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Painters’ Colony of Baia Mare.




The Painting Colony of Baia Mare.

The Painting Colony of Baia Mare.

Key Notes on the Buildings


The wonderful landscape of the medieval-looking miners’ town with its old towers and churches, as well as the beautiful scenery of its surroundings (the hills with chestnut forests and vineyards, the Ferneziu river valley covered with the furnaces’ blue-grey smoke, the mountains and the bald peak of the Gutâi covered in snow until late spring) offered the perfect natural conditions for establishing a painting school based on the principle of nature. Moreover, the founding of a painting school in Baia Mare was also determined by both the existence of talented painters in the area, either locals or artists that had spent their childhood and had studied in the schools there, and by the support and evident interest of the town’s leadership regarding its cultural development. Initially, in 1896, it was intended only as a painting summer school, an extension of the Hollósy School in München. However, it eventually became permanent (1898) – an international painting colony.

A small studio was built in 1896, a wooden shed with three large windows facing north. It was located in the most beautiful area of the Szechenyi Park (today Queen Mary Park), next to the “Jokai” Hill, at the entrance to the “Petofi” Valley1 The studio had become inadequate given the number and especially the fame of the Baia Mare painters who had showcased their artistic creations in international exhibitions in Budapesta, München etc., and had obtained important distinctions. Following this great success, on 26 March 1898, the town’s leadership decided to further support and develop the colony by building eight studios, one for each of the artists2 that had signed the letter addressed to the town council stating their intention of establishing a permanent painting school in Baia Mare. The studios were to be built near or inside the town park according to a construction project elaborated by architect Kann Gvula from Budapest.3 Unfortunately, the death of mayor Oliver Thurman delayed the construction of the studios.

Hollósy Simon 1896

The recurrent subventions given by the Hungarian Ministry of Cults and Public Instruction4 subventions which were also given by the Romanian state in the interwar period) will lead to resuming the discussions about the construction of new studios in 1900. Thus, at the town council’s meeting of 20 June 1900 it was decided to build, apart from the existing studio in the park, another 15×7 m studio,facing north and a double studio (a building with two studios). The money necessary for their construction would be provided from the tax on alcoholic beverages.5

In 1900, the double-studio building was finished6Starting with 1 November 1900 the City Council rented the spaces for 300 crowns/year to István Réti (the eastern side) and to Béla Iványi-Grünwald (the western side). Intending to also start living in the studio, Grünwald asked the city hall for construction materials to build a kitchen and a vestibule. He wanted to cover the expenses himself for building the new auxiliary spaces.7

The double-studio building was constructed near the park (at one of its extremities), in a location different from that of the former painting studio, on a swampy land on the bank of the Săsar river. The property belonged to the town and it was situated close to „the road leading to Satu Mare (Szatmari ut)“. As the area had not been regulated and modernized at that time, the street had no name yet and it also appears in documents under the name of national road (Ország ut). Later it will be named Totfalusy Kiss Miklos ut., Grigorescu Street in the interwar period and Victoriei Street today.

The town’s leadership acknowledged the fact that the presence of painters from different corners of the world would positively contribute to the development of tourism and to the increase of the citizens’ cultural knowledge. Furthermore, the paintings of Baia Mare landscapes displayed in numerous national and international exhibitions not only had priceless artistic value, but were also beneficial for promoting the town. Béla Iványi-Grünwald moved to Kecskemet at the invitation of the town’s mayor to establish a painting colony there. His departure was a loss to the artistic environment in Baia Mare, but it also managed to truly arouse the interest of the local elite and press regarding the colony’s development.

Group of students, 1903

A more active member of the town council wrote a memorandum with the support of the painters, which was discussed in the council’s meeting of 27 November 1909. The most important points in the memorandum were the building of 6 new studios and the establishment of a mixed commission to solve common problems made up of town and colony delegated members. Based on these proposals it was decided to construct two buildings, valued at 33,000 and 36,000 crowns respectively, as well as to establish a seven-member mixed commission, with 3 members representing the colony and 4 representing the town leadership. During 1910-1911, the construction works were executed based on the projects of Hungarian architects Balint and Jambor.8

