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Iser, Iosif

(1881–1958), painter and graphic artist. Born in Bucharest, Iosif Iser moved with his family to Ploieşti, where he completed his secondary education and showed early artistic promise. Beginning in 1899, he studied painting at the Royal Academy of Arts in Munich, and had his first personal show upon returning to Ploieşti in 1904. He soon moved to Bucharest, where he worked as a cartoonist and caricaturist at the editorial office of the Adevărul newspaper. In 1905, he was part of the Tinerimea Artistică (Young Artists) group exhibit, and in 1906 had his first show in Bucharest.

Iser left for Paris to study at the Ranson Academy; there he contributed as a graphic artist to the satirical publications Les Témoins and Le Rire. Upon his return to Romania in 1909, he organized the first exhibition of modern art at the Athenaeum cultural foundation, where he displayed (beside his own work) various examples by André Derain and the caricaturist Jean-Louis Forain. During this period, he contributed to the socialist publication Facla. He collected 50 of his portrait drawings that had been published in Facla in the album Cinzeci de figuri contimporane (Fifty Contemporary Characters; 1913).

Iser discovered the fascinating region of Dobrogea and obsessively portrayed its people and sites in his work. The light and color of the Black Sea played a decisive role in his decision to make painting his prime mode of expression after the 1920s. At that point he moved to Paris for several years, but also continued to exhibit in Bucharest. In 1926, he participated in the Secession Exhibition in Berlin. Throughout the 1930s, his works were shown in numerous personal and collective exhibitions in European capitals, including a retrospective show in Bucharest in 1936 in which he displayed 431 items. Iser was one of the founding members of the artistic group Arta, and in this capacity he was awarded the High Prize at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937, a distinction he shared with George Petraşcu and Ştefan Popescu.

Despite anti-Jewish persecutions of the 1940s, Iser continued to exhibit his work; in this respect, the group display titled “Light and Color,” which opened in 1943, was quite revealing since Iser was able to participate with two of the most prominent Romanian artists of the day, Gheorghe Petraşcu and Alexandru Ciucurencu. After the war, he took part in collective and individual shows in New York (1948), Venice (at the Biennial; 1954), Moscow and Leningrad (1956), and Vienna (1957).

Iser played a crucial role in shaping the Romanian public’s taste for modern art. His style evolved from angular compositions with cubist influences that were typical of the period ending after World War I, to harmonious compositions governed by moderate modernism and expressionism coupled with lyricism. Despite a long stay in Paris, Iser was not won over by the various avant-garde tendencies. His art is milder with lyrical postimpressionist notes more in the manner of Marie Laurencin and Raoul Duffy. Characteristic examples include his Dobrudjan landscapes, indoor scenes, and portraits.

Very prolific, Iser is still one of the most appreciated interwar Romanian artists. Although Jewish motifs and topics could hardly be seen in his work, two charcoal drawings, both conventionally entitled Evreu cu carte (The Jew with the Book) are worth mentioning because of the deeply emotional manner of portraying the old pious Jew wrapped in his prayer shawl.

Suggested Reading

Alexandru Busuioceanu, Iser (Craiova, 1930); Ionel Jianu, Iser (Bucharest, 1957); Marin Mihalache, Iser (Bucharest, 1968); Amelia Pavel, Pictori evrei din România: 1848–1948 (Bucharest, 1996).



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea