The great art historian Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcas, the founder of the Romanian Peasant Museum.
The Romanian Peasant Museum, which in the inter-war period was known as the Main Road Museum, is located in the northern side of the capital city Bucharest, close to the Romanian Government headquarters in the Victory Square. The Museum was set up owing to the efforts of one man, art historian Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcas. The month of April is twice connected to his name, because he was born in April 1872 and he died the same month 80 years later. He was born into an old boyar family and he attended university in Germany, benefiting from a scholarship granted by writer Alexandru Odobescu. In Germany he studied the history of art and returned to Romania obsessed with the idea of setting up a folk art museum. Ethnologist Aurelia Duma tells us more about him.
Aurelia Duma: “In 1906 he took his first step towards fulfilling his dream, as he was appointed Head of the Museum of Ethnography, National Art, Decorative Art and Industrial Art. It was the start of a period of great efforts – that covered the entire inter-war period, until his retirement – devoted to finding a location worthy of a museum. The museum was initially housed in the old Mint’s headquarters, in a small 3-room space. Finding the money for the construction of an entirely new building for the museum was quite difficult. But Tzigara-Samurcas never gave up his dream and in 1912 the construction of what would be the future Main Road Museum kicked off. The museum included a series of important collections. Tzigara-Samurcas gathered the items to be exhibited observing the model of European museums, which he had visited. He started from the idea of gathering together each and every important collection from throughout Romania and buying new items as well. So he went to all regions in Romania and collected objects he considered worth being exhibited in his museum. Another important achievement was the relocation of the Mogos House from the Ceauru village, in the Gorj County, to his museum in Bucharest. Later, the Mogos House became part of the Village Museum but the Romanian Peasant Museum eventually brought it back to the place where Tzigara-Samurcas thought it fitted best.“
In the meantime, Tzigara-Samurcas had become head of the Carol I Foundation and professor of art history and aesthetics with the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest. In 1938 he was appointed a correspondent-member of the Romanian Academy, but the Main Road Museum remained his greatest passion.
Aurelia Duma: “The difficulties he faced in finding the money to build the museum affected his health. He got seriously ill before the war started, but he managed to postpone retirement. In spite of his opposition, he had to retire in 1938, but a royal decree kept him in charge of the museum until the construction was completed. His professional activity was hindered after the war, when he did no longer enjoy the support he was used to. As of 1946, although still an honorary director of the museum, most decisions were taken without him being consulted. Therefore, at the age of 76, Tzigara-Samurcas was removed from his position as head of the museum. He was also forced to leave his house located in the museum’s proximity, and which is today known as the Samurcas House. Under these circumstances, his health problems aggravated. Seriously ill and humiliated by those around him, Tzigara-Samurcas died on April 1st, 1952 and was buried at the Bellu Cemetery.”
Seized by the Communists, the Main Road Museum became a Folk Art Museum in 1990 and was later renamed as the Peasant Museum. Today it is one of the most popular cultural venues in Bucharest.