Hollósy Simon 1910

The location of the buildings was the town’s big unused land where there already was the double studio constructed in 1900. In the same period, during the construction of the two buildings, the property on the national road was also modernized (Ország ut. that will be later named Totfalusy Kiss Miklos ut.), property that had been inscribed as swamp in the land registry. The 1910 documents made by the Baia Mare town hall regarding the construction of the two buildings contain information on the drainage of the swampy property.9 In the same year, the contract was signed with the contractor for the buildings Csiszar Jozsef and co.10 and repairs to the Grünwald studio were completed.11

Ferenczy Károly and Ferenczy Béni  1910

In the spring of 1911, the two new buildings, a painting school and a building with studios, were finalized. The school building included an 8×14 m exhibition space illuminated from above by a glass roof, and two studios. The other building had ground floor and first floor and included four studios, each with an additional room and auxiliary spaces, but with no kitchens.12 Among the artists that had rented studios there were Tibor Boromisza and his wife, Börtsök (the first-floor studio on the eastern side) and Ziffer (the first-floor studio on the western side).

Immediately after the completion of the studios and of the school, in May 1911 a large group exhibition was organized in the new space of the painting school. There were displayed 97 works by the colony artists. In 1911, the Baia Mare Painters’ Society was established in order to legally sanction the existence of the school and of the colony. The statute of the society would receive legal legitimacy two years later by the decision no. 79480/1913 of the Royal Hungarian Ministry of Internal Affairs. In 1924, it would also be recorded in the Registry of Legal Entities by decision no. 6348 of the Satu Mare Court.13

Due to the start of the war, the number of painters and students in Baia Mare decreased significantly, some of them having been enrolled in the military, while others had returned to their home towns. János Thorma became fully responsible for managing the liberal school after the death of Ferenczy (1917) and he also was appointed president of the painters’ society. In 1918, Thorma moved to the colony. Following the Great Union of 1918, Thorma also corrected the works of the grantees of the Romanian art schools.

The interwar period represented an important stage in the development of the town of Baia Mare. The colony artists organized remarkable exhibitions visited even by the minister of culture Octavian Goga who had bought several works by Thorma. Despite these developments, as the documents in the fund of the Baia Mare Town Hall state, the colony buildings needed to be repaired. The numerous requests of the artists that were renting studios in the colony were unfortunately often rejected by the town leadership stating the lack of the necessary funds. Thus, except for basic fixes to the school’s roof, no other major repairs were undertaken, the reason being the need for carrying out general renovations.14

At the beginning of the interwar period, among the artists that had rented studios in the colony were András Mikola, Valér Ferenczy, János Thorma (rented a studio in the old building of the colony), János Krizsán (rented a studio in the colony’s old building), Sándor Ziffer etc.15

In 1925, the Technical Department of the Baia Mare Town Hall submitted the estimate for the works needed for moving the painting studio from the Queen Mary Park to the land of the painting institution. The studio’s wooden structure was dismantled, transported and built again on the land of the Painting School.16

After Thorma pulled out from managing the Liberal Painting School and the Baia Mare Painters’ Society (1927) a new chapter in the colony’s evolution began. Unfortunately, it would be a period defined by disputes, discussions and complaints between Mikola and Kriszan on one side (the managers of the School of Fine Arts and of the Society) and Gheorghe Manu on the other side (the manager of the Liberal School of Fine Arts starting with 1935).

In 1928, the very existence of the school was questioned despite the subventions it had received annually from the ministry. At the request of the Ministry of Culture, the Town Hall decided to preserve the school and to provide to the Society the school’s large space and the two smaller spaces for free, as well as the 6 studios for annual renting.

There is a detailed estimate dating from 1931 regarding renovations and repair works done at the School of Fine Arts on 19 Grigorescu Street. These works included the demolition and reconstruction of inner walls on the building’s right side, at the ground floor and the first floor, the walls’ reconstruction out of reinforced concrete and 15 cm thick bricks, the removal of the wood full of sponges, building a new ceiling out of reinforced concrete, new floors on both levels, new staircases, building support for the ceiling, building cement mortar columns, the demolition and reconstruction of the second floor, the demolition and reconstruction of the staircases, repairs to the shingle roof, to the windows and doors, painting, repairs to the dwellings – studios, and the school’s building.

