Carol Szathmari

Photos were taken to mark important moments in life: weddings, births, baptisms, school graduations, promotions or military decorations. Other events such as buying a new toilet, changing hair cut or attending a masked ball were fixed by taking a photo. By the 1890s, the selection of important moments was much more rigorous and the ritual of photography much more emotionally charged. After the photographic revolution of the 1890s, when cameras became more available and easier to use, photography began to capture aspects of family life.

These “cardboard jewels” were kept in the family or given to loved ones to be placed in albums. In fact, it became fashionable for every home to have at least one album on the dining room table in which photographs of the personalities of the day and of family members were collected. Photos were exchanged between relatives and friends.

The patrimony of the Golești Museum includes, among other collections, a rich iconographic material. There are four albums of different sizes, containing a series of photographs of family members, and personalities that remain in the collective memory. There are photographs of “crowned heads” (Alexandru Ion Cuza, Mrs Elena Cuza, Prince Carol I, Princess Elisabeta, Gheorghe Bibescu), politicians (I. C. Brătianu, C. A Rosetti, Lascăr Catargiu), writers (Vasile Alecsandri, Alexandru Odobescu), ladies and gentlemen of Bucharest society, and many children.


Carol Szathmari

Bold, dreamy, rebellious against the academicism of the time, a photographer of the urban space, but also of the great battlefields of the time, Carol Szathmari was born in 1812 in Cluj, in a Hungarian Romanian family. He initially studied at a Reformed religious school. Little is known about his youth and formative years. The first evidence of his vocation as a painter is a sketchbook from 1827 or 1829, when he was still at school in Cluj.

In 1831, Szathmari crossed the mountains to Wallachia – probably prompted by his love for Marițica Văcărescu – and drew a watercolor in Rucăr. A year later, he was back in Cluj, and in 1834 he painted a view of the Cotroceni. Between 1831 and 1843, he studied painting in Pest and Vienna, where he acquired a good skill in watercolor painting, which made him an outstanding representative of the genre. Returning to the capital of Wallachia in 1840, the prince Alexandru Ghica appointed him Court Painter. A few years later, Szathmari decided to settle permanently in Bucharest, where he carried out an extensive artistic activity rewarded with numerous medals, diplomas and prizes and where he enjoyed well-deserved recognition.

As a photographer, Szathmari set up his first photographic studio at “Chanu Verde” (1843-1844). After the devastating fire of 1847, Carol Szathmari rented a shop in the Bossel Inn on the Calea Victoriei, where he set up a studio that soon became famous. He also advertised in the press and announced her successes in the press. In November 1848, he is said to have been the creator of the first calotype, a process invented by W.H.F. Talbot. This calotype represents a statue of a small cupid with broken arms. To make the negative more transparent, he used wax or egg white.

In international historiography, Szathmari is recognized as the first war photographer. In the first months of the Crimean War (from April 1854), Szathmari arrived at the front, eleven months ahead of the Englishman Roger Fenton. Szathmari brought his cameras and photographic laboratory with him and took photographs with wet collodion, a new method that had appeared at the time, a superior process to calotype photography, which we have mentioned in previous pages. Awarded numerous gold medals and honorary diplomas by the sovereigns of Europe, he was honored at many international exhibitions of the time.

On 16 October 1863, Carol Szathmari was appointed official court photographer by Alexandru Ioan Cuza, a position he would hold until the end of his life. Szathmari bought a house on Enei Church Street, where he set up a photographic studio with 20 employees. Unfortunately, this house was bombed in August 1944, destroying the entire archive of clichés and photographs stored in the attic.

During the War of Independence of 1877-1878, Szathmari, along with painters such as Sava Henția, G. D. Mirea etc., was affiliated with the Army Sanitary Service, headed by Dr. Carol Davila. He managed to send remarkable pictures from the front to newspapers at home and abroad, such as L’Illustration, The Illustrated London News, and Illustrate Zeitung.

Carol Szathmari also took part in the proclamation of the kingdom ceremonies, in 1881, but bad weather affected the quality of his photographs, which led him to give up photography for good and he devoted himself to painting until the end of his life. He died on 3 June 1887, in Bucharest, in his house in Biserica Enei Street.

“[…] He was a true citizen of the world, receptive to the new, eager for knowledge and for spreading information in the most varied circles, through the means that were specific to him: drawing, painting, lithography and photography”, Adrian-Silvan Ionescu briefly portrayed the artist Carol Szathmari.

The politician Ștefan Golescu (1809-1874), son of the scholar Constantin (Dinicu) Golescu, was photographed in Carol Szathamari’s studio at “Chanu Verde”.


Carol Szathmari, Ştefan Golescu Portrait, the second half of 19th century, business card format, Goleşti Museum.


Text author: Cristina Boţoghină, head of the History Pedagogy Department