Outside Influences on Petrescu



Outside Influences on Petrescu


Tyler, Geoffrey




To paraphrase Donne, no artist is an island, although a very few seem to come from almost nowhere with a fully developed style. Petrescu, although a very individual artist, certainly had influences.

He is self-taught, never having attended art classes of any kind. As a beginner, he must have practised by painting photographs of paintings by others. There once was in his studio a copy of a well-known Cezanne that he certainly could not have seen abroad. However, it could not be said that such early exercises affected his mature style. Equally, early paintings of Romanian scenes are academic in the sense that they are realistic representations of what he could view around him. But they, too, bear no relationship to his mature work.

However, Petrescu is no naive primitive, self-taught and without a strong technique, despite his lack of an academic background. Quite the reverse, his knowledge of art history, of individual artists, both old and modern, their lives and works, is quite encyclopedic, to an extent that is unusual in the light of his lack of academic art training and his isolation in Romania for his first four decades.

For all the breadth of his knowledge, in his own works there are probably only about four influences of importance. The first was the paintings of the byzantine artists in icons and frescoes. This influence was overwhelming and is discussed elsewhere in this study.

The second major area of influence was the works of the very early Italian and Flemish painters. They were still in some ways not too far removed from the religious themes of icons, no matter how more advanced their painting techniques. The Flemish painters, in particular, made a very great impression on Petrescu when he saw them for the first time, other than in photographs, during his initial visit to Holland for a one-man exhibition. The influence was immediate and is very evident in the series “Memories of a Museum”, which effectively are Petrescu transformations of early Flemish diptych and triptych altar pieces. The influence of the early Italians of the northern schools is less direct but certainly there. The extensive use of gold leaf is an obvious parallel between Petrescu and them, but it is the warmth and the sunshine in the paintings of these artists that is the main transplant into Petrescu’s works. In many of his Romanian landscapes, and to some extent in his western landscapes, there is the brilliant light and warmth that is the essence of the Italian schools.

The third influence, Paul Klee, is acknowledged by Petrescu as important and this is especially evident in works in the period 1960 to 1975. In many of his non-landscape paintings of this period, the main design is divided into many small interior patterns. The effect is amplified by the Klee-like technique of incising the paint surface with mainly abstract designs. But perhaps more than the physical similarities to Klee's works and techniques, there is in so many Petrescu paintings, the same intellectual playfulness that is so important in the Swiss artist. Petrescu's scale is also much the same as Klee's. Although both painted at times large paintings, the more common size is relatively small; they are paintings for rooms rather for large museum walls; they are intimate rather than public works. The importance of detail is crucial for both artists.

Finally, there are artists who utilized collage as a technique. Mention is made in the section on collage of the influence of Picasso and Braque in their joint cubist period. However, in most respects it is not easy to see the direct influence on Petrescu by these two. Equally important with these two masters, are two major users of collage, Schwitters and Cornell. But as with the former two, the influence is not one of direct imitation but rather because of Petrescu's love of their collage technique and the intellectual content of their works. Of the two, no doubt Schwitters was the earlier influence, since examples of Cornell in European museums at the time when Petrescu first was able to visit them, were few. In the second half of the 1970s, when visiting America, Cornell works became much more accessible, and they fascinated Petrescu, both the boxes and the more conventional collages. However, it must be emphasised that the influence of these two masters of collage on Petrescu was indirect and less pervasive than that of artists mentioned earlier in this section.



Tyler, Geoffrey, “Outside Influences on Petrescu,” Tyler Collection of Romanian and Modern Art: University of Tasmania, accessed July 27, 2017, http://tylercollection.omeka.net/items/show/2089.