In the new Romanian national state, modernity manifested itself for the first time under the form of Neo-Romanian style, which is the local version of Art Nouveau spread across Europe under different names, according to the traditions of each state.
The first architect who envisioned the remarkable changes that were to happen throughout Europe and were to determine, once and for all, the separation from the academic style which did nothing but endlessly recycled classical forms, was Ion Mincu.
The Neo-Romanian style was born from Romanian architects’ desire to promote a trend that could be called "national", inspired mainly by the values and traditions of the old Romanian medieval and folk architecture, especially in its religious and vernacular form. The creator of this trend, who did not rely exclusively on our tradition, integrating in it particular elements of the 1900 Art in Italy and Spain (which are visible especially on public buildings), was architect Ion Mincu.
Despite his training in the context of the French academic style and eclecticism, Ion Mincu abandoned relatively quickly, during his prolific career, the concepts he had learned in school, in Paris. In this sense, the architect understood that the only way to develop architecture in Romania was to implement the forms of folk architecture, which had proved, over time, their validity and continuity, by adapting them accordingly to the social needs of the new Romanian national state.
In explaining the spread of Neo-Romanian style and evolutionary stages of this trend, particularly important for architecture in Romania, it should be noted that gaining prominence was a daunting task before World War I. The perception of authorities and bourgeoisie on the national style was quite reluctant at first. Eclectic aesthetics could not be so easily abandoned, at a time when it was already deeply rooted in the collective consciousness of Romanian society. Neo-Romanian style was simply not in tune with the fashion of the time; it was something quite exotic, and, as it happens with all innovations, the first tendency was to reject them, to regard them with caution. This view explains the small number of public buildings completed before World War I in the new style. Instead, as always, the perception of the individual, although initially coinciding with that of the government authorities, was more sensitive and responsive to change, which gradually determined investors to want housing inspired by the old boyar mansions, with rustic interiors and decorations specific to folk art.
With the advent of the national style, the term "palace" was partially abandoned because, at least initially, the Neo-Romanian style found a fertile ground for expression in smaller houses, for which that term, implying a particular luxury and, according to the public opinion at the beginning of the 20th century, abundant decoration, was inappropriate.
Also, the regional influences of the tradition of vernacular or religious architecture that are characteristic of the national version of 1900 Art - Neo-Romanian style - are contrary to the idea of Western luxury.
The architects who embraced the new style and who should be considered its ,,great figures” studied, however, at the university in Paris. Ion Mincu is, above all, the pioneer of national architecture.
Considering his extraordinary education, his remarkable ability to understand forms, his talent and, what is most important, his openness to revolutionary ideas and to all that was new, one may be surprised to discover that Mincu's large scale works can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Indeed, with the exception of the Central Girls School in Bucharest, the Administrative Palace in Galați, and Bank of Commerce in Craiova, Mincu designed small houses or vaults, again in a small number.
Although his students, who studied at the new school of architecture in Bucharest, never reached Mincu's level, and did not succeed in successfully continuing his work, there were however architects that identified with his ideas and approached the new Neo-Romanian style, thus managing to take a big step forward. (Mariana Croitoru, 2015)
(Focșani, December 20 1851/2 - Bucharest, December 6, 1912)
? -1875 - School of Bridges and Roads, Bucharest (got a degree in engineering);
? - School of Fine Arts, Bucharest (where he studied painting for two years);
1877-1884 - School of Fine Arts in Paris, as a student of Julien Gaudet and Thierry-Ladrange (earns his degree in architecture).
1892-1897 - He took part in founding the School of Architecture of Romanian Architects Society, Bucharest;
1896 / 1898-1908 / 1912 (?) - He taught in the projects workshop at the National School of Architecture, and then the Superior School of Architecture, Bucharest.
