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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Stephan Luchian

Albastrele, ca. 1910, Stephan Luchian             

Luchian--a House Painter, ca. 1890s.
(His first painting was of a house.)
There's an old saying, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." The same applies to artists (regardless of gender). When the drive to create, the drive to paint, the drive merely to survive, is so overwhelming, then an artist has to do what an artist has to do. Normally I begin talking about an artist starting with his or her birth, education, influences, career, etc. In dealing with the Romanian painter, Stephan Lucian it seems best to work in reverse. Stephan Luchian died in 1917, suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). For those who don't recall, MS is an inflammation and scaring causing damage to the spinal cord, which disrupts the ability of the nervous system to communicate. The symptoms are wide ranging including various physical, mental, and psychiatric problems. New symptoms occur in isolation. Others buildup over time. Between attacks, they may even disappear completely. However, permanent neurological problems eventually occur as the disease advances. It's incurable, even today. Death occurs within a few years after the first diagnosis. Stephan Lucian was first diagnosed in 1909.
The Last Autumn Ride, 1892, Stephan Luchian
Portrait of a Woman, 1901,
Stephan Luchian
For a struggling young artist of forty-one at the time, the diagnosis and prognosis were a devastating jolt. Lucian suddenly became paralyzed, though he had exhibited various symptoms of the disease for some ten years before. Although Stephan Luchian inherited a modest fortune with the death of his father, a Romanian military officer in 1877, the sum quickly dissipated. It purchased for him a first-rate, French art education under the tutelage of no less than William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It did not, however, guarantee him success as an artist. He spent most of his life living in poverty. His works bore little resemblance to that of the Academic Bouguereau at the Academie Julien. But there he was able to meet and rub shoulders with artists such as Manet and Degas, both of whom proved to be a strong influence in his work as seen in his The Last Autumn Ride (above), dating from 1892.
Interior (Lorica), 1913, Stephan Luchian, his last painting, the love of his life.
Hair Washing, 1911-12, Stephan Luchian
In 1898, Stephan Luchian met, and planned to marry a fellow student, Cecilia Vasilescu (above), whom he began teaching to paint. Unfortunately, it was about this same time that his first symptoms of MS began to occur. The wedding was put off. In fact, it never happened, though Cecilia remained with him, caring for him the rest of his life. Despite the debilitative effects of MS, Luchian remained quite active, not just in painting, but organizing and entering a number of national and international competitive exhibitions, often winning prizes and critical acclaim...but few sales. He readily embraced the newest styles and trends of the time, Art Nouveau, Jugendstil and Symbolism, becoming a leader in various art movements both at home in Romania and in Paris.

The Well on Clucerului Street, 1902-04, Stefan Luchian_
The Head of a Child, Stephan Luchian
As an Impressionist, Luchian painted landscapes. But landscapes seldom brought good prices even as they began gaining acceptance in various art circles during the waning years of the 1800s. His movement toward Symbolism in painting got him some acceptance among his fellow artists but little else. He also painted genre (above, left) and a few excellent expressionistic portraits (right, and below, left). But, in the end, it was his disease which dominated his painting style as he came to the point of no longer being able to hold a brush. Yet he painted on, the brush tied to his fingers with string. Moreover, it was during these difficult early years of the 20th-century, the late years of his life, that his work began to gain recognition and bring decent prices. As was the case with other dying artists of his time, Luchian was forced to turn his attention to floral paintings (top and below). It's a strange irony that these are among the best work he ever did.

The Chrysanthemums, (After 1910), Stephan Luchian

A head of the Old,
Stephan Luchian
As his multiple sclerosis became known, rumors spread that Luchian had hired another artist to paint using his name. A scandal ensued. The cops came, arresting the invalid painter, charging him with fraud. Other than friend and critic, Tudor Arghezi, few others came to his defense. To add insult to injury, apparently, Luchian was forced to demonstrate before the authorities that he could still handle a brush (though awkwardly). The charges were dropped. Stephan Lucian painted up until the last three or four years of his life. Born in 1868, he was forty-nine when he died.

The Laundress, Stephan Luchian

The Old Man (Nicolae, the Fiddler), 1906, Stephan Luchian.
Telltale signs of the MS are already evident some eleven years before his death.


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