Dimitrie Berea, Romanian (1908 - 1975)

Dimitrie Berea

Born to an upper middle class family in Bacau, Romania, Dimitrie Berea became an artist who would later be known as painter to the aristocratic and royal families of Europe and the art world of France and America. His father was a lawyer-politician and his mother was a painter trained at the French Ecole des Beaux Arts. Many parents would consider art a less than suitable career choice, but Dimitrie’s maternal family had been involved in the arts for a number of generations. So at the age of nineteen, Dimitrie entered the Academy of Architecture, in Bucharest where he spent the next five years. While in the academy he and his master teacher, Theodorescu-Sion and a student friend, founded a non-conformist painting academy called "ILEANA". This academy/school served progressive young artists. During the 1930s he became a rising young Romanian painter.

In 1937, the Italian government invited him to come to Rome and enroll "with compensation" at the Royal Academy of Fine Art to study painting, decoration, sculpture, scene-painting and engraving. The following year the Romanian government paid his expenses at the Roman Academy. Meanwhile he exhibited in various invitational exhibitions, hung one-person shows in private galleries in Romania and Italy and also traveled to Paris. In Paris (1939) he was an habitué of Marie Fontaine-Desjardins’ salon where he met the latter day impressionists Bonnard and Vuillard and the fauve artists Matisse and Van Dongen. Dimitrie Berea would later consider himself a pupil of Bonnard, or perhaps better, in sympathy with Bonnard’s painting style, paint application and color choices. In 1942 at the age of thirty-four, Berea received a diploma in each of the five branches of art he studied while at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Rome.

During the late summer of 1942, Berea hung a one-person show at the Palazzo Lancellotto, Rome, where the book Berea, written by poet and art historian Mario Rivosecchi, was available to the exhibition audience. Giuseppe Galassi, Antonio Petrucci and S. A. Luciani wrote a text about Berea for his exhibition at Kretzulescu Gallery’s Caminul Artei, Bucharest (1944); and still another book, this time written by Andre Warnod and also titled Berea was published in 1949. Here Warnod called Berea "a new apostle of the Paris School". Concurrent with a 1951 exhibition of Venetian Landscapes (Galeria Cavalino, Venice) Berea wrote and published his "Venice Manifesto" which was later translated into Catalan and English. Biographical time lines, lists citing collectors and museums and quotes from various personalities and literati were published throughout his career in exhibition catalogs.

During the 1950s, Dimitre Berea became a French citizen and an active lecturer. These lectures were frequently associated with theme based exhibitions; for example he spoke formally about his "Profession of Faith", "The work of art in its proper setting, "Atmosphere and climate", "Art confronted by the abstract" and "The creative phenomenon". His text and lecture concerning the "Venice Manifesto" was hotly contested in a number of different settings.

By the 1960s Berea was a frequent visitor to New York City, Miami, Palm Beach, San Francisco and Hollywood and at the same time had apartments in New York City, Paris and San Francisco. His first exhibition (1961) in the United States was at the Aquavella Gallery, in New York City. Berea continued to be a landscape painter of "proper settings" while in the United States but he also became a painter to the Hollywood community. Throughout his career he had accepted commissions as a portrait painter, but in this decade he received numerous commissions as painter to Hollywood movie stars.

Berea met and married a California socialite after his very successful retrospective at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. However, this marriage ended in divorce. In 1972, after having known her for three years, Berea married Princess Alice Gurielli. She had fled Europe after her family estates and property had been confiscated by the Communist government and had been imprisoned in utter privation for three years under Stalin. Her grandfather had been King of Georgia. She was a Romanian refugee (1966), sponsored by the Orthodox Church, drove a taxi in New York City, lived in Harlem and worked as a charwoman for numerous Romanian families in the New York metropolitan area. Princess Alice brought to the marriage good looks, charm, cultured sophistication and good business sense.

