The Arts in Romania

A report for London Grip on the regeneration of the arts in Romania and the re-establishment of ancient Cantacuzino family ties. It seems that destruction doesn’t have the longevity of creativity. It’s something –

In The Blood

by Teresa Howard

photographs of artworks by Andrei Margulescu

In Romania there is a new wave of artists and facilitators who have just begun to revive the country’s artistic life, both new and historical.

On 1 January 2007 Romania gained entry into the European Union and with it came €30 billion of EU money to spend on modernizing projects. At the same time, along with Luxembourg, Transylvanian Sibiu was designated European Capital of Culture for 2007.  As a result, Romania, on the surface at least, is being transformed.

Much of the new blood infusing this cultural transformation comes from Romanians born abroad or, in one sense or another,  returning home.  They are bringing back their skills and knowledge to breathe new life into the country which they or their parents and grandparents once left for political reasons, if they were able to.

The city centre of Sibiu has been polished and pedestrianised, its architecture and ancient art restored, and in various parts of Romania, new galleries and craft enterprises are under way. For instance, a Netherlands Architectural Group, Drosa, has transformed the ashes and rubble of the Old Palace in Bucharest into a national Museum of Art – which includes a room dedicated to the work of Brancusi.  And everywhere, smaller venues are springing up.

An example was the November 2007 show at the modernised vaults of Bucharest’s Liberia Carturesti. Called Leg?turi de Sânge (“In the Blood”), this was an exhibition of the work of British-born artist Ilinca Cantacuzino and the work of her Romanian grandfather, George Matei Cantacuzino (1899-1960).  Although he exhibited his work all his life, the paintings selected for this exhibition had never been shown before.

G.M. Cantacuzino was an artist, architect, writer, thinker, and university professor of architecture and drawing; and he was born into a family tree which goes back a thousand years.  As a result he became one of those unable to avoid the communist assault mounted against minority groups whose existence contradicted Communist ideology.  In his case, for being an aristocrat, he was imprisoned from 1948 to 1953 and was forbidden to leave the country when released. His wife and children were in England in ’48 and thus escaped incarceration. In the 1970s his books were on the Romanian list of banned works and even to date most are not in print.

The book accompanying the exhibition, Moldavie…tout ce que j’aime, contains 99 of his watercolours, Moldavian scenes of the land he loved.  Shortly before he died he donated these paintings to the Central Universal Library of Ia?i.  The editor, Dan S. Stoica, writes that they testify to his  “love of the city”, its “facades, turrets, walls, corners of the countryside, all evoking a particular atmosphere” of the mid-twentieth century.

Cantacuzino wrote, “Drawing is thought, painting is dream: it is a way of dreaming with your eyes open, always keeping watch.  Beauty is born out of this watchfulness.”

His son, Ilinca’s father, is Serban Cantacuzino, a prominent London-based architect and writer, honoured  in Britain.  He is also an important figure in revivifying interest in Romania’s cultural history. He founded the wide-reaching Pro Patrimonio, an organisation dedicated to conserving and restoring the Romanian architectural and natural heritage, and reviving the country’s traditional crafts and building skills.

Ilinca Cantacuzino, in making works which speak to the achievements of her grandfather and his love of his country,  pays homage both to her personal and national heritage. Her own paintings are responses to her grandfather’s oils, watercolours and architectural drawings. Although she never met him, the connection between them is palpable,  not only in the use of colour but in the depth of feeling which emanates from their paintings.

The life of the exhibition began in 2004 at the Romanian Cultural Institute in London, mounted by Sinziana Dragos, the Cultural Attaché at the Romanian Embassy.  In 2007 with Romania joining the EU, it became easier to take the exhibition to Bucharest. Here it was curated by Romanian artist, Ion Godeanu who studied in Germany and has shown his work around Europe.  In December 2007 the exhibition transferred to Constanta Museum of Art, in January 2008 to the Galati Museum of Art, in February to Ploesti Museum of Art and in  March to Ia?i.

Unfold is an installation, a series of notebooks in which Ilinca kept a visual record of her interior conversations leading up to the opening of the Bucharest show. They are ranged in concertina’d rows, like tiny stage sets on high tables in the centre of the gallery. (One notebook was stolen at the private view.)

Smoke and burning are recurring symbols of memory and time throughout Ilinca’s work.  Ghost is a multimedia piece using ink and smoke, a portrait of her grandfather. Piatra Statica I andPiatra Statica II are drawings of her grandmother on pebbles from a beach in Kent.  The pebbles, as “found objects”, have an iconic sense of place as well as referring to the arbitrary nature of life.

Ilinca never met her grandfather. She says, “In a way this enabled him to become my muse. . .  His influence on my spiritual and artistic life has remained undiluted.  I grew up knowing him only through his paintings and my grandmother’s memories as he spent some time in prison, and also never saw his wife again after 1939.”

Her two large seascapes hang alongside her grandfather’s Moldavian landscapes.  Her paintings, Sinbad I and Sinbad II (see at right), are an evocation of one of his letters which tells how when he was a boy, his mother’s telling of the story of Sinbad helped him to understand that “beauty was not there merely to be contemplated but that it could also be created.”  The letter ends: “Many deserts have been crossed and many islands searched for, and when I get up tomorrow to look around once more, maybe Sinbad the Sailor will be waiting for me on the shore!”

Teresa Howard is a playwright, lyricist and freelance journalist.  Website:


16th century Cozia church fresco of ancestors of the Cantacuzino family


Photographs of political prisoners held between 1948-1953.


Close-up of G.M.Cantacuzino.

Landscape in oil . G.M.Cantacuzino.

Landscape in oil . G.M.Cantacuzino.

Ghost. Ilinca Cantacuzino.

From “Unfold”, installation series of folding notebooks, Ilinca Cantacuzino

From “Unfold”, installation series of folding notebooks, Ilinca Cantacuzino

Sinbad II, Ilinca Cantacuzino. Oil on canvas.


Legaturi De Sange: An Exhibition of the Work of Ilinca Cantacuzino and George Matei Cantacuzino

Libraria C?rture?ti, Str Pictor Artur Verona nr 13, Bucharest, Romania.

Book:  Moldavie…Tout ce que J’aime

115pp. 99 colour illustrations of watercolours by George Matei Cantacuzino plus 1 sepia photo of the artist.  Hardback. Edited by Dan S. Stoica. Preface by Serban Cantacuzino and Marie-Lyse Cantacuzino Ruhemann in English, French and Romanian. Printed by Printco  (

Rom Lei: 54.50/GBP: £11.15          ISBN 973-87517-9-9