Corneliu Baba

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Corneliu Baba
Corneliu Baba.jpg
Born(1906-11-18)18 November 1906
Died28 December 1997(1997-12-28) (aged 91)
Known forPainting, books illustrator

Corneliu Baba (Romanian pronunciation: [korˈnelju ˈbaba] (About this soundlisten); 18 November 1906, Craiova[1] – 28 December 1997[2]) was a Romanian painter, primarily a portraitist, but also known as a genre painter and an illustrator of books.[3]

Early life[edit]

Having first studied under his father, the academic painter Gheorghe Baba,[4] Baba studied briefly at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Bucharest, but did not receive a degree.[5] His first public exhibition was in 1934 in the spa town of Băile Herculane; this led to his studying later that year under Nicolae Tonitza in Iaşi,[6] finally receiving a diploma in Fine Arts from the faculty at Iaşi in 1938, where he was named assistant to the Chair of Painting in 1939 and a Professor of Painting in 1946.[7]

Shortly after his 1948 official debut with a painting called The Chess Player at the Art Salon in Bucharest, he was arrested and briefly imprisoned in Galata Prison in Iaşi. The following year he was suspended without explanation from his faculty position and moved from Iaşi to Bucharest.[8]

Despite an initially uneasy relationship with communist authorities who denounced him as formalist, Baba soon established himself as an illustrator and artist. In 1955 he was allowed to travel to the Soviet Union, and won a Gold Medal in an international exhibition in Warsaw, Poland. In 1956, Baba accompanied The Chess Player and two other paintings showed at the Venice Biennale, after which the paintings traveled on to exhibits in Moscow, Leningrad, and Prague.[9]


Cover of Pavel Susara's book Corneliu Baba: detail from Tudor Arghezi with his wife, 1961.

In 1958 Baba was appointed Professor of Painting at the Nicolae Grigorescu Institute of Fine Arts in Bucharest, where Niculiţă Secrieriu and Ștefan Câlția were among his pupils. The same year he received the title of Emeritus Master of Art. By this time, his earlier problems with the communist authorities appear to have been smoothed over. In the next decade, both he and his paintings were to travel the world, participating in exhibitions in places as diverse as Cairo, Helsinki, Vienna, and New Delhi, culminating in a 1964 solo exhibition in Brussels. In 1962, the Romanian government gave him the title of People's Artist; in 1963 he was appointed a corresponding member of the Romanian Academy, and in 1964 was similarly honored by the East Berlin Academy of Fine Art.[10]

Honors and exhibitions continued to accumulate, ranging from a 1970 solo exhibition in New York City to the receipt of a Red Star decoration in 1971.[11] While his name became a household word in Romania and, to a lesser extent, throughout the Eastern bloc, he never achieved comparable fame in the West.[12]

In 1988, Baba was seriously injured by an accident in his studio, and was immobilized for several months.[13] In 1990, following the Romanian Revolution, he was elevated to titular membership in the Romanian Academy.[14] Shortly before his death in 1997, Baba published his memoir, Notes by an Artist of Eastern Europe. He was posthumously awarded the Prize for Excellence by the Romanian Cultural Foundation.[15]

Corneliu Baba appears in the People of influence painting of Chinese artists Zhang An, Li Tiezi, and Dai Dudu.[16]

In 2019, the Han Yuchen Museum in Handan (China) presented the largest Corneliou Baba Chinese museum retrospective.


Odihnă pe câmp, (1956)

Perhaps unfashionably for a 20th-century painter, Baba consciously worked in the tradition of the Old Masters,[17] although, from the outset of his studies with his father, he was also influenced by expressionism, art nouveau, academicism and "remnants" of impressionism.[18] Baba himself cited El Greco, Rembrandt, and Goya as particularly strong influences.[19] This did not put him in good stead either with the official Socialist realism of the Eastern bloc (where, especially in the early Communist years, he periodically received damning criticism—and sometimes punishment, such as being suspended from teaching—for his "formalism").[20]

Nearly all of Corneliu Baba's work remains in Romania; hardly a major museum in that country is without some of his work.[21] The Art Museum in Timișoara possesses a very nice and rich collection (over 80 works) of Baba's paintings. Among his notable works are a 1952 portrait of Mihail Sadoveanu (now in Bucharest's National Art Museum)[22] and a 1957 portrait of Krikor Zambaccian, (now in the Zambaccian Museum, also in Bucharest).[23] One of his few pieces on public display outside of Romania is a rather impressionistic 1977-79 group scene entitled Fear, (one of several in a "Fears" series)[24] in the Szépművészeti Museum in Budapest.[25]

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Baba did an extensive series of paintings of Harlequins and "Mad Kings",;[26] most of the latter remained in the artist's personal collection until his death, much as with Francisco Goya and his "black paintings".[27]