Professional Activity (affiliations, administrative positions, committees):
1895-1899 - Member of the Chamber of Deputies, deputy of Putna;
February 26, 1891 - Founding member of the Romanian Architects Society, along with other 23 architects who had studied abroad (11 of them had studied in Paris), then its president;
1891-1895 - Professor at the School of Arts and Crafts.
1. Public Buildings
1889-1892 - Roadside Buffet *, Bucharest;
1890 -Central Girls School **, Bucharest;
1902-1905 - Administrative Palace *** Galati;
1906-1916 - Bank of Commerce ****, Craiova (completed by architect Constantin Iotzu).
2. Private Residences
1884 - Dr. Vitzu House, Blvd. Magheru , Bucharest (disappeared during the urbanization process of 1890-1895);
1886 - Lahovary House, Ion Movilă Street, Bucharest;
1889 - Robescu House, 6 Rotari Street, Bucharest;
1890 - Annexes of Vernescu House, Bucharest;
1896-1897 - Robescu House *****, Galati;
1897 - Villa Robescu, Sinaia;
1904 - "Nicolae Petraşcu" House, Piața Romană, Bucharest.
3. Religious Architecture
1893-1895 - Church in Valea Călugărească; he designed its plans, but the church is finished later by his assistant, Alexander Zagoritz;
1906-1910 - Portico-lapidary, surrounding the enclosure on the south of the church, clergy house and belfry of the Stavropoleos Church;
? - Ghica, Cantacuzino and Gheorghieff vaults, Bellu Cemetery, Bucharest.
1887-1889 - Monteoru House, Calea Victoriei, Bucharest;
1887-1889 - Vernescu House, Calea Victoriei, Bucharest;
1890 1900 - His own house, 19 Mercur Street - currently Pictor Arthur Verona Street, Bucharest (with architect Antonio Gaetano Burelli); notes: although he did not design his own house, in 1890 Ion Mincu started arranging the house where he lived, which was built by Italian architect Antonio Gaetano Burelli, and expanded it in 1900;
1904-1910 - Stavropoleos Church, Bucharest; notes: this restoration mirrored that previously carried out by Lecomte de Nouy, and is the first example of modern restoration, which aimed at preserving the originality of the monument.
1887-1889 - Monteoru and Vernescu Houses. At the end of the 19th century, when he had just started his career, although he had already designed his first house in Neo-Romanian style - General Lahovari’s House - Ion Mincu decorated two houses located on Calea Victoriei, a short distance from one another. As Nicolae Petraşcu noted in his monograph on Ion Mincu, for Monteoru House, "Ion Mincu dealt only with some repair work and worked on a facade; for Vernescu House, he did some retrofit work, at the express recommendation of its owner, Gună Vernescu, "not to tear down any walls or ceilings."
Apparently, Mincu’s reason for using the already established formulas of academic and eclectic style common at the time was that the buildings in question belonged to some of the richest and most influential families of the Bucharest bourgeoisie, and were located on Calea Victoriei, one of Bucharest's main roads. These buildings had to convey a certain "pledge of monumentality and opulence". The two residences on Calea Victoriei, Monteoru and Vernescu, although they do not reflect Mincu’s design style, show through their decoration, Mincu’s in depth knowledge of classical details, as well as his imagination, virtuosity, and compositional sense, all typical of his work, which become obvious in his original use of color and diversity of materials;
1890-1895 - Palace of Justice (Arch. Albert Ballu), Bucharest. After Ballu’s retreat, Ion Mincu completed Ballu’s project by working on the interior decoration of the meeting rooms: ceilings, paneling, and all the furniture, taking into account the function of the building. "In Mincu’s furniture we can see the first attempt to convey both the streak of folk imagination, and furniture design of the Italian and French Renaissance." As a connoisseur of processing techniques for various materials (wood, metal, stone, ceramics, tiles), Mincu carefully supervised the furniture design, working with craftsmen from the School of Arts and Crafts;
1890-1894 - Cathedral in Constanța (arch. Alexander Orăscu, 1881-1882). In terms of religious architecture, Mincu designed with great sensitivity the iconostasis and furniture of the Cathedral in Constanța. For this work, the architect used folk-style carvings for the first time in the modern period. Also, the value of the furniture comes from the fact that it is gilded and set with precious stones.
