MR. HOPPE has had the very excellent idea of bringing out a book about Rumania in picture. Knowing my ardent love for my adopted country, knowing also my keen interest in every form of art, he came to me about it, and it was whole-heartedly that I gave him both help and encouragement.
Some years ago, in "My Country," I tried to give an idea of the picturesqueness of Rumania, and, being an enthusiast on the subject, I am delighted that another should show us in picture what I tried to paint with my pen.
Mr. Hoppe is master of his art; he not only sees, but feels. He manages to get at the heart of things, to catch the atmosphere, to penetrate the poetry, to make his pictures live, not only in beauty, but also in thought and inner understanding.
Rumania is a strange mixture of East and West,
often disconcerting: the contrasts are violent, sometimes upsetting,
but wholly fascinating for those who penetrate beneath the surface.
Bukarest is a seething centre of work and idleness, of politics, commerce, art, elegance, and progress in general; but, with'all that, it is a light-hearted city, where everybody seems to find time to enjoy themselves. Even its poor are picturesque rather than sordid, its climate is changing, not to be counted upon, but although neither bracing nor stimulating it is never hopeless and seldom depressing.
People, though busy, do not seem in a hurry. All manifestations of pleasure or discontent are disconcertingly good-humoured, erratic; even the angriest are not very dangerous or aggressive.
The Rumanian is not resentful by nature; he forgives his neighbour all too easily; he certainly does not go before "the Altar of God" with wrath in his heart. He is cheerful, kindly, hospitable, and his virtue lies not heavily upon him!
This holds of the town-folk. The peasant is different. There is an atavic melancholy in him, the melancholy of those accustomed to oppression and invasion. He has a quiet, almost noble, dignity, a serene acceptance of the ills of this world, and on the whole has little desire for progress.
His supreme ambition was to possess the land he laboured on, a dream become reality since the war, but as yet he has not greatly profited by the change which meant great sacrifice on the part of large landholders; but the peasant has few needs, he understands little about political economy, preferring to till only exactly as much ground as needed for the maintenance of his family, and he puts his money into a pot on his shelf, rather than confide it to a bank.
He is satisfied with his tiny cottage; and his inconceivably primitive way of living may not be admirable, but it certainly adds immensely to his picturesqueness, as Mr. Hoppe, the artist, discovered with delight.
The Rumanian peasant clings to his old habits and beliefs; he is more superstitious than actually religious, but he is a strict observer of ancient rites; this too adds to his quaint manner of living, and I for one, though an encourager of progress, would be sad to see a too rapid civilization wipe out all these old primitive customs which surround him with an indescribable poetry and melancholic charm.
The Transylvanian peasant has a much greater idea
of comfort and thrift, but he too clings to his costume, his beliefs
and traditions, and even in times of greatest oppression was never
found to give up an iota of those things which stamped him
distinctively of his race and creed.
Certainly there are still lapses of education, administration, order, and tidiness; there is still much to be done, much to criticize, to be found fault with, much room for progress, improvement; but all those who come to Rumania learn to love it, keep a great longing to come back, to see more, understand better.
Often exasperated by the haphazard, unpractical way of living and of doing things, the stranger coming here, nevertheless, leaves something of his heart; there is something in the atmosphere which attaches him irresistibly to all he has seen, felt, and heard.
Mr. Hoppe has caught this atmosphere; it will be found in every one of his pictures, which I am sure no one will look at only once and then put them away. . . .
There is an old Rumanian saying which declares: "He who drinks of the water of the Dambovita, comes to drink again."
Many have found this to be true, I think!