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April 16, 2021

Great Romanian painters at the Royal Palace in Lisbon: Modern Romanian Painting Exhibition (1875-1945) from Bonte Foundation Collection

Alain Bonte, Antonio Beja, Doina Pauleanu, Marina Coanda BundacDirectorate General of Heritage of Portugal, Romanian Cultural Institute in Lisbon and Bonte Foundation present, between 12th of May and 30th of August 2016, the Modern Romanian Painting Exhibition (1875-1945) from Bonte Foundation Collection, held at the National Palace Ajuda, Lisbon.

Bonte Collection is a genuine Romanian modern art gallery, bringing together works by some of the most valuable artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Nicolae Grigorescu, Gheorghe Petrascu, Adam Baltatu, Camil Ressu, Iosif Iser, Theodor Pallady, Nicolae Darascu, Francisc Sirato, Alexandru Ciucurencu, Nicolae Vermont, Vasile Popescu, Hippolytus Strâmbu, Kimon Login, Arthur Verona, Dimitrescu Stephen, Stephen Smith, Leo. Biju, Theodorescu Sion, Samuel Mützner, Rodica Maniu, Magdalena Radulescu, Constantin Isachie, Dumitru Ghiata, Rudolf Schweitzer- Cumpana,  Jean Cheller. The work selection is  not only a true sample of a collector’s passion, but ultimately a rare devotion to a cultural  cause  and a high  faith – practiced while with professional arguments professional – that the Romanian fine arts deserve to be properly known  across the  national borders as well.

Alain Bonte, Honorary Consul of Romania in Portugal, discovered modern Romanian paintings by elaborately prospecting modern painting museums, galleries and collections. Meanwhile, his familiarity to the Romanian plastic art proved to be the basis of an impressive collection of paintings, which today forms the backdrop of the Bonte Foundation. A very good connoisseur of European art, endowed with intuition and precious taste, distinguished diplomat and businessman, investigates and finds artists that spark interest, makes connections and inferences, understands lineages and manages to bring together a representative collection of the great currents that marked the Romanian painting of the late nineteenth century to the years leading communist regime. Gradually, occasional purchases of the Foundation acquire a scale up a specialized art gallery.

Highly familiar with the collection, the Romanian Cultural Institute and the Romanian Embassy in Portugal decided to capitalize the merits and the intentions of the  valuable collection. A new dimension has been added to the by involving Ajuda National Palace in Lisbon, a Portuguese first class cultural institution, located in the tourist circuit. Former residence for the  kings of Portugal since the late eighteenth century, Ajuda National Palace is now headquarters for a museum, a huge library and the Ministry of Culture of Portugal.

Starting May, 12th , paintings from the Bonte Collection have been placed in the museum with the aim of showing the Portuguese public an eloquent moment of the maximum flowering of  the Alain Bonte, Ambasador PopoviciRomanian culture.


José Alberto Ribeiro, Director of the Ajuda National Palace: The works exposed demonstrate a careful selection of paintings with high artistic value


The Ajuda National Palace, formal royal residence in Lisbon, has always been a place of meeting of different nationalities and cultures. In this regard, it was a pleasure for me to receive the proposal to present the exhibition “Modern Romanian Painting (1875-1945)” of the Bonte Foundation collection. The works exposed reveal not only the taste of the art collector, Alain Bonte, for the period in question but they demonstrate, as well, a careful selection of paintings with high artistic value as shown by their color intensity and by the vanguard of different pre abstractionist stylistic trends to which they belong and from which they were cut short by the horrors of WWII.

Thanks to the Romanian Cultural Institute and the Romanian Embassy we can see a selection of modernist exemplary Romanian painting which, for historical reasons, remained barely known to the rest of Europe.


Doina Pauleanu, the curator of the exhibition: Connoisseur of European art, the collector identified in Romania  its unknown segment


Exposição de Pintura Romena Moderna (1875-1945) do Acervo da Fundação Bonte.
Exposição de Pintura Romena Moderna (1875-1945) do Acervo da Fundação Bonte.

