Nicolae Tonitza was born in Barlad in 1885 and spent his early career studying at the Academy of Belle-Arts in Iași. He spent time in Munich, France and Italy developing his artistic skills, before returning to Romania in 1911. Tonitza was drafted into the First World War in 1916 and fell prisoner to the Bulgarians during the Battle of Turtucaia. He was released in 1918.
It was after the War that Tonitza developed the style for which he is most well-known: portraits painted in the post-impressionist and expressionist style du jour with vibrant and vigorous palettes. More specifically, it is his juxtaposition of somber and melancholic subjects set against decorative, colourful backgrounds and motifs for which he is most celebrated. The harmony in which he is able to synthesize these elements, resulting in poetic compositions full of romanticism, defined the painter.
In the 1930s, upon his discovery of Balchik, a coastal town on the Black Sea, Tonitza began to incorporate Orientalist themes inspired by the Turk and Tatar inhabitants of the town. Between 1933-1938 Tonitza painted a large number of characters on this spot. The result, a fresh oeuvre that reflected his connection with ‘the simple man’ and the picturesque that shrouded the poor Tatar slum. Tonitza would remain preoccupied with the Orientalist theme until his death in 1940.