From Dada to Surrealism



The 1920s saw the beginning of a wave of artistic innovation in Romania. Jewish artists felt at home in provocative modern movements, which rebelled against a society that denied them their right to citizenship. Marcel Janco, who had returned to Bucharest in 1921, M.H. Maxy, who had come back from Berlin in 1923, and the up-and-coming artist Victor Brauner worked together to bring new energy to the art scene. It is mainly due to their efforts that 1924 was one of the most productive years for the Romanian avant-garde. In late 1924, Maxy and Janco drew on their large European network to organize the First International Art Exhibition of Contimporanul, with work by Brauner, Janco, and Maxy and like-minded artists.

M. H. Maxy

M.H. Maxy (Brăila, 26 October 1895 – Bucharest, 19 June 1971)

Maxy is the pseudonym of Maximilian Herman. After secondary school, Maxy studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest. In 1922, he became a pupil of Arthur Segal in Berlin, where he discovered the avant-garde in all its diversity. There he was also exposed to Constructivism and joined the Expressionist Novembergruppe. In 1923 Maxy returned to Romania. As well as contributing to the magazine Contimporanul, he established a new movement in 1925 with the avant-garde magazine Integral, which sought to convey the essence of all the new directions in the art world. He also designed sets for a number of theatres. In 1928 Maxy opened the Studio of Decorative Art. In the 1930s his social consciousness had a growing influence on his paintings: for instance, he often depicted workers. After 1941, race laws made it impossible for Maxy to exhibit his work. He became an instructor at the Jewish School of Arts, teaching Jewish students who had been expelled from official Romanian art academies. In Communist Romania, Maxy was the director of the National Art Museum in Bucharest from 1949 until his death in 1971.

Nude with Veil, 1922 The complex relationship between form and background in this painting shows the influence of Maxy's teacher Arthur Segal. The nude, the white veil but also the surrounding space are broken in similar elements differentiated only by color.

Victor Brauner

Victor Brauner (Piatra-Neamţ, 15 June 1903 – Paris, 12 March 1966)

Victor Brauner was a major representative of Surrealism, the art movement that focuses on the world between dreams and reality. He was born in the East Carpathians, in a town where half the population was Jewish. After an anti-Semitic peasants’ revolt in 1907, the family moved to Germany and later to Austria. In 1919, five years after returning to Bucharest, they were granted Romanian citizenship. That same year, Brauner enrolled at the National School of Fine Arts in Bucharest.

In 1924 he had his first solo exhibition in Bucharest and took part in First International Art Exhibition of Contimporanul, the first event to bring new national and international developments in modern art to the attention of the Romanian public. In 1930, Brauner met André Breton in Paris and discovered Surrealism, which became his new source of inspiration. In 1935, financial troubles compelled him to return to Bucharest. But shocked by a law requiring all Jews to re-apply for citizenship, he left again in 1938, making France his permanent home. After the Second World War, Brauner’s reputation grew rapidly, and he exhibited regularly in New York, London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

Portrait of Ilari Voronca, 1925 Ilarie Voronca was the pen name of the Jewish poet Eduard Marcus, one of Brauner's closest friends. In a kaleidoscopic view, the surface of the painting is "broken" into a series of colored areas, without sparing the sitter's face.

Marcel Janco

Marcel Janco (Bucharest, 24 May 1895 – Ein Hod, 21 April 1984)

Marcel Janco is regarded as one of Romania’s foremost avant-garde artists. He was a co-founder of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, and editor of the leading Romanian avant-garde magazine, Contimporanul.

After secondary school, he left Romania in 1915 to study in Zurich. As one of the earliest Dadaists, he participated in many exhibitions and performances from 1916 onward. On returning to Bucharest in 1921, he became very influential in the development of the avant-garde in his native country. Janco remained affiliated with Contimporanul in the 1920s, while also contributing to other progressive art journals. He also worked as an architect, designing modernist buildings in Bucharest from 1926 on.

Le Poilu (Hairy | The Front-Line Soldier), 1924 “Poilu” (hairy) was the nickname of French soldiers during WWI. In this work Janco used material such as burlap and newspapers to depict a French soldier.

Portrait of a man (Jacques Costin), 1922-1924 The Jewish writer Jacques Goldschlager Costin was a school friend and, later on, Janco’s brother-in-law. The anatomic proportions between the head and the torso are no longer respected, and the face of the model is composed of several planes seen from different points of view.