Dimitrie Berea was a "typical artist". He wore his heart on his sleeve, was a romantic, was religious, loved people-especially beautiful women, lived his life to paint and had his head in the stars while his feet never touched the ground. He was an incompetent money manager and seemed always to be in debt. When Princess Alice married him (May 25, 1972) she essentially served as a manager of his talents, both painting and money, a role assumed by Saskia to Rembrandt. Princess Alice described the marriage as "an unbelievably chaotic adventure". Their bliss was cut short by Dimitrie’s death to colon cancer (January 14, 1975) in Paris. After a Latin mass at the Madeleine he was interred in Paris’ Père Lachaise Cemetery. Dimitrie’s remaining art works became the property of Princess Alice after a contested will. Many works were sold, but the remaining oil paintings and all the drawings, watercolors and prints are to be given to Berea College.

Berea as a Painter

Various literati, patrons and gallery owners have written about Berea as a painter.

N. N. Tonitza (Bucharest, 1934) said:
"Berea lives in continual contact with nature and lets himself be charmed by its intimate chromatic melodies. What a simplicity is in his means of expression and what a luminous Latin smile is in everything he paints!"

George Opresco (Bucharest, 1935) wrote:
"In a great number of his paintings one feels the voluptuousness of the art, a direct manner, particularly sincere in attacking the subject, a will and a force in front of it."

Michele Biancale (Rome, 1942) said of his paintings:
"His color decorates voluptuously with chromatic rhapsodies of a great audacity, especially in portraits and in still life, opulent, pompous and extremely rich in pigment."

Maximilien Gauthier (Paris art critic, 1947) said:
"On meeting this young man one has the feeling that he is a bohemian incapable of work and ready to play pranks upon one. Bohemian he is not. He eyes with particular distrust the theories expounded on pictorial art; ...he has gone beyond ephemeral theories of uncertain future. He has a healthy artistic mind; he does not imitate the snobs of our world who are always in search of the new. Berea is always one with nature and lets himself be charmed by the music of color. His work is lit with a Latin delight; he is a son of the Mediterranean. [He sings with a poetic beauty that could be likened to Claude Monet.] The liveliness born in his palette owes something to Renoir and Manet; but he is not an impressionist. His arabesques have style. The material/motifs he paints are full of strength and feeling and as smooth as silk. At first Berea’s paintings are not unfamiliar to us, but his most binding virtues arise from a more secret source - a conception of life lived with great warmth, whose essential sensuality impregnates all thought behind it."

Andre Warnod (Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, Paris, 1949) said:
"Maurice Denis [a Fauve – Symbolist painter] considered that an autodidactic experience should be followed by a great spiritual and technical molding, inspired by the feeling that the works of the Ancients were once new. To pass through Italy establishes oneself on the firm ground of yesterday’s culture. Surely an Italian schooling is indispensable for discipline in construction, orderliness of conception, balance, clarity and firmness of technique. A classical training is the only basis for a sound development. During the tragic war years, Berea had time to think and to try to solve the problems which confront the young painter in quest of an ideal. He well knows that aesthetic speculations are only valid in the measure in which they are defended, brush in hand. The only thing that counts is the temperament of the artist, the wealth of his soul. A mason’s worth is to be seen in his work."

Maximilien Gauthier (Paris, 1951) said:
"His colors have both excitement and clarity; his palette is full of personality; and his blues, in particular, are his alone. Berea’s paintings have a charming and lively sensitivity that combine both strength and beauty. [They are revelations of sincere passion.] Fernand Leger, latter day Cubist, does not inspire in me unreserved enthusiasm. I do not believe, as Leger believes, in the complete change of our visual climate, under the influence of machines and other diverse characteristics of modern life. I admit for instance that the metal trellis of high tension pylons has changed some landscapes. Nature itself has not changed and certain melodious values, as for instance the splendors of Venice, will never cease to touch us. It seems to me a dangerous error to attach more importance in art to the realities of the outer rather than the inner world. Berea planted his easel bravely before the great churches and secular structures of Venice never fearing comparison with certain memories. He would concede nothing to the absurd superstition of the new."

Terrence Mullally (London, 1953) said:
"Berea has the ability to capture the essential feeling of different cities; anyone who has loved and entered Rome, Paris, Florence, London or Venice will derive deep pleasure from his paintings."

