0079 Szathmári, a Great Documentary Artist

  • Adrian Silvan Ionescu (Author)
    Institute of Art History "G.Oprescu", Bucharest

    Dr. Adrian Silvan Ionescu is the Director of the Institute of Arte History "G. Oprescu" with the Romanian Academy, professor at the Universitatea Nationala de Arta Bucuresti (National University of Art Bucharest) and specialised in XIX century Romanian and European Art, XIX century history of photography. He is the author of: Mişcarea artistică oficială în România secolului al XIX-lea (2008); Modă şi societate urbană în România modernă (2006); Învăţământul artistic românesc 1830-1892, (1999); Artă şi document. Arta documentaristă în România secolului al XIX-lea (1990) and of numerous articles in Romanian and foreign scientific magazines.

Identifiers (Article)


(For full version in Romanian see RIHA Journal 0070)
Carol Pop de Szathmári was born in Cluj, Transylvania, on 11 January 1812. His talent for painting shone out from an early age. Being a passionate traveller, Szathmári journeyed through Europe and often crossed the Carpathian Mountains to visit Wallachia and its capital, Bucharest, where he eventually settled in 1843. An accomplished landscape and portrait painter, at ease with both watercolours and oil paints, Szathmári obtained commissions from the wealthy Wallachian boyars. Szathmári kept up constant, good relations with the successive ruling princes of Wallachia for whom he painted portraits and various other compositions. By 1848, Szathmári began to experiment with photography. The outbreak of the Russian-Ottoman War in late June 1853 saw the Romanian principalities occupied by the Russian army. In April 1854, Szathmári filled a van with his cameras and glass plates and went to the Danube to document the fighting between the Russian and Turkish armies.The result of Szathmári's bravery and hard work was a photographic album. His album, containing some two hundred images, became famous due to its presentation at the 1855 Paris World's Fair and Szathmári was awarded the Second Class Medal for his work.From that time on, photography, painting and lithography were always closely connected in Szathmári's career. In 1864 he became a member of the Société Française de Photographie in Paris and in 1870 of the one in Vienna. In 1863, he was appointed Court Painter and Photographer, a position he held for the rest of his life. In that capacity, he followed his patron, Prince Carol I, on the battlefield during the Russian-Romanian-Ottoman War of 1877, which was waged south of the Danube. Alongside martial compositions and albums, Szathmári had long been attracted by folk types and produced a large series of pictures of peasants, gypsies, postillions, merchants and artisans. He toured the fairs and the crowded streets of the town in search of picturesque types. The artist's last major work was the chromolithographic album of the themed floats which paraded the capital city at King Carol's coronation pageant, on 10-11 May 1881. Szathmári died in Bucharest on 3 June 1887.


Romanian folk types, Crimean War, wet collodion photography, Ruling Prince's court painter and photographer, chromolithography