Arrived in Romania for business opportunities, Alain Bonte, currently Honorary Consul of our country in Portugal, discovers modern Romanian painting via a first purchase (a rural scene illustrating the author’s preoccupations with traditional national motives) and resolves to explore museums, galleries, and collections in existence. The discovery leads to research in the area, the build-up of the collection, and the set-up of the foundation.

Connoisseur of European art, the collector identified in our country its unknown segment. The first acquired work is followed by many others; endowed with good taste and intuition, the distinguished diplomat and businessman begins investigative work and, in time, comes upon the artists who spark his interest. He learns about the national school of art, makes connections, understands affiliations, detects congruencies. He realizes that only an averse destiny interrupted the cultural exchanges of the modern era, isolating the Romanian culture and depriving it of access to the international  platform of affirmation, to which it had already been connected in 1925, when Henry Focillon was writing (in the catalogue of the Exhibition “Romanian Art,  Ancient and Modern” opened in 1925 in the Paris salons of Jeu de Paume) strengthening the beliefs of our art historians that modern “Romanian painting is a school and not the confluence of different mannerisms”.

Gradually, the occasional purchases of the foundation acquire the scope of a program, become representative and assemble a specialized art gallery.

Knowing the collection, the Romanian Cultural Institute decided to capitalize on its merits; together with the Bonte Foundation, the Institute’s representative in Lisbon found a prestigious museum, Palácio Nacional de Ajuda, with which it collaborated towards the realization of the project Romanian Painting in European Synchronism (1875-1945).

The first temporal benchmark that establishes the consecration of Grigorescu’s painting, is, at the same time, a turning point in the culture of the century, an acceptance and an affirmation of an identity in modern Romanian art. The latter is, unfortunately, the year which triggers a temporary loss of self-awareness (determined by the dictates of an ideology imposed with cruelty) in the Romanian artistic expression.

Between these two benchmarks mutations take place,  artistic  successes and failures, Romanian art rediscovers archetypal forms and capitalizes on a vocation for synchronism, established painters live their lives and accomplish their work, directions of development of the national  school  gain contours ever more precise, the platform for consecration  solidifies  its criteria;  this catalogue is not and cannot be a text overview of a chosen field, but  a case study demonstrating how a private collection assembled with love, understanding, knowledge and in all honesty, over the last twenty years, can offer, despite the inherent omissions, (circumstantially determined) an eloquent panorama of the proposed period.



Alain Bonte: Confessions 


I am a passionate art collector.

Since my first visit to Romania, in 1997, I have been discovering a segment of modern European art and a national school of art, with artists trained in Bucharest and the main cultural centers ofGrigorescu Europe, who returned to their homeland to follow their path and fulfill their artistic destiny.

I knew that Romania, a country bordering the Orient and situated in the Byzantine sphere of cultural influence, was known for its exquisite fresco covered churches dating from the Middle Ages. However, I was not aware that modernity was part of its cultural heritage, as well.

My journey in collecting and learning about Modern Romanian painting began after I acquired the painting At the Fair by Dumitru Ghiata.  I chanced upon this work in an art gallery in Bucharest and I was attracted by its austere simplicity and lack of artifice.

My initial interest grew with time into a constant preoccupation and materialized itself in numerous acquisitions. I benefitted from the expert advice of art lovers and connoisseurs to whom I am profoundly thankful.  In 2006, the Bonte Foundation was established with the aim of making  Modern Romanian art known to a larger public and to place it within the circuit of European art.

The proposal, initiated by the Romanian Cultural institute, to organize at the Palácio Nacional de Ajuda an exhibition with these works was entirely within the stated intentions of the foundation and an honor to us.  We hope that the venue chosen for this event – a former royal residence in an architecturally imposing and representative edifice – and the quality and novelty of the exhibited works will generate interest and bring many visitors.

It is my conviction that the Portuguese experts and the public, through this exhibition, will become familiar with this fascinating but sadly neglected segment of European fine art.







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