Art Deco monument: Maica Smara statue

Maica Smara statue, Cismigiu Park, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The central park of Bucharest, Cismigiu, contains a number of memorials of past personalities that imprinted the city’s history. The monument dedicated to Smaranda Gheorghiu (1857 -1944), or Maica Smara, how she was known among her contemporaries, is one of the very few that exhibits Art Deco elements. I believe the statue was erected sometimes in the 1940s, or even the following decade, as a tribute, probably after her death. Maica Smara was active among the nascent women’s rights movement in this conservative country in south east Europe. She was well known in Romania as a literary figure and traveller reaching even North Cape in Norway in her peregrinations, not a mean fact for a Romanian woman of the late c19th and the early c20th periods. The name “Maica Smara” literally means “mother Smara[nda]”, given as a compliment for her educational work and as a writer of children stories and poems.

Maica Smara statue, Cismigiu Park, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The most prominent Art Deco element of the monument, which is the creation of the sculptor Mihai Onofrei, is the bronze bas-relief at its base showing two school children. The boy and the girl are represented reading and respectively writing attentively passages from Maica Smara’s stories. I especially like the flamboyant flower motif on the left hand side area of the panel, which conveys the serenity and natural world described in this personality’s literary creations, some of which I read and listened to during my childhood.

Maica Smara statue, Cismigiu Park, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Another Art Deco element of note is exemplified by the three retreating steps at the base of the monument, illustrating the rule of three typical of this style.

Neo-Romanian wooden jardiniere

Neo-Romanian wooden jardiniere, mid-1920s house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is an ample example of Neo-Romanian style wooden jardiniere that makes use of ethnographic motifs encountered in Romanian peasant art, containing details found in other elements of a Neo-Romanian house, such as the arches supporting the flower pot holder, similar with the corbels of doorway awnings. The jardiniere adorns the window base of a large house in Cotroceni quarter of Bucharest, dating from the mid-1920s, period which represents the apogee (mature phase) of Romania’s national architectural style. This edifice and many others of high architectural history value are part of the forthcoming Historic Houses of Romania tour in Cotroceni area (scheduled for Sunday 8 April ’12).

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery

Bucharest’s Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery is located on Boulevard Ion Michalache, in the north west area of the city. It is named “Philanthropy” (“Filantropia” in Romanian) and among the many personalities buried there are Mihail Sebastian, one of my favourite writers of inter-war Bucharest, who wrote the novel “It’s Been 2000 Years…” in which he magisterially documents the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism in this country, or Iosif Sava, the best Romanian classical music commentator. The cemetery also contains a monument dedicated to Romanian heroes of Jewish ethnicity fallen in the Great War.

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery (©Valentin Mandache)

The gate of this solemn place is of a remarkable monumental Art Deco – Modernist style, which in Bucharest is a rare sight for structures associated with religious and funerary functions. The ironwork of the gate is an interesting combination of Jewish (the star of David, menorah) and universalist (the radiating sun) symbols rendered in an Art Deco framework.

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery (©Valentin Mandache)

The assembly also has the outlines of a classical antiquity temple, with its concrete pilasters flanking the entrances and the suggestion of crossing under the massive lintel of an ancient city gate (entering the city of the dead from the city of the living in this particular instance).

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery (©Valentin Mandache)

I like the geometric way in which the menorah, the seven-branched Jewish ritual lampstand, is rendered on the side gate presented in the photograph above, of a quite unusual shape, different from the semicircular branches seen on the Arch of Titus or the coat of arms of the State of Israel.

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery (©Valentin Mandache)

In the above image the rule of three of the Art Deco style is obvious in the three stepped wall framing of the window, crowned by a large pediment embellished with the star of David.

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery (©Valentin Mandache)

The cemetery’s synagogue is of a c19th architecture, derived from the Jewish central European baroque and dates probably from the first decades of functioning of this burial ground. The star of David is noticeable about the top of each dome covering its hall and side towers.

The Art Deco – Modernist style of the gate of this cemetery signifies, in my opinion, the spirit in step with the times of this once dynamic and creative community, dwindled by the events of Second World War and Romania’s national-communist policies of the second part of the c20th.

Art Deco letter boxes

Art Deco letter boxes in the entrance of a mid-1930s apartment block, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The letter boxes in the image above are most probably the original ones, from the date when the Art Deco style apartment block hosting them has been built, sometimes in the mid-1930s Bucharest. The veneer of each box is still well preserved, with the wood fibres arranged in something resembling a papyrus flower pattern, which is one of the classical Art Deco decorative motifs. This piece of furniture could easily be restored to its former glory and one must only hope that the proprietors of those apartments will be sensible enough to preserve it for the future, resisting the current fashionable temptations in Romania to replace period artefacts with characterless  modern, “made in China”, accoutrements.

