Vila Retezat Sinaia

Karel Liman

Born in Bohemia, at the time a province of the Austrian Empire, Karel Liman came from a family of craftsmen, as is the case of many XIXth century architects and artists. His family was from the village of Chotetov (Central Bohemia). The architect’s father and grandfather were carpenters.

It may be assumed that, while a grammar school student in Malada Boleslav, Liman manifested an interest for drawing and perhaps also for carpentry/cabinetry, the traditional trade of his family. The oral information circulated around the family mentions his admission to the Faculty of Architecture of the Polytechnic University of Prague and, later, at the Munich Baukademie, one of the most prestigious higher learning institutions of its kind.

Undoubtedly, in 1876, the aspiring young architect, then residing in the Capital of Bavaria, visited the great interior design exhibition organised by the Munich Kunstgewerbeverein (Arts and Crafts Association), with a significant impact on Romania, Liman would go on to collaborate with the house of Valerian Glllar and other similar companies that had exhibited their work in Munich in 1876.

Karel Liman became a resident of Vienna, where he would remain for five years, working for Hellmer and Felner, a major architecture studio of the era, established in 1873 and specializing in residential and theatre architecture. They were the authors of many projects located in Central and Eastern Europe.

Another project Karel Liman worked on while in Vienna, most likely around 1884-1885, was that of the family house in Mlada Boleslav. The building works were promptly commenced by the architect’s father, Vaclav, a carpenter and, presumably, an experienced builder. To this day owned by the Liman family, the building was decorated in Neo-Renaissance style, representative of the eclecticism typical of Central Europe at the time. It is believed that the family burial chamber in the town’s old cemetery was also designed by Liman.

He also maintained a close relationship with the Czech community in Vienna, the largest such community outside the territories of Bohemia and Moravia, as a member of the political association “Sokol” (The Hawk), which pleaded for the recognition of the Czech language as an official language of the Empire, for political rights etc., in the spirit of promoting the Czech language.

Karel Liman left Vienna with a recommendation letter, as was the custom, in order to work in Bucharest. He would become a permanent resident of Romania, where he would live for 45 years, until his death on 29 July 1929. He worked for the architecture department of the Ministry of Culture and Public Education in Bucharest, where he would remain for ten years.

Karel Liman left his position with the Ministry of Culture and Public Education in order to join the staff of the Royal household, as an architect. At the King’s request, from 1984 to 1904, André Lecomte du Nouy would fulfil the role of supervisor of the architecture works commissioned by the Royal Family.

Starting from 1898, the studio team would become responsible for two major architecture projects, namely the building of Pelişor Castle (1898-1903) and the enhancement and full rehabilitation of the interiors of Peleş Castle (1896-1914).

After about six years in the King’s service, Liman was entrusted with the administration of the Royal Architecture Studio, a position he would occupy until his death in 1929.

During the Jubiliary Exhibition of 1906, Karel Liman was in charge of designing a stand dedicated to Peleş Castle for the Royal Pavilion, including a scale model of the building.

The tracing of the career of Karel Liman, the architect, brings us closer to Karel Liman, the man. His physical portrait and behaviour in society are revealed to us by his friend, Eugeniu Buchman, the secretary of the Royal Family: “He was a learned man who had travelled all over Europe and spoke two or three languages fluently […] He suffered from loneliness and his health was rather precarious […] He was short, grey-haired and wore a small moustache […] His face was prematurely aged, but his eyes were friendly and he had good manners and always took care of his appearance. A very nice man.”

1922-1929Liman and his team were commissioned to design “The House of Carol”, which consisted in the transformation, via unification, of the Bibescu and Iarka houses, located next door from one another on Kiseleff Avenue, into the residence of Crown Prince Carol. The artistic expression of the future King’s house had to fit the co-ordinates of the national style, which is obvious from the plans and drawings of façades and decorative elements in the Peleş Castle archives. The architect also designed several small-scale structures,such as the two hunting cabins designed at the request of the Queen, but meant for King Ferdinand. These are located in the counties of Mureş (Lăpuşna) and Argeş (Bahna Rusului), in picturesque mountain settings along the courses of the Gurghiului and Doamnei rivers, symbolising the Royal Family’s connection to the country.

During the time of Greater Romania, the main job undertaken by Liman and his team was the refurbishment of the Bran Castle interiors in order to transform the building into a residence for Queen Marie. The works were carried out with great respect for the historical monument.

“There’s no one else quite like Liman as far as the promptness of aptly turning someone’s ideas into reality is concerned,” Queen Marie confessed to her journal in 1924, after several decades of collaborating with the Czech architect.

Queen Marie was very pleased with the furniture designed by Karel Liman for Bran Castle and several of her other residences. “He himself designs and combines the furniture pieces […] His is a highly individual style, where no two pieces are the same. He is very ingenious in the creation of […] chairs, tables and cabinets,” wrote Queen Marie in 1925, probably referring to the Bran Castle project especially.

The thoughts of Queen Marie of Romania on the death of architect Karel Liman: “I’ve been sad the entire day because of the bad news concerning Liman. He is, by all evidence, dying. This is causing me great grief. The reason I cherish him so much is that, besides the fact that he is a faithful servant, he is an extraordinary friend and ally, with his irreplaceable talent and his love for Bran, that love which has brought us so close.”

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