In Berea’s own Venice Manifesto 1951, he wrote:
"Art alone knows categorical imperatives. The artist creates whilst in communion with Man. His work is a way of expression, by means of which humanity can attain the high reaches of the spirit. Thus the value of a work of art is related to the sincerity of the artist, and to the quality of his own spirit. It is in this communion that he fulfils himself. The eternal quest for oneself in art is ultimately simply an attempt to let one’s own spirit reveal and express itself.

Art is a divine function and the artist is a missionary. He should therefore speak a language which will make him understood. I believe that a work of art in order to be complete must possess a function. So true is this, that throughout history artists have sacrificed their lives so that the masses might come in contact with the Divinity. That is why one can deny all merit to a form of art which remains outside the human sphere. I speak not only of abstract art but also of Surrealism which uses a current tongue in order to mislead.

A revolution which does not, unlike Impressionism, Symbolism and Expressionism, become a tradition after one or two generations, is no revolution. But here we have one which has lasted fifty years and does not appear to want to stop.

I believe in healthy art, of high spiritual content, which finds an echo neither in the spinal column nor in the solar plexus, an art clear and legible to all, and one that does not depart from its ethical function, which is its only ‘raison d’être’. Let us then re-establish free contact between the public and the work of art, by courageously delivering it from formulae in an esoteric tongue."

Pierre Cabanne (Paris, 1963) wrote: "[In Berea’s paintings] lie the conquest of space, where people and objects have autonomy bestowed upon them for the sheer delight of composing a kind of transfigured reality – the picture. Art is memory beautified by retrospect. Berea calls the inanimate to life and makes all things deliver their poetic essence. His paintings are filled with pervading human harmony and subtle relationships between the landscape and the enigmatic grace of his figures.

To paint, for Berea, was to reach the marvelous inherent in a certain mode of being, loved and apprehended as discovered and loved with undiminished wonderment in lifelong faithfulness. One of the powers of art, that other-sightedness, is to show us how greatly we are prisoners of the chosen, privileged few, appointed to carry our view of things into the heart of their mystery.

His paintings are as devoid of arrière-pensée as of any partisan intention. It is to be understood exactly as what it is. An inward elegance, a natural verve and grace are there conferred upon the faces of men and women and upon life’s innumerable scenes. Indeed, color, with Berea sings, vibrates, resounds and shimmers in light. In Mediterranean landscapes, flower-decked balconies at Cannes, brilliant and opulent still-lives, fruits in ripe bloom that calls for that velvet blue which is all his own, Berea’s melodic quality appears in its exquisite refinement. His pictures of the South of France betray his debt to the Impressionists – to Renoir, to Bonnard, to Matisse. He is a revealer and purveyor of happiness."

In Connoisseur, December 1963, M.-L. D’Otrange Mastai wrote:
"The art of Berea had been justly and happily characterized as a ‘synthesis of Impressionism and Fauvism’, combining as it does the warm luminosity of the first with the untamed power of the second. Berea is indeed the artistic heir of Impressionism through Bonnard and of Fauvism through Matisse. The magic of color is Berea’s chief gift – many see in it Slavic temperament and Latin blood. He has long been heralded as the foremost interpreter of the Midi, which he renders with a chromatic generosity that is appropriate to the lush beauty of the region. …He has added the fervor of the sun [and] the vibrancy of Meridional light to the accustomed pigments on his palette. In his color vocabulary, green, rose and blue are not merely that, but green-drenched with light, rose permeated with sunglow, and blue seen through fathoms of pure Mediterranean water. His skies are crystalline and illimitable, his fruits are heavy and fragrant and his flowers fill the room with an almost too heady perfume. Berea’s paintings lead us to reflect that the priceless gift Impressionism made to the world was not the development of a new technique. Impressionism remains beloved because it served to perpetuate with rare perfection a vision of la douceur de vivre, of a rational and harmonious Eden that seemed all too certainly and tantalizingly out of our own reach."