Dragon lamp

Image from last Sunday’s walking tour which I organised in Gradina Icoanei area of Bucharest. It is a wall lamp representing a fearsome dragon, which through the fire flames billowing out of its mouth suggest its role as a light appliance, acting also as the symbolic protector of the family living in that house. The artefact and the building are designed in what I term as the fairytale castle style architecture, popular in Bucharest and other large Romanian towns during the prosperous period of the late 1930s.

Dragon wall lamp, late 1930s fairytale castle style architecture, Icoanei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

1940s lettering

1940s style lettering, name board of a shoe repair shop in Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is an original name board of a small shoe repair shop in Bucharest, which dates probably from the years of the Second World War. The lettering style is very evocative of that historical watershed period for the city and Romania in general. For me it suggests the streets of the city during the hot August 1944 days, when King Michael broke the disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany, arrested the pro-German dictator and joined the allied cause, saving the country from a looming catastrophic punishment invasion by the Red Army.

(I am grateful to Romulus Andrei Bena for pointing out this shop board, during a Historic Houses of Romania architectural walking tour in Dacia area, last year)

Fairytale castle style doorway

I would like to present you what in my opinion is the most flamboyant doorway in what I call the fairytale castle style that flourished in Bucharest during the prosperous second part of the 1930s. That architecture was developed at a time when many businesspeople got rich quick from country’s large oil and grain exports. The fairytale castle style is a variation of a more inclusive design, the Mediterranean style that emerged in those years, which is inspired from romanticised Mediterranean models of that era, such as Florentine, Venetian, Spanish or Arabic, also often mixed together with Neo-Romanian motifs. That type of architecture is also erroneously called “Moorish” in locally published Romanian tourist and cultural guides, although is does not have much to do with that particular architectural current. The aspect and message of that design is, in my view, quite frivolous, Disney-like, in tone with the easy money sloshing around in the late 1930s Bucharest.

Fairytale castle style doorway, late 1930s house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The massive wooden doorway is flanked by two stone columns modelling palm trees, decorated on their trunk with fleur-de-lis, aspirational symbols for nobleness and high status. The ornamental keystone of the door arch opening contains the monogram of the proprietor, a “T” letter.

Fairytale castle style doorway, late 1930s house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The column capitals suggest a palm tree’s foillage, crowned by stern looking sphinxes holding medieval knight shields between their stumpy and impressively clawed forelegs.

Fairytale castle style doorway, late 1930s house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The door itself is made from panels of heavy essence wood (probably oak), adorned with crusader shield basreliefs. The rivets that pepper the rails between panels suggest the entrance of a fortified castle from the times of yore.

The doorway assembly is thus very suggestive about the mentality and way of life of a part of the Romanian elite in the inter-war period, which was wiped out not long after by the Second World War and the four decades of communist dictatorship that followed.

Neo-Romanian style garden pavilion

Neo-Romanian style garden pavilion, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a rare architectural history find: a Neo-Romanian style garden gazebo. I know of just three other such examples throughout Bucharest, one of them documented on this blog at the following link. The structure dates, looking at its tell tale features, from the first part of the 1930s (what I call the late phase of the Neo-Romanian style) and in all probability was preceded by a pavilion in the Little Paris (what I term the local architecture inspired from French c19th historicist styles) or another pre-Great War design. The reason I am supposing that is because the construction sits within the courtyard of a Little Paris house dating form the 1900s, betrayed in this photograph by clamshell awning peculiar of that era, visible in the upper right corner area. The garden pavilion, even in the ramshackle condition in which is found now, conveys the beautiful semi-rural atmosphere of old patriarchal Bucharest, a flash back image of the pleasant city which once was, before the industrialization of the communist era and overpopulation and neglect occasioned by the wild economic boom and bust cycles of the 2000s.

Balanced colours Art Deco doorway

Art Deco style doorway, late 1930s house, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I was quite pleased to encounter this clean Art Deco – Modernist design doorway dating from the second part of the 1930s Bucharest. I believe that the contemporary choice of colours (dark red and blueish white) largely follows the original scheme. That reminds me of the fashion in Bauhaus and Modernist International styles of employing primary colours in decoration (a case in point is Mondrian’s influence on those currents). I played around with a number of colour filters to highlight even more the pleasing to the eye proportions of this assembly, a proof of the good quality architecture performed in inter-war period Bucharest; the photomontage bellow shows a few of those colour filtered photographs.

Art Deco style doorway, late 1930s house, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)