1890, 1900 - His own house. Inside, the changes consisted in redecorating, and were done by painter G. D. Mirea. The retrofitting work in the interior also included repartitioning. The furniture, as well as all decorative items, were chosen by Mincu, and executed by the craftsmen of the School of Arts and Crafts he had founded.
? - Community Inn, Ministry of War, National Theatre of Iaşi.
Participation in competitions:
? - Palace of the Parliament.
He published articles in the journals „Convorbiri literare”, „Literatură și Artă Română”, „Analele Arhitecturii”, as well as in the „Epoca” newspaper.
* With a much greater complexity and refinement, as well as a superior design as compared to Lahovary House, the building located on Kiseleff Road, known as the "Buffet" or "Roadside Buffet", is probably Mincu’s iconic work.
Ion Mincu designed the plans of the building in 1889, with the intention of building the edifice for the Romanian pavilion at the International Exhibition in Paris, but unfortunately it could not be done. Works started no earlier than 1892, and were completed within the year.
** Yet what crowned Mincu’s efforts in his pursuit of Neo-Romanian architecture was the completion of the former Central Girls School in Bucharest, located near Ioanid Park. The building, particularly its composition, was most likely inspired by monastic ensembles -Hurez in Oltenia, Antim and Văcăreşti in Bucharest - characterized by the symmetry and regularity of rectangular planes.
*** The last public building completed during Mincu’s lifetime, based on his plans, was the Administrative Palace in Galați (today Prefecture headquarters). It was built in 1906 and was inaugurated in the autumn of the same year. "This last work [...] receives praise from anonymous officials of the highest rank and from his most devoted disciples. The building [...] is undeniably original "representing the materialization of the architect’s personal vision, especially since it was not similar to other buildings inspired by folk art.
**** The building of the Bank of Commerce in Craiova contrasts, from this point of view, the one of the Administrative Palace in Galaţi as the forms of folk inspiration are much better represented here. The piece of resistance is undoubtedly the corridor with service counters, with its remarkable picturesque decoration, its red, orange and green stained glass, and skylight. The project is conducted in 1907, by Ion Mincu, assisted by Alexandru Clavel. Because of the bank's financial problems, the construction will be completed only in 1916, after the master Mincu’s death, under the supervision of architect Constantin Iotzu.
***** For Constantin Robescu’s family, Mincu designed three residences: one in Bucharest, in eclectic style, and two in Neo-Romanian style, one in Sinaia, and one in Galați.
Volume de autor:
CAFFÉ, Mihail, Arhitectul Ion Mincu, Editura Ştiinţifică, Bucureşti, 1960.
CAFFÉ, Mihail, Ion Mincu, Editura Meridiane, București, 1970.
CURINSCHI-VORONA, Gheorghe, Istoria arhitecturii în România, Editura Tehnică, Bucureşti, 1981.
CONSTANTIN, Paul, Arta 1900 în România, Editura Meridiane, Bucureşti, 1972.
CONSTANTIN, Paul, Dicţionar universal al arhitecţilor, Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedică, Bucureşti, 1986.
PETRAȘCU, Nicolae, Ioan Mincu, Editura Cultura Națională, București, 1928.
POPESCU, Carmen, Le Style National Roumain. Construir une nation à travers l’architecture, 1881-1945, Presse Universitaire, Rennes, 2004.
SOCOLESCU, Toma T., Fresca arhitecților care au lucrat în România în epoca modernă: 1800-1925, Editura Caligraf Design, București, 2004.
TABACU, Gabriela, Revista „Arhitectura” - studiu monografic şi indici 1905-1944, Editura Humanitas, Bucureşti, 2008.