Cluj-Napoca was one of the cornerstones of Transylvanian fine art between the two world wars. The first free schools of painting developed at the end of the 19th century as a result of the Nagybánya colony. These were founded by Hollósy’s first pupils from the “treasure city”. The road leading to the establishment of the ‘Ion Andreescu’ College of Fine Arts was still bumpy, however, there had been a continuing need to establish a modern higher education institute in Cluj-Napoca since the first studios were established on the Promenade. This led to the founding of the Belle Arte in 1925, which was relocated to Timisoara in 1933 at the time of the great European economic crisis. It was later downgraded to high school, however, it still endowed the first generations of painters with the experience of true unbridled art life and supranational freedom.
For a long time, it was the free schools that performed the artistic unifying role and provided workshops needed to nurture new talents in Cluj-Napoca. Gábor Papp and Ferenc Ács, who were educated at Hollósy in Munich and Bánya, were among the great school founders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The latter entered the sphere of influence of the master in Munich as a student of Bertalan Székely. Ilona Csoma, from the Kalotaszeg (today Țara Călatei) region was one of the most educated female painters of her time. The most significant of all the enterprises was undoubtedly the free school headed by Sándor Szolnay and Jenő Szervátiusz, which was intended to compensate for the truncated and displaced college during the economic crisis. At that time, Szolnay’s retreat was among the free thinkers and very poor artists, where they nourished on food for thought. This palette was complemented by the painting school of Sándor Szopos and István Tóth, which also provided training in applied arts.
The free spirit of the Nagybánya colony transplanted from Munich was supplemented by two additional factors in Cluj-Napoca, the proximity of Kalotaszeg, which enriched the new aesthetics of the West with a special Hungarian, folk Art Nouveau, and the idea of Transylvanism, promoted by Károly Kós. The extremely active founder of the Transylvania Art Guild, which embraced Hungarian literary life, and the Miklós Barabás Guild, which brought artists together, openly proclaimed that Transylvania could be the cradle of Romanian-Hungarian-German multiculturalism and that the respect for each other could turn the region into a land of promise. The need for multiculturalism was also felt in the Romanian art world, in the circles of Belle Arte, where the courses of young teachers trained in Paris, Catul Bogdan, Aurel Ciupe, Anastase Demian or Romul Ladea, were popular with talented people, Romanians and Hungarians alike, looking for a new visual experience. This, however, did not exclude the presence of senior teachers, representatives of academic art, such as Sándor Papp and Pericle Capidan, to regulate the overzealous volition of the young emerging artists. In the summers, the students of Belle Arte gained new experiences at the Nagybánya colony under the guidance of Thorma. Ciupe and Demian were very fond of the unique painting style of István Nagy, the stiff-necked Szekler.
The age of interconnection and friendship between different genres and nationalities, and a sincere interest in each other, was pushed into a state of decay by the Second World War. The academy in Cluj-Napoca was successfully revived only after 1945.