Corneliu Baba



Corneliu Baba



Birth Date




Death Date



artist, painter

Biographical Text

Corneliu Baba was born in 1906 in Craiova in the south of Romania. He learned to draw and paint from his father, Gheorghe Baba (1863-1952), a Romanian artist and church painter who had studied at the Academy of Art in Vienna. Corneliu’s maternal grandmother was of German origin. Under the influence of his mother, Matilda, he acquired a solid knowledge of German Romanticism and became a proficient violin player. In 1926 he was admitted, with the highest mark, to the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest but was excluded due to poor attendance. He studied Literature and Philosophy in Bucharest (1926-30). He studied under Nicolae Tonitza at the Academy of Fine Arts in Iasi (1934-38). He was Professor of Painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Iasi (1946–1950). Between 1958 and 1977 he was Professor of Painting at the Institute of Fine Arts in Bucharest (Tyler Collection artists such as Stefan Caltia, Sorin Ilfoveanu and Zamfir Dumitrescu were among his pupils).
In the 1930s Baba was influenced by revolutionary romanticism and socialist ideas especially after two research visits when he explored the underground world of city beggars. He painted the interior of Hasas Chapel in Oradea (1939-40). After World War II his debut painting ‘The Chess Player’, exhibited at the Art Salon in Bucharest (1948), was deemed to be ‘ideologically unsound’: denounced as a ‘reactionary’ formalist, Baba was shortly imprisoned at a time when Stalinist apparatchiks were officially imposing Socialist Realism as the only acceptable direction for the Romanian contemporary art.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, Baba’s thematic preoccupation with the proletarian underdog and his natural curiosity about the psychology of the masses enabled him to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the political censorship. In individual portraits or group representations of rural workers (e.g. ‘Peasants’, 1953, ‘Resting in the Field’,1954) he nevertheless continued to concentrate on the human face in its dramatic, often disillusioned or even revolted, expressions and showed no affinity with triumphalist depictions of ‘militant art’.
He acknowledged the influence of Spanish painters such as El Greco and Goya, but also that of a Romanian master like Gheorghe Petrascu (1872-1949). The strong sense of composition in Baba's work has also drawn comparison with Renaissance rigors. His painting typically dramatises the dynamic between light and dark - his use of light to stress particular figures or body parts resembles Baroque techniques.
In the later years of his life, Baba's painting emphasized more and more themes of resignation and madness (see for example his series of ‘Harlequins’ and ‘Mad Kings’). The expressionism of this later work, with its depictions of human faces full of despair, caused tensions during Ceausescu’s cult of personality. What emerged from this combination of focus on the inner drama of characters with a solidity of form has been described as a version of tenebrism. It has also drawn comparison with Cézanne.  

Shortly before his death in Bucharest in 1997 Baba published his memoirs, ‘Notes by an Artist from Eastern Europe’. The largest collection of his artworks (90 items) was donated by his wife to the Art Museum in Timisoara. His legacy as an artist and teacher continues to inspire posthumously new generations of contemporary Romanian artists, including the most famous today, Adrian Ghenie, whose master, the painter Cornel Brudascu, is one of Baba’s disciples.

Entry authored by Dr Alex Popescu, Dec 2016




“Corneliu Baba,” Tyler Collection of Romanian and Modern Art: University of Tasmania, accessed December 4, 2022,