John Devoluy, in the New York Herald Tribune (Paris, ND) said: "his work is personal, sprightly, deft and charming…"

The paintings in the Berea College, KY, Collection indicate with great vitality Dimitrie Berea’s excitement with brushwork and intensity of color. The viewer can examine the paintings for the process and marks made by Berea’s hand, but one can also feel the emotion of the moment and the "flavorings" of the site or sitter. As critics and journalist have enumerated, it is his color that catches the eye. As a member of the "Paris School" he truly does marry the color of Impressionism with that of the wild seemingly uncontrolled energy of the Fauves. From interviews you would learn that he tended to be timid, shy and almost child-like but came fully alive with a sitter and brush and palette in hand. He was charming and vivacious; he was in his element. He was also single minded in his choice of the beautiful and spoke out against and would not paint the abstract or ugly. Landscapes dominate his early work, but his productive years in America are in large part portraits. He had an entrée and market in Hollywood, Palm Beach, Miami and New York. From a scan of a list of owners and collections it becomes quickly evident he is represented in virtually every major European museum, state collection and private royal collection.

Berea College is fortunate in the great quantities of drawings and watercolors in its collection. It is through these images that some sense of his artistic development can be traced as well as his globetrotting. Berea used virtually any marking instrument or ground on which to mark. His drawings and even watercolors can be found on café menus, newsprint, cardboard, artist board or high quality rag papers. He was obsessed with mark making. Often, as with Edgar Degas, he chose a tool that not only made a mark but also left a line of color. Drawings exist that also have watercolor washes over them that allowed the mark to bleed. Berea sought all manner of tool by which to express himself.

Berea College’s large collection of Dimitrie Berea is illustrative of passionate energy, rich saturated color and quantity of images. We possess the largest number of images by him in the world and are the repository of his papers and records, all a generous gift of Princess Alice Gureilli Berea Terres.

1908        Dimitrie Berea was born in Bacau, Romania on November 2. His mother a painter, his father, a lawyer.

1927-1932     Student at the Acedemy of Architecture, Bucharest.

1930        In Bucharest, together with Theodorescu-Sion, his then master, founded on the earliest academies of nonconformist painting, "Ileana."

1932        Show at the Academy of Architecture's annual art exhibition, Bucharest.

        The Prize of Bucharest's official Salon, where his works have hung regularly since 1928, is awarded to his portrait of Mlle. L.S. First one-man show at Bucharest's Dalles Gallery.

        One-man show at Lapusneanu Galleries in Jassy, the Moldave Country's chief town, and at Casino    Galleries in the great Romanian harbor Constantza, inaugurated by Queen Mary of Romania.  

1937        Leaves on invitation for Rome, with a special bursary from the Italian government. Studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

1938        Prix de Rome. Exhibition at the Romanian Academy of Prix de Rome.

1939        Decisive meeting with Marie Fontaine-Desjardins, chief muse of the Impressionists. In dedicating to her his first postwar exhibition at the Galerie Allard in Paris, Berea pays grateful homage to the Egeria with whom and through whom he has known Matisse, Van Dongen, Andre' Lhote and                 above all Bonnard, who he considers his real master.

1940                Exhibition in Rome at the Galeria delle Belle Arte inaugurated by King Vittorio Emmanuelle III.

1941                Exhibition at Milan, Galeria del Duomo, opened by the Minister of Fine Arts.

        Receives diploma from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Important one-man exhibition in Rome at the Palazzo Lancellotto opened by the minister of National Education.

1943        Returns to Bucharest as successful candidate for appointments as director and curator of the Aman Museum.

1944                Exhibition at the Kretzulescu Gallery's Caminul Artei.

1946        Returns to Paris for the exhibition dedicated to Marie Fontaine-Desjardins at the Galerie Allard.

1947                Exhibitions at the Athenee, Geneva and at Chichio Haller's, Zurich. Meeting with Leon-Paul Fargues, Lucien Fabre, Alain Bedel and Gerard Bauer of whom the artist paints well-known portraits, as one of the literary Tout --- Paris.

1948                Exhibitions held at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, round the portrait of Leon-Paul Fargues: "Visages de Paris"; Galerie Lanmark, "Montmartre Landscapes"; and Fine Arts Gallery of Geneva.

