Corneliu Baba (November 18, 1906, Craiova — December 20, 1997) was a great Romanian painter, portraitist, genre painter and an illustrator of books.
Having first studied under his father, the academic painter Gheorghe Baba, he studied the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy (1926-1930) and – paralelly – the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest, but did not receive a degree. His first public exhibition was in 1934 in the spa town of Băile Herculane; this led to his studying later that year under Nicolae Tonitza in Iaşi, finally receiving a diploma in Fine Arts from the faculty at Iaşi in 1938, where he was named assistant to the Chair of Painting in 1939 and a Professor of Painting in 1946.
Shortly after his 1948 official debut with a painting called The Chess Player at the Art Salon in Bucharest, he was arrested and briefly imprisoned in Galata Prison in Iaşi. The following year he was suspended without explanation from his faculty position and moved from Iaşi to Bucharest. Despite an initially uneasy relationship with communist authorities who denounced him as formalist, Baba soon established himself as an illustrator and artist. In 1955 he was allowed to travel to the Soviet Union, and won a Gold Medal in an international exhibition in Warsaw, Poland. In 1956, Baba accompanied The Chess Player and two other paintings showed at the Venice Biennale, after which the paintings traveled on to exhibits in Moscow, Leningrad, and Prague.
His works were present at the main exhibitions in Romania and abroad (Vienna 1954, 1956; the "Non-Abstract Art" exhibition, Tokio 1964; Berlin 1964; New York 1970; Bucharest 1978; Moscow, Vienna, Leningrad, 1979). He was awarded numerous distinctions; he was a corresponding member of the Romanian Academy (1963), of the Art Academy in Berlin (1964), of the "Tommaso Campanella" Academy in Rome (1970), State Prize (1953, 1954), Golden Medal at the Warsaw International Exhibition (1955), Golden Medal at the Leipzig Book Illustration International Exhibition (1960), Prize for Portrait at the International Triennial for Committed Art - Sofia (1973); Honoured Master of Arts (1958), Honorary Member of the USSR Arts Academy (1968), People's Artist of Romania (1962), a.s.o. He was posthumously awarded the Prize for Excellence by the Romanian Cultural Foundation.
The beginnings of Baba’s creation can be defined in relationship with two polarising tendencies that dominated, at the time, the artistic experience. For a decade (1940-1950), while he was searching for his own way, the artist was confronted with the phenomenon of dispersion and of the disappearance of the image on one hand, and that of the freezing language of neo-academic, conventional formulae. Baba went beyond those simplifying contradictions, avoiding to accept either trend in favor of another one in which the presentation of reality and the preocupation for innovation of the means of expression are naturally combined. The solution is based on resorting to the great values of traditional painting which we were used to call "a space of classicism".
Baba cultivated a strong composition that recalls Renaissance and Post-Renaissance rigors. His figurative material is ordered in stable, geometrical structures. Centered, or displayed in pyramidal settings, the force lines of his characters are closing up harmoniously. The diagonals are used so they would not disturb - by their ascending and descending tensions – the balance of the whole. The image was animated on the premises of stability. He used a dynamic system of lights, resembling the ones in the Baroque painting, stressing the most important figures or body elements. Richly colored, his paintings preserve areas of darkness, in a permanent dialogue with the lightened parts, as in the portraits he painted of famous artists such or as in his Venetian and Spanish landscapes – the two geographical areas had fascinated the artist. His reputation which is well established from the Danube to the Yang-Tse, has yet to be fully appreciated in the Western World.