Ion Jalea (jale means mourning in Romanian) lived between 1887-1983 and was a Romanian sculptor of realist leanings with marked Romantic influences. Jalea was born and spent his childhood close to the seaside, in an area known as Dobrudja (in a little village near the Danube Delta National Park). His gift for art was encouraged by the local authorities who supported him financially to continue his sculpture studies in Bucharest, where Jalea worked under the guidance of modernist sculptors like Frederic Storck. Later, he went to Paris, to Julian Academy, where he had as master Antoine Bourdelle, himself a student of the renown Auguste Rodin.

Jalea enrolled in the army and fought in WWI. Notably, he lost his left hand in the war, hence all his sculptures were made afterwards by the help of his right arm only. Jalea thus belongs to a circle of artists like his co-national writer and art critic of Symbolist sensitivity, Perperssicius (by his pen name) or like the Austrian piano player, Paul Wittgenstein (brother of the distinguished philosopher of the language, Ludwig Wittgenstein) who achieved impressive things in domains such as sculpture, writing and piano playing, where challenging such disability accounts for a genuine passion for his own calling. 

As previously mentioned, Jalea’s works include realist art, visible in the themes of the rural world (peasants and their outfit, agrarian scenes), but also in some busts of ordinary people or of  Bucharest or Dobrudja based personalities. What surprises is that, despite being a sculptor favoured by the Communist official art of post 1950s, throughout his artistic career, Jalea approached many Romantic and religious themes. Of the Romantic themes, we can enumerate: the Lucifer series; the female nude series; mythical figures like Pegasus, the Centaur; historical series like the Basarabs (early medieval dynasty which had an important role in the foundation of the first political formations in the southern part of what later became Romania). Of the religious themes, we point to the towering sculptures of Saints Peter and Paul; to Saints George, Matthew; to John, the evangelist. The materials favoured by Jalea for his sculptures are: marble, stone, gypsum, bronze.

The museum which hosts 227 of Jalea’s works is located in a very beautiful Neo-Romanian style house (an architectural style that represents a blend of oriental (moorish), local Renaissance (Brancovan) and sacral influences). This style represents the most commonly met visual expression of post 1918 Romanian nationalism, as chosen at the level of public buildings built in major cities, particularly in locations like Constanța, which traditionally were multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. The villa we are referring to was built at the end of WWI by the architect Victor Ștefănescu and it initially belonged to the prefect of Constanța, Constantin Pariano. The building becomes a museum in 1968. In 1969, most of the sculptures collection of the museum were donated by Jalea to the state. In 1984, after his death, his family completed the collection with other donations.   

Many of Jalea’s sculptures can be also found in public areas like boulevards and parks in Constanța and Bucharest. Similar in size to the group of Saints Peter and Paul, the statue of queen Elisabeth, the wife of king Carol I of Hohenzollern dynasty, the first king of Romania, majestically overlooks the sea (it is located on the boulevard close to the museum).   

Resources: 

https://muzeuldeartaconstanta.ro/muzeul-ion-jalea.html (accessed 11th August 2021)

https://www.radioromaniacultural.ro/portret-ion-jalea-sculptorul-prins-intre-doua-lumi/ (accessed 11th August 2021)

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