The estimate is accompanied by a memorandum and the technical description of the buildings of the School of Fine Arts. According to the memorandum, the School was made up of three buildings whose maintenance was neglected between 1914 and 1920:

  • the two-level building constructed in 1910, where 4 artists lived by paying a minimum rent; the dwellings had one living room and one studio each;

  • the study room that included 1 vestibule, the large space, 2 studios and the doorman’s dwelling;

  • an old building with 2 apartments, each with a studio, 1 vestibule and 1 living room.17

It is unclear if these works were executed. However, it is certain that in the following years the School’s management had continued to request repairs to the buildings inside the colony.

Important information about the studios in the colony and their state was also included in a report submitted by the head of the town hall’s administrative department, Alexandru Oros, to the town’s interim commission of 28 May 1935. lexandru Oros had been appointed to check the dwellings’ occupancy at the School of Fine Arts. He noted that the three buildings were occupied as follows:

  • the first building, with two studios, by Kriszan and Thorma;

  • the second building, with two similar studios on both ground floor and first floor, by Gheorghe Manu, Petru Ratz, Mikola and Sebastian Skakiroff;

  • the third building, the actual painting school, including the large space and two smaller studios for students receiving scholarships, was entirely used by Thorma.18

Moreover, the report mentioned the fact that all buildings were in a terrible state and were threatened to turn into ruins, that the town hall’s Technical Department had also reported on these facts in previous years and that various estimates had been submitted before. Because the buildings were part of the town’s heritage, Oros requested “extra-urgent” instructions to repair them.19

The town hall decided the execution of the repair works and ordered the organization of tenders. Thus, in 1936 the estimate was drawn up for the works and for the Plan of construction and situation of the Baia Mare School of Fine Arts (see annexes). The work was assigned to  Heininger Carol for 47,158 lei. The work’s reception protocol was also kept.20

Unfortunately, the start of the Second World War left deep marks on the colony. Starting with 1939 its buildings were used by the soldiers based there, whereas the halls were also used for organizing passive defense classes. In a letter addressed to the town hall, Gheorghe Manu stated that “the school had faced material difficulties in the past too and it had supported itself only from the modest student taxes. As long as we had students, we had managed to solve our administrative needs. Now though, more than a year after the school had been turned into barracks, the income had diminished due to lack of students, whereas many expenses were maintained, even more so we need to also pay for the electricity consumption of the military and of the town hall for its passive defense classes.”21

During the Hungarian occupation, the town management advanced the idea of building a new colony, actually of moving the colony to a different location from the lower part of Szechenyi Park (Queen Mary Park) to the property of Lorincz Kovacs (deceased), situated next to the skate ring and the sports field. It was thought that the new location was better suited from an artistic and aesthetic perspective, and the existing sports field had to be repositioned. The field was enclosed by a wooden fence that had to be removed because it damaged the view. Another idea was also advanced, of building both dwellings and an exhibition space with a gallery to display paintings of the old masters. The leader of the School and of the Society, painter Mikola stated that the project of the new colony had not been the painters’ idea and that they had agreed only with the renovation of the old colony. Coming in the painters’ support, the town’s chief architect, Bella Zavory, maintained that from a technical point of view the old buildings could be renovated and the desiccation could be fully solved. In the end, it was decided to form a commission led by the mayor or the deputy mayor to go to the property of Lorincz Kovacs. It was also discussed the idea of extending the colony to the small windmill that was right next to the colony. Apparently, during the 1940s, the property on which the colony was build raised serious issues due to the fact that it was lower than the level of the Totfalusi Miklos Street which was already paved at the time.22

Painting outdoor 1940

Immediately after the return of the Romanian administration to power, according to the instructions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, an inventory of public assets was carried out. Thus, in a report dated 1 January 1945 it was stated that the building of the School of Fine Arts, property of the town of Baia Mare, at 15-21 Grigorescu Street, neighboring Diana Street to the east, several private properties to the west, the energy canal to the south and Grigorescu Street to the north, was composed of: swamp of 2,167 sq. m., grass pasture of 7,369 sq. m., dwelling house of 302 sq. m., garden of 824 sq. m., park of 2,167 sq. m., house and park of 7,369 sq. m., dwelling house of 302 sq. m. (see annexes). The building had the following:

  • studio and dwelling on one level, made of stone and bricks, with tile roof, measuring 25.5x12x5.70, and including 2 studios, 3 rooms, 1 vestibule, 1 kitchen, 1 pantry and toilets;

