Nicolae Grigorescu is the most important Romanian painter. He is among the best-selling artists at art auctions in Romania. In 2016, his painting “Ţărăncuţe de la fântână” was sold for 320,000 euros. Some of his most famous works include “Pe malul Siretului,” “Fete torcând la poartă,” “Ciobănaş,” “Ţărancă cu maramă,” “Evreul cu gâscă,” “Portret de femeie,” “Autoportret,” and “Atacul de la Smârdan.”
Nicolae Grigorescu was born in 1838 in a village in Dâmbovița. His father passed away early, and his mother had to move with her seven children to Bucharest, in the Cărămidarilor neighbourhood. Here, residents were involved in brick-making for the construction of houses and palaces in the city. The houses were modest, built of wood and clay, and the streets were winding. Today, the Tineretului neighbourhood stands in that location.
At the age of 10, Nicolae became an apprentice to one of the best iconographers in Bucharest: Anton Chladek. He spent two years at the workshop. At 15, he became a church painter. In the guild, he began to be called “Nicu Zugravul.” He signed an important contract at Zamfira Monastery, followed by Agapia Monastery. At just 20 years old, although he had never been to a museum, he created a work in the Renaissance style, with the lines, shapes, and colours of Titian and da Vinci. The oil mural painting is particularly special because the artist drew inspiration for the saints’ figures from the sunburned skin and hard-working hands of local peasants. His most important work is “The Icon of the Mother of God with the Child in Her Arms,” which was made after a peasant woman from a village.
The painting at Agapia was noticed by Mihail Kogălniceanu, the prime minister of the two united principalities. In 1861, he offered Nicolae a scholarship, and he left for Paris—a dream come true! The following year, he entered the School of Fine Arts. Out of 80 candidates, Grigorescu ranked 45th, even surpassing Auguste Renoir. He found his place at the Barbizon School. Far from the bustle of Paris, in the Fontainebleau forest, artists escaped their studios and painted en plein air, or outdoors.
In 1865, he exhibited at the Barbizon exhibition: A branch of apple blossoms. The work was bought by Emperor Napoleon himself, opening all doors for Grigorescu. He participated with seven works at the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris and made study trips to Italy, Greece, and Austria.
In 1877, he was summoned as a front-line painter. At that time, these painters were the equivalent of today’s photographers. “Atacul de la Smârdan” is a unique historical work. The completion of the 10-square-meter canvas took seven years.
He withdrew to France for a period before returning to Romania and held several personal exhibitions at the Romanian Athenaeum, which were very successful.
In 1897, at the height of his artistic maturity, he painted one of his most important works, “Car cu boi.” This theme appears in 300 different representations out of a total of 3,000 works. The painting is an oil on wood, and the name and year appear in the lower right corner, written in red. The work depicts a landscape with hills and a dirt road. What stands out to the viewer is a cart pulled by two oxen, and on the left, a character dressed in traditional clothes. Today, the painting can be admired at the Brukenthal National Museum in Sibiu.
In 1899, he was appointed an honorary member of the Romanian Academy. He is the first visual artist to receive this distinction.
Nicolae Grigorescu felt the need to retreat to Câmpina, at the foot of the mountains. He painted portraits of peasant women, carts with oxen, and landscapes. His paintings began to lose their colours as his eyesight weakened. Objects lost their contours, and everything became unclear. This is what specialists call the “white period.”
After a lifetime of work, Nicolae Grigorescu passed away on July 21, 1907, in Câmpina. In his workshop, on the easel, was his last unfinished work, “The Return from the Fair.”