1949        At another exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, Andre Warnod presents his book Berea.

- Shows portraits at Herve's, Butte de Monmarte. Roland Dorgeles speaks of Berea as one of the first portraitists of our time, beside Kisling and Dongen. Exhibition at the Andre Weil Gallery, Paris.

Exhibitions-M.M.J.H. Bernheim-Jeune, Paris and Galeria Cavalino, Venice by Cardazzo- later called "Venice Manifesto," which will be a book under the same title, prefaced y Maximilien Gauthier. At the exhibition "Landscapes of Venice," Galerie d'Arte Hispanique, Paris, the artist presents and signs the first edition of the "Venice Manifesto."

- Exhibition at the Circolo de las Bellas Artes, Madrid.  Also an exhibition at the Galerias Layetanas, Barcelona, where the "Venice Manifesto," translated into Catalan, is discussed with ardor and violence at the celebrated cenacle Los Trascaccios. At the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, an exhibition "Bonnard, Vuillard, Berea," allows Berea to view his works side by side with those of his masters.

1953        Invited by the British Government, Berea shows canvasses inspired by London decorated for the Coronation at Tooth & Son, London.

        At the O'Hana Gallery, London, an exhibition, "Visions de France et d'Angleterre," is opened by the Duchess of Kent. Berea meets Winston Churchill at 10 Downing Street, a political group having given the Premier one of his major works for an 80th birthday present. Exhibitions at Casino Gallery, Vichy and at the Edinburgh Festival, Whystock & Reid's.

1955                Exhibitions at Moulins Museum and at Cannes, with Matisse and Picasso, Gallery 65.

1956                Exhibitions at M.M.J.H. Bernheim-Jeune as part of "Hommage a Bonnard" and Rohr Volmar's Galerie des Remparts, Venice and Paris.

1957                "Vernissage Author d'un portrait," at Hannah Becker von Rath's Kunstkabinet, Frankfurt/Main preceded by a lecture by the artist: "Art confronted by the abstract and the creative phenomenon."

1958        Meets Picasso at Cannes. Show at the Galerie du Belier --"Berea in the land of Picasso" with a lecture by the artist on the faux-pas in art. The Grand Prix Salondu Portrait is awarded by a jury of notables and art critics to Berea. 

1959        The decorator, Chaurand, at Cannes, presents Berea canvasses on the theme "The work of art in its proper setting, creates atmosphere and climate."

1960        Recent works show at Domenico's, Cannes. "A Hundred Pictures by Berea," at M.M.J.H.  Bernheim-Jeune, marked by a commemorative booklet with a reproduction in facsimile of a handwritten "profession of faith" by the artist. Official meeting with the Prince and Princess of Monaco in Berne. The occasion is the ceremony at which Prince Rainer presents the President acquired by the Principality.

1961        Invited to exhibit at Monte-Carlo, Galerie Rauch. Berea receives the Grand-Prix, hors concours, of the International Salon of Modern Art, Paris. Exhibition at Acquavella Gallery, New York.

1963        Double exhibition --- Paris and London. Recent works. Seven pictures of London during the Coronation, a gift from Berea to the nation, are placed on exhibition at Guildhall.

1964                Inauguration of his great mural: "Hommage a Paris" triptych which represents the monumental symbols of the "Paris Universal Exhibitions": Eiffel Tower, Alexander IIIrd Bridge and the Grand Palais at the Club of The Top of the Fair, New York.

1965         Exhibition at the DeYoung Museum, San Francisco.

1966         Exhibition Gilbert Gallery, San Francisco.

1967         Exhibition Palm Beach Gallery, Palm Beach.

1973         Exhibition Poinciana Gallery, Palm Beach and Service Culturel -- Ambassade de France, New York.  Major exhibition at The Eric Galleries, New York. 

1975        Dimitrie Berea dies in Paris of Cancer.

1990        Retrospective Exhibition of the Berea collection at Phillips Fine Art Auctioneers, New York.

Major Museum Retrospective at the Musee de Villefranche, France. Exhibition of selected works from 1941 to 1970, Ergane Gallery, New York.

Biography Credit: Robert Boyce, Berea College

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