  • studios and dwelling on two levels, made of stone, bricks and wood, with shingle roof, measuring 7×17+5.5×15.5×11, and including: a) at the ground floor – 2 studios, 2 rooms, 2 vestibules, 2 corridors, 2 bathrooms and 2 toilets; b) at the first floor – 2 studios, 2 rooms, 2 vestibules, 2 corridors, 2 bathrooms, 2 toilets;

  • the School of Fine Arts, made of stone, brick and wood, covered with tin, glass and shingle roof, measuring 11×7.5+15x7x7, and including: a) at the ground floor – exhibition space, 2 rooms, 1 vestibule, 2 toilets; b) at the first floor – 1 room, 1 kitchen and 1 pantry;

  • shed for firewood, made of wood, with shingle roof, and measuring 3.5x3x3.5;

  • shed for firewood, made of wood, with shingle roof, and measuring 12x3x3.550 with four sections;

  • shed for firewood, made of wood, with shingle roof, and measuring 9.5x4x3.5.

In the report, it was also mentioned that, at the time, no alienations were made, and that the building had been used by painters as renters starting with 1911. The information was nonetheless incorrect given the fact that the building with the studios of István Réti and Béla Iványi-Grünwald had been built and inhabited since 1900. It was further stated that the buildings’ maintenance was ensured by the Baia Mare Town Hall, that their purpose was the School of Fine Arts, studios and dwellings for the painters.23

As regards the history of the colony during communist times, there are several interesting remarks comprised in a letter from 1950 sent by the newly established Technical and Fine Arts Middle School to the Education and Culture Unit of the Provisional Committee of Region 23 Baia Mare. It was stated that “in order for our school to start its activity we request that you order the following: the evacuation of two study rooms that at present serve as the dwellings of artists Slevensky and Károly Kiss. The Artists Union assented to their evacuation. The studio used by Slevensky will be provided to József Balla, and Slevensky will move to his parents’ home in the city. The studio used by Károly Kiss will be provided to László Weith who has to free one of the study rooms, and Kiss will move to the studio of Balla from the Red Valley. The artists Ianca Olajnic who uses a study room will move from now onwards to her private dwelling in the city. The school’s offices will be relocated to the dwelling of the school’s janitor. The new janitor that will be hired will have his own dwelling in the city because his permanent presence on the school premises is not compulsory”. Furthermore, in order to ensure accommodation for the interns who attend the school it was requested the complete evacuation of the building on 26 Victoriei Street, and several of the tenants be moved to the neighboring Fabian building.24

In the period after 196825, there was an important chapter in the evolution of the construction within the colony, as two new buildings (of one and two levels) were designed and built accommodating 6 studios for the Art Gallery of the Visual Artists Fund of Baia Mare inside the colony (see annexes). The constructions would be placed on the open field, set back from the street, on an area without tall vegetation on 19-21 Victoriei Street (thus avoiding the destruction of existing vegetation). According to the project, the two-level building would include: at the ground floor – a 6.57 sq. m. vestibule, 2 sculpture studios of 37.05 sq. m. with windows facing north and a 4.5 sq. m. niche for sleeping and studying, and 2 toilets; at the first floor – a 6.57 sq. m. entrance vestibule, 2 painting studios of 37.05 sq. m. with a ca. 4.5 sq. m. niche, and 2 toilets. First floor access would be possible by an outside covered staircase with a railing providing protection against the snow. The sculpture studios at the ground floor also had a window-door directly connected to the outside through a ramp for maneuvering large size objects. The suggestion for increasing the overall surface with 2 additional studios was solved by designing the one-level building with the possibility of adding future extensions. The architecture of the two-level building was identical with the one-level building, the latter being designed on a single floor.26

For a century this place received artists who lived and created here, but there was never a project to save this heritage. The rehabilitation project, coordinated by the architect Ștefan Paskucz and Laura Teodora Ghinea, plastic artist and cultural manager, thus proposes a contemporary version, which reunites the past with the present and the future. The project started in 2011, and the construction site took place between February 19, 2015 – October 30, 2017.

This cultural space represents and highlights the community, which identifies and participates in its definition. In other words, the Painters’ Colony becomes a powerful device through which the Baia Mare artistic guild can produce and reveal its own artistic identity. Thus conceived and created, this space becomes a mirror of the artistic guild, a place marked by hospitality, an interface, allowing tourists or researchers to know the local specifics in the context of the international circulation of cultural and artistic values. Through all that is, this place will communicate its own uniqueness.