  1. ^ Constantin Ilie, Nostalgia celebrului pictor Corneliu Baba pentru oraşul natal Craiova a disparut o data cu moartea Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine ("For his native city of Craiova, nostalgia for celebrating painter Corneliu Baba disappeared once he died"), Gazeta de Sud, 3 November 2005. Accessed 5 July 2006.
  2. ^ Grigore Arbore, Don Quijote locuieste temporar la Cluj Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine ("Don Quijote lives temporarily in Cluj"), Cronica Româna, 8 June 2006. Accessed 5 July 2006.
  3. ^ Susara, 2001, passim, esp. p. 19 et. seq..
  4. ^ Pavel Susara, Un Pictor din Est? (I).
  5. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 165 says he failed the entry exam in 1926, passed in 1927, but "lost interest" and was "sent down". The biography Archived 2006-08-13 at the Wayback Machine on (accessed 9 July 2006) gives a different account: that from 1926 to 1930 he simultaneously studied fine arts and philosophy.
  6. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 165; biography.
  7. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 165; biography. (in Romanian)
  8. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 166.
  9. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 166.
  10. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 167–168.
  11. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 168.
  12. ^ The web page for a 1998 exhibit of Baba's works Archived 2006-09-06 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 9 July 2006) at the National Museum of Art of Romania refers to him as "one of the best-known contemporary Romanian painters". Parkstone's promotional site for Susura's book says, "His reputation which is well established from the Danube to the Yang-Tse-Kiang, has yet to be fully appreciated in the Western World.". Accessed 9 July 2006.
  13. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 168.
  14. ^ (in Romanian) Membrii Academiei Române din 1866 până în prezent at the Romanian Academy site
  15. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 168.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "[My] old schoolfriend, Tiberiu Iliescu… was all for a revolution in pictorial representation… while I… would endeavour to make the case for the artistic benchmarks of the past, for 'classic judiciousness'…" (quoted at Susara, 2001, p. 15). "The classical realism with which I … executed [the 1953 portrait of Mihail Sadoveanu]…" (quoted at Susara, 2001, p. 20). "I have very much enjoyed seeing myself as the last hero at the bridgehead of great painting." (quoted at Susara, 2001, p.158). See also web page Archived 2006-09-06 at the Wayback Machine from a 1998 exhibition at the National Museum of Art of Romania, accessed 9 July 2006.
  18. ^ Pavel Susara, Un Pictor din Est? (I).
  19. ^ "I have asked myself so many times, as others have asked me too, why I am held in such thrall by El Greco, by Rembrandt], and by Goya… Rembrandt is the nearest to me." (quoted at Susara, 2001, p. 123).
  20. ^ Susara, 2001, p.145
  21. ^ [Susara, 2001] documents major works in over a dozen Romanian museums and several Romanian private collections, but only two works held abroad: one in Budapest and one in Saint Petersburg.
  22. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 21.
  23. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 22.
  24. ^ Series is mentioned on the web page Archived 2006-09-06 at the Wayback Machine from a 1998 exhibition at the National Museum of Art of Romania, accessed 9 July 2006.
  25. ^ Susara, 2001, p.62–63.
  26. ^ Susara, 2001, p. 34–44, 135–139.
  27. ^ "The idea that everything I was doing might one day be understood as a success achieved by those who had political control of us obliged me to retreat as far as I could into the sort of 'internal exile' that many people were then burying themselves in.... My life surrounded instead by the Mad Kings and the Fears in my own studio was magical delight be comparison." (quoted at Susara, 2001, p. 41; ellipses in the original.) Baba himself wrote of "The nightmares…, the need to make peace with one's memories, and the sadness" that "combine… to bring Goya's monsters up out of the abandoned world… Of such nightly chaos are my Mad Kings and my Fears born…" (quoted at Susara, 2001, p. 157). The vast majority of the Mad Kings that Susura reproduces are credited to "Artist's collection". For Goya's "black paintings" see Erik Weems' The Black Paintings Archived 2013-01-21 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 9 July 2006).


  • Susara, Pavel, Corneliu Baba, London: Parkstone, 2001. ISBN 1-85995-745-5. (The author's name is properly Şuşară, but the English-language edition of the work renders it without diacritics.)
  • Pavel Susara, "Un Pictor din Est?" ("A painter from the East")
    • Part I, Observator Cultural Nr. 104 19–25 February 2002. Accessed 9 July 2006. (in Romanian)
    • Part II, Observator Cultural Nr. 105 26 February – 4 March 2002. Accessed 9 July 2006. (in Romanian)
    • Part III, Observator Cultural Nr. 106 5–11 March 2002. Accessed 9 July 2006. (in Romanian)

External links[edit]

  • Interview with Susara in Observator Cultural Nr. 106, related to his "Un Pictor din Est? series. (in Romanian)