Prodan Romanian Cultural Foundation
16 Red Lion Square London WC1R 4QT England
+44 (0) 20 7831 9905
17redlionsquare@gmail.com

 
 

Strange Tales from Romania

Here are some strange tales reported by British newspapers...


Costume with a History

Traditional peasant costume continues to be a source of pride in Romania. Weaving and embroidery methods are still passed down from mother to daughter in some villages. The costumes of grandparents and older ancestors are valued and hoarded, to be brought out for special festivals and occasions.

The white blouse embroidered with black shown here incorporates neolithic Vinca script symbols from 6,000 years BC, showing how far the tradition dates back. The archive black and white photograph at the bottom here shows the infant Princess Maria of Romania (1900-1961, she went on to become Queen Maria of Yugoslavia), in traditional Romanian peasant dress.

As the great Romanian writer Mircea Eliade said in his History of Religions: Old costumes are little temples, they tell stories, rich as life. They contain ideas and rituals, continuing through history. Not for a generation or two, but far above time. Like principles, like symbols.












Romanian Craftmanship

The Foundation is keen to help preserve and protect Romanian rural customs, fabrics and clothing, embroidery stitches and patterns, recipes and kitchen utensils, traditional musical instruments as well as farming methods and means of transport.

In rural Romania, EU membership is changing a way of life unaltered in generations. Read an article about it from Times2 (The Times, February 21, 2007):

The last rites for rustic Romania - A village that time forgot (PDF, 1.3MB)

The textiles below are from the collection of Mia Prodan:






Embroidery from a fragment of a garment, probably a cuff




Example of a piece of woven cloth

Heavy woven cotton



Embroidery detail with wool and thread



Embroidery detail from a tablecloth

Leather Belts
Leather belts from Bistrita-Nasaud
and Sibiu counties

Wooden Mugs
Carved wooden mugs from Hunedoara county

Romanian Shepherds
3 Romanian Shepherds
Romanian Shepherds
Carpathian Peasant

Wooden Mugs
This small book on Romanian Peasant Art, with fascinating illustrations, was found among Mia Prodan's books. The pages are frail and worn and a couple of them are missing.
Please click on the image to see the entire book (PDF, 13.2MB)


Matisse's Material World

Evening Standard - 'The Arts' - Friday, 4 March 2005

The Royal Academy's beautiful new exhibition reveals how a passion for textiles took 20th-century painting in a radical new direction.
BY NICK HACKWORTH


Matisse was inspired by a 19th-century
Romanian peasant blouse from his textile
collection to paint Seated Odalisque (1926).

Matisse was on a bus trundling down a street on Paris's Left Bank when he spied it. A white tablecloth decorated with a dark-blue swirling pattern of arabesques and flower-baskets, hanging in the window of a second-hand clothes shop. He instantly fell in love with it, jumped off the bus to buy it and thereafter always kept it close to him.

That piece of what the artist called his "toile de Jouy", after a well-known 18th-century French textile factory, though a particular favourite, was only one of a large and eclectic collection of fabrics, wall hangings and clothes that he accumulated and surrounded himself with during his life.

Visitors to his studio in the South of France described it as an Aladdin's cave of Persian carpets, African wall-hangings, cushions, curtains, clothes and oriental screens, a riotous environment of colour and pattern enlivened by Mediterranean light.

Matisse's love of beautiful fabrics has been confined to art historical footnotes, but the Royal Academy's new exhibition, conceived by his biographer, Hilary Spurling, is the first to argue, eloquently and persuasively, for the vital Importance of these textiles. She reveals how the patterns and colours of these often everyday materials spurred his progress from student of the traditions of Academicism to pioneer of Fauvism, driving him on towards the end of his life to the very edge of abstraction.


Inspirational: a 19th century Romanian peasant blouse

At the RA, as if fighting a criminal case, Matisse, His Art and His Textiles lays out Its argument, chronologically displaying the cloths that Matisse was exposed to side by side with the works he painted at the time and in many of which the textiles appeared. It is a format that gives a strangely intimate, almost invasive feeling, as if it were revealing for the first time a dubious fetish that Matisse had kept hidden from public gaze. The point of the show, of course, is that he did not.

The crucial period for Matisse was the first decade of the 20th century, when his love of colour and pattern, qualities that found their purest expression at the time in textiles, won over his academic training and ushered in his Fauvist period. The illusion of perspectival space fell away, to be replaced by an unrepentant exploration of painting as the creation of flat surfaces made up of rhythms and patterns of colour, in which depiction of traditional forms became sub-servient to the overall scheme of the painting.

The point is made in the show by following the "toile de Jouy" through a succession of works.


Matisse used his favourite piece of fabric, his "toile de Jouy" (left), in
much of his work, making it the subject of his 1905-6 Still Life with
Blue Tablecloth (right).

It first appears as a simple background and prop for paintings of a guitarist and his son, Pierre, in 1903 and 1904, before largely becoming the subject matter itself. It begins to take over In an exuberant still life of 1905-6, in whlch the difference between fore- ground and background are barely perceptible and the intensely coloured fruits, jugs and bowls float and melt Into a field of rough pattern; it finally dominates a still life of 1909, almost entirely filling the canvas.

Matisse lived until the age of 20 in the textile town of Bohain-en-Vermandois, in the then heavily industrialised North-East of France, famous for the award-winning quality and audacity of the designs it produced for Paris's novelty-hungry fashion market.

Industrial decline In the Fifties saw the history of that industry almost entirely erased, but In the first room of the RA's exhibition. books of swatches froin Bohaln are displayed, dug up with difficulty by Spurling - a glorious array of imaginative and boldly coloured creations. These would have been the only art that Matisse set eyes on until he ran away to art school, and they remained for him always an ideal.

In 1908, he stated: "What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity (which could be) a soothing and calming Influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue."

It is left to the visitor to the RA to ponder the irony that in the end Matisse's studied artistic ambitions were little different to those of the thousands of forgotten and nameless weavers with whom he grew up and whose creations llve on only in a few scrap books.

• Matisse, His Art and His Textiles opens tomorrow at the Royal Academy (020 7300 8000) and runs unlil 30 May. The second part of Hilary Spurling's two-volume biography of the artist, Matisse the Master. is published by Hamish Hamilton.