Ignat Bednarik

The Romanian painter Ignat Bednarik (1882 – 1963) worked in almost every genre: portrait, landscape, still life, genre scenes, composition. He tried different techniques - oil-painting, water-color, pastel, ink-drawing - before finally devoting himself purely to water-color. He was also interested in decorative art, design, interior decoration and book illustration. In his lifetime, he produced more than 3000 works of art.

Today, his works can be seen in collections and museums both in Romania and abroad: the Romanian National Gallery of Art, Military Museum, and National History Museum, the Bucharest City Museum of History and Art, the library of the Romanian Academy, the Brukenthal Museum in Sibiu; also in the Albertina Collection in Vienna and in private collections in Europe, America and the Middle East.

From 1898, Bednarik studied at the Bucharest School of Fine Arts under the sculptor and water-colourist, Ion Georgescu. In 1901, he went to Vienna where he occasionally attended classes at the Academy of Fine Arts. His real teachers, however, were the masterpieces in the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Albertina.

In 1909, he married Elena Alexandrina Barabas, also a graduate of the Bucharest School of Fine Arts. Together they left for Munich to study at the Royal School of Applied Art. Munich at that time was a dynamic, international, cultural centre, brimming with new ideas, in particular the influence of the Jugendstil aesthetic.

The Bednariks made their debut in 1910, in Paris, at the Salon d'automne held in the Grand Palais. They returned to Bucharest in the same year. Ignat Bednarik exhibited for the first time in Romania in 1913 at the 'Artistic Association'; he subsequently took part in official salons and opened his first individual exhibition in Bucharest in 1915.

His works of the period bring the influence of European symbolism to Romania at the same time as Alexandru Macedonski was exploring similar ideas in poetry. The longing for evasion, a favourite concern of symbolists, shows itself in a variety of ways in his work. A symbolic interpretation of reality, seen through the world of myths, is found in works like Saved, while the interdependence of heaven and earth is explored in When the gods came down to earth and a demythologising of fiction is attempted in End of the legend (all 1915). The need for escape, the longing for the absolute and the desire to recreate reality in an ideal dimension can also be seen in Towards glory (1915), The Spirit Triumphs (1916), Excelsior, The Paths of Life (1922) and Aeternum Vale!.

The escape into the world of legends and ancient ballads (for example, Master Manole ) demonstrates Bednarik's debt to Romanian folk-tales, seen particularly well in his charming series of illustrations for The Tales of the Romanians by Petre Ispirescu (1925-26).

Notes of nostalgia and reverie also permeate his portrait-compositions Ioana (1920), The Letter (1921) and Portrait of Mrs. M. Tomescu (1923), while his treatment of philosophical subjects, such as Towards the Styx (1916), The Enigma of Life (1919), Chimera , or To Be or Not To Be (1922), is imbued with an air of symbolic mystery.

Another kind of symbolic escape is found in the realm of fine sensations, of correspondances. The theme of music often appears in Bednarik's work, for example Young girl playing the violin (1915), At the piano and Playing the violin (both 1922). Often music is associated with flowers which decorate the interior where the music is being produced; at times they are so faintly sketched on the canvas as to be almost invisible (another symbolist trait). Flowers are often present in portraits of children (Mother's birthday) and almost always in paintings of female figures (a favourite association of Art Nouveau artists), for example in Portrait of the artist's wife (1919), Portrait of a young girl (1925), or Portrait of Miss J.P. (1924). They are also seen in his interiors with nudes painted in 1921. The flower symbolism is enhanced by the choice of the blossom which accompanies the female figure. Mastering the delicate transparency of water-colour, Bednarik surrounds his sitters sometimes with lilies, but more often with roses or peonies. In his next period, from 1919 to 1928, the still life with flowers became one of his favourite subjects.

The novelty of his work lies in its symbolist conception as well as the atmosphere of deep philosophical contemplation, transposed through water-colour, which imbues his painting with such distinctive individuality.

The horrors of the First World War brought an abrupt halt to these heady, coloured, symbolist atmospheres. As a member of the War Team of Artists and Sculptors set up in Iasi by Queen Marie, Bednarik employed all his graphic skill in vigorous depictions of conflict and hardship .

Between 1915 and 1927, Bednarik held eight individual water-colour exhibitions in Bucharest and, in 1928, one in New York; every one of these was well received by the press.