Grigorescu’s credentials as a war artist are tested in 1878’s ‘Attack on Smardan’, a key battle in Romania’s offensive against the Turks. This evocative canvas outlines the narrative of men charging into attack, bayoneting a foe and then becoming obscured in the fog of war.
Also showcased are classic such as ‘The Sea’ (1881), where a heavily-clad woman sits on the beach with her side to the waves and her head facing a menacing wind that loosens her clothes, in an act of either defiance or stupidity. Grigorescu’s women are often centre-stage, laughing, gazing at the viewer, smart, bold and impassioned. Meanwhile the men are nothing but cyphers for the landscape, as anonymous as a haybail.
Critics attack Grigorescu for wasting his talent on a sickeningly romantic representation of country life. But this exhibition, showing detailed revisions on one theme, a talent for economy in brush-strokes and an absorption of impressionistic elements, reveals Grigorescu’s attempts to create a superior aesthetic from an idealistic vision.
Nicolae Grigorescu: Painter of Nature
49-53 Calea Victoriei
Wednesday to Sunday 10:00hrs to18:00hrs
Until 30 March