The Art Museum – the Jean Mihail Palace

The Art Museum – the Jean Mihail Palace

Monument / Museum / Architectural attraction


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Calea Unirii 15, Craiova 200419, Romania


Built between 1898 and 1907 in the middle of a city caught in the fever of the innovations of the early twentieth century, the Mihail Palace stands out by the execution details that have the distinction of a meticulously crafted jewellery. Thus, it reflects the exigencies and social status of one of the richest men of that time, and the ambition and the spirit of competition which helped him make a fortune. So, as Gh. Grigore Cantacuzino, nicknamed the "Nabob", in Bucharest and the royal advisor Vălimărescu, across the street, assigned the building of their houses to the famous architect Albert Galleron who had also made the projects of other important buildings in the Kingdom - the Romanian Athenaeum, Constantin Mihail could accept nothing less for himself. He contracted another famous name at the time, Paul Gottereau - the architect of the Royal Court and the creator of the Royal Palace, of the Palace of the "Carol I" University Foundation, the CEC Palace etc.
Reflecting on the prevailing trend of the time, that of an eclecticism which successfully combined the rigor of the French academicism with late Baroque elements, the plan of the construction has many similarities with the plan of the Cheverny Palace in the Loire Valley, recognized as an example of architectural balance and elegance. The exterior details and the ornaments on the facade, the window frames and the ironwork of the balconies, prepare the viewer's eye for the exquisite grandeur hidden inside. In the hall of honour, in the reception lounges and in the music room, in the living rooms, but also in all other areas not necessarily having a specific destination for social events, the building materials were of the highest quality: Carrara marble, Murano crystal and Venetian mirrors, decorative ironwork, Lyon silk, gilded mouldings, furniture and art objects, generally purchased from Vienna with the aid of the rich Dumba family, with which Constantin Mihail was closely related. But not only these standards of luxury are impressive. We should also mention the skylights and the large windows, designed to provide the space with as much natural light as possible, and also the technical equipment used to provide comfort all around the house, all exceptional for that period of time, including electricity and the "Roman type" heating system with pipes inserted in the walls and floors. The Palace has 29 rooms (plus annexes) of which the most spectacular is the Hall of Mirrors
Inaugurated in 1909 by the two sons, Nicolae and Jean - as Constantin Mihail had died the year before, the Palace began its representation mission, which was intended from the beginning. Jean Mihail was a cultivated man and a person with broad views. He had studied law in Paris, wanting to devote to a political career. Being a prominent member of the high society and part of the restrictive circle at the Royal Court, he hosts the royal family in his palace in 1913, at the inauguration of the monument "That's the music that I love", called so after the remark of Charles I when hearing the cannon shots that marked the start of the War of Independence in 1877. The monument was destroyed immediately after the communists come to power.
Two years later, King Ferdinand and Princess Mary are welcomed at the palace together with General Averescu, who were coming to visit the Military Hospital in Craiova. In 1936, Jean Mihail, the last descendant of the family, dies, leaving his entire fortune to the Romanian state, by will. And it really was an impressive fortune considering that, during the economic crisis of 1929-1933, he guaranteed with it the loans contracted by the Romanian state from the foreign banks. His gesture reflects a high civic sense and a patriotism of the noblest kind – and this is why the building remained in the public consciousness as the Jean Mihail Palace.
At the beginning of World War II, when Romania generously housed Polish refugees, the Polish President Ignacy Moscicki with his family and Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły - the chief commander of the Polish armed forces, were housed at the palace. Furthermore, here, in 1940, Romania and Bulgaria signed the Treaty of Craiova by which the Quadrilateral is ceded to Bulgaria.
The palace was first opened to the public between the 24th and the 31st of October 1943, during the "Week of Oltenia" event under the patronage of the Royal Cultural Foundation and during which some of the works of Constantin Brancusi were exposed for the first time in Craiova, (Head of a boy, Head of a girl and The Kiss).
From 1945 to 1950, the palace became the headquarters of ARLUS (Romanian Association for Tightening the Relations with the Soviet Union), and then of the Regional Committee of the RMP in Oltenia, whose secretary was Nicolae Ceausescu (probably out of sentimental reasons he later decided, after having become the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the President of the Romanian Socialist Republic, to preserve and restore the building after it had been severely damaged during the earthquake of 1977).
Since 1954, following the decision of setting up an art collection, the building was transferred in the patrimony of the City People's Council heritage and became the headquarters of the Art Museum of Craiova.
Part of the "Alexander and Aristia Aman” Pinacoteca was moved here, including, besides the library, furniture and paintings belonging to the Dutch, Flemish, Italian and French schools from the XVII-XIX century, paintings and graphics by Theodor Aman, Romanian and foreign decorative art. Its patrimony was extended during the interwar period through purchases made by the city and due to the donations from the great noble families of Craiova: Mihail, Romanescu, Cornetti, Glogoveanu etc. The acquisitions continued in the post-war period and transfers have been made from the National Museum of Art and the central state funds. Currently, the patrimony of the Museum consists of over 8,000 works of European and Romanian art. The collection includes the most important names of the Romanian painting and sculpture: Theodor Aman, Nicolae Grigorescu, Nicolae Tonitza, Ștefan Luchian, Gheorghe Petrașcu, Theodor Pallady, Eustațiu Stoenescu, Ion Țuculescu, Gheorge Anghel, Dimitrie Paciurea. The most valuable works of art from those held by the museum are six pieces from the works of the titan of the universal modern art, Constantin Brancusi: Vitellius, Head of a girl, Head of a boy, Torso Fragment (or Thigh), Miss Pogany and The Kiss.

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