The financing of this project was provided entirely from the local budget of Baia Mare Municipality, amounting to approximately 3,200,000 euros. The municipality of Baia Mare recovered the investment made from the local budget, thanks to the Regio financing project, “Valorization of cultural heritage, through the restoration and rehabilitation of the Painters’ Colony”, amounting to 15,487,285.36 lei, of which 12,392,147.14 lei represents the contribution Of the European Union through the financing contract no. 3466 / 11.12.2018

Klara GUSETH, arhivist

Archivist National Archives Maramureş

Laura Teodora GHINEA,

Cultural Manager, Colonia Pictorilor

1 The exact location of the studio has not yet been established. See Réti István, A nagybányai müvésztelep, pp.7-9.

2 Simon Hollósy, Károly Ferenczy, Béla Iványi-Grünwald, János Thorma, István Réti, Oszkár Glatz, István Csók, Béla Horthy.

3 National Archives Maramureş, Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Administrative Acts, act no. 561/1898 and Meeting Minutes, register no. 984/1898, pp. 19-21.

4 National Archives Maramureş, Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Administrative Acts, act no. 1622/1900.

5 Idem, Meeting Minutes, register no. 1018/1900, pp. 46-47.

6 In the work A nagybányai müvésztelep (pp. 23, 24), István Réti mentions that after the departure of Hollósy, the remaining painters decided to open a liberal painting school that they inaugurated in April 1902. For it they used “the abandoned nest” or “the barn”, as well as a large open shed built in 1899 at the request of Hollósy, that was close to the “barn”. Thus, it looks like apart from the existing studio in the park, the 15×7 m studio had also been built.

7 National Archives Maramureş, Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Meeting Minutes, register no. 1038/1901, pp. 55-56.

8 They also made the project for Hotel Ştefan (today Minerul).

9 National Archives Maramureş, Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Administrative Acts, act no. 3191/1910 and Meeting minutes, register no. 1238/1910, p. 39.

10 Idem, Administrative acts, act no. 4910/1910.

11 Idem, act no. 2449/1910.

12 Réti, István, A nagybányai müvésztelep, pp.31-32.

13 National Archives Maramureş, Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Administrative Acts, act no. 6159/1935.

14 Idem, act no. 68/1929.

15 Idem, act no. 5005/1927; probably the servant’s dwelling (on the school’s left side), registered in the 1936 Construction and Site Plan of the Baia Mare School of Fine Arts, or one of the carpentry workshops recorded in the 1945 report (on the right side of the two-level building constructed in 1910-1911).

16 National Archives Maramureş, Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Administrative Acts, act no. 4619/1925.

17 National Archives Maramureş, Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Administrative Acts, act no. 7/1931.

18 Apart from these artists, until 1940, studios were rented as well by the sculptor Peer Pedersen Merloe, the decorative artist Didia Radu-Merloe, Olivér Pittner, Petre Abrudan, Oszkár Nagy, Márton Katz and his wife Agricola Lidia etc.

19 National Archives Maramureş, Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Administrative Acts, act no. 3465/1935.

20 Idem, act no. 4893/1936.

21 National Archives Maramureş, Fund Baia Mare Painting School – documents acquired from painter Lidia Agricola, file no. 10/1936-1940, 1946-1948, 1951, and Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Administrative Acts, act no. 4893/1936.

22 Idem, Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Administrative Acts, act no. 2764/1941.

23 National Archives Maramureş, Fund Baia Mare Town Hall, Technical Department, file no. 9/1940 (1939-1945), pp. 97-109.

24 National Archives Maramureş, Collection of painter Slevensky Ludovic, file no. 8/1950.

25 According to the supporting memorandum of the projects realized in 1968 (project no. 3439/1968 realized by the People’s Council of Maramures County, Department for Systematization, Architecture and Construction Planning for the beneficiary Committee for Culture and Art Maramureş), the four-studio building constructed in 1910-1911 was at the time occupied by Balla József, Weith László, Mara Tarna and Bitay Zoltán, whereas the School’s building was used as the headquarters of the Union of Visual Artists that had been established in Baia Mare in 1950. The small building left to the School was used by administrator Sabău Ioan.

26 National Archives Maramureş, Fund County Design Centre Maramureş, project no. 3439/1968.