Friday, July 22, 2011

The Eight part 2: How these avant-garde revolutionary painters changed the face of Hungarian art

"Large Nude" by Dezso Orban (large format) 1911
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
When I am sponging up the intense, creative energies of my young colleagues at the Folt Cafe in Szentendre, Hungary, inevitably I think about The Eight.

I see myself among these Hungarian avant-garde painters, drinking and cavorting in Paris and Budapest cafes, talking about how to shock the Hungarian art establishment of 1905 to 1912.

It opened on 18 May and runs to 12 September at the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest.

The eight Hungarian Fauves (Fauves Honrois): Róbert Berény, Dezso Czigány, Béla Czóbel, Károly Kernstock, Ödön Márffy, Dezső Orbán, Bertalan Pór and Lajos Tihanyi.

Co-curators for The Eight: Gergely Barki, Peter Molnos, Krisztina Passuth, and Zoltan Rockenbauer (former Hungarian Minister of Culture). 

The Eight reveals a troubling question in the life and people of Hungary.  

"In the Hungarian psyche, there's a strong hesitanancy....where do we belong?" art historian Edina Deme told me as we explored the back story to this reprise of 200 works by these revolutionary avant-garde painters.

(See previous blog post on The Eight.)

The Eight wanted to be identified with democratic developments in the west.

The Eight is a show laden with political significance. Their works dramatically and radically changed Hungarian art.
"Self-portrait with Top Hat" by Robert Bereny (1907)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
"Self-portrait with Straw Hat" by Robert Bereny (1906)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
There was a need to shock and to leap over many steps to advance French modernism in Hungary and the east. 

In that way, The Eight were very political.

Paris was symbolic for The Eight. 

They were always experimenting.

"Nude Sitting in an Armchair" by Robert Bereny (1907)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
Breaking from 'moderate radicalism' into the world of Fauves

These painters broke from what the exhibit's curators call the "moderate radicalism" of the MIENK Group of impressionists and naturalists.

Leading the charge into creating shock and awe: Karoly Kernstock, the oldest member of the rebelious group and its de facto leader.

Kernstock and Maffry were the only non-Jews among them.

"Female Nude with a Mirror"(one of two canvases)  by Dezso Czigany, oil on canvas (1908-09)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
Soon after The Eight broke away, another circle, The Artists' House, rose to compete against them, setting the stage for imminent conflict and change.

While individually important, religion didn't play a significant role in the direction and mission of The Eight. 

The Eight's spiritual mentor: radical poet, Endre Ady,  was a Calvanist

His book, "New Poems," galvanized these avant-garde painters to oppose impressionism and naturalism.

"Portrait of Endre Ady" by Dezso Czigany (1907)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

"Portrait of Pablo Casals" by Czigany Dezso, oil on canvas mounted on card (1911)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
All were left thinkers.
"It was their job to find out and pursue concepts of eternity, some through geometric forms; they sought to create classical art in a modern way," said Deme.

Paris, Cezanne, Matisse and the French Fauves

Influenced by Cezanne and Matisse and French Fauves, these idealogs headed to Paris to work, play and at times--as individual artists--join group exhibitions in France. 

"Grandmother and Grandchild" by Maria Lehel, oil on canvas (1912)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011) Lehel was among four close artist-colleagues of this circle.

"Worker Family" by Lajos Tihanyi, oil on canvas (1909 - 1910)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

"Portrait of Ciaclan Virgil" by Lajos Thanyi, oil on canvas (1914)
And to study, as all did at the Julian Academy, the equivalent of an open art university available to those rejected by the Paris arts establishment. 

While Paris provided great stimulus for The Eight, there were overcast skies.

Anti-semitism in Paris became intense, even onerous since the Dreyfus affair was making headlines in 1906 and 1907.

'Self-portrait" by Belatran Por, oil on canvas (1912)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
"Self-portrait" by Lajos Tihanyi, oil on canvas (1914)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

"Capri Vision" by Robert Bereny, oil on card (1913)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

"Female and Male Figure" by Lajos Tihanyi, oil on canvas (1911)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
"Self-portrait" by Belatran Por, oil on canvas (1912)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
The Eight's chief curator and organizer Gergely Barki turned to his favorite painter among them, Robert Bereny, and the artist's work, "Self-portrait with Top Hat."

It's almost a caricature of being Jewish, the pronounced features and the politically poignant arrogance of the picture, Barki noted. 

It appeared as though Bereny's was telling us: Look at me, I'm Jewish, smart, talented and proud to be Jewish.

In Hungary, Jews were very much tolerated

These were hard times for Jews in Europe but Hungary proved the exception, despite underlying tensions.
"Small Nude" by Lajos Tihanyi, oil on canvas (1911)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

"Woman Sitting on Armchair" by Robert Beleny, oil on canvas (1912)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire enjoyed not only relative wealth but status and in some instances, acceptance.

At that time, Jews were first and foremost Hungarian, and there was a positive sense of nationalism pervading the country.

"Kneeling Woman" by Vilmos Femes Beck, bronze (1912)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
Jews in Hungary were very much tolerated; they had economic power and became central for the sucess of the empire.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire even extended aristocratic titles to Jews and some converted to Christianity, although it is uncertain whether conversion was a condition to being awarded a title.

"Self-portrait" by Lajos Tihanyi, oil on canvas (1912)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
Because poet Endre Ady was a Calvinist and much loved by Czigany Dezso, the painter in 1907 converted to Protestantism.

The Eight's three Budapest group shows

The most creatively prolific period for the Fauves was 1905 - 1908, led by Matisse.

The birth of The Eight happened on 30 Dec. 1909, wrote critic Pal Relle at the time. 

The Eight debuted with 32 paintings at the Konyves Kalman Salon in Budapest but didn't call themselves The Eight.

The show's title, simply: "New Pictures" also featured two sculptors:  Vilmos Femes Beck and Mark Vedres, who worked in bronzes.

Another ally and artist of The Eight, Lesznai Anna, probably a lover to more than one of the painters, designed and embroidered "The Ady Pillow," also displayed in this show. 

Their second exhibit ran from 29 April to 25 May 1911 at the National Salon in Budapest, for the first time calling themselves "The Eight." 

"They undertook conquering monumental canvases," curator Barki said.

After their last exhibitiion as The Eight in 1912 in Budapest, the members went their own ways.

Each brought something special to the others

Robert Beleny, who also played piano and violin, found himself painting a few portraits of musicians. 

They joined a greater Hungarian circle of artists, musicians and intellectuals, including composers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, and the philosopher György Lukács.

Lajos Tihanyi, who suffered from meningitis as a teenager, was a deaf mute.

Bela Czobel, who sent his works to the shows of The Eight, lived and worked in Paris until 1914, when WW I broke out.

"Self-portrait" by Czigany Dezso, oil on canvas (1909)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

"Self-portrait" by Czigany Dezso, oil on canvas (1909)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
He instantly became an enemy of the French state, escaping only to the Netherlands leaving behind all his works in his Paris studio, many gone missing and now sought by Barki in his WANTED salon of lost works. 

Czobel possessed all the talents and technical skills and was likely the most accomplished academic among them, and even today, some art historians argue Czobel strongly influenced Matisse.

It's a discussion in progress.

Between 1911 and 1914, these painters continued experimenting and being influenced by everything, pushing themselves to the edges of cubism and futurism.

Of The Eight, Orban Dezso was probably the least respected of all of them, only because he was self-taught, except for a few sessions at the Julian in Paris. While inconsistent in his still lifes, for example, one art historian told me he probably painted the best of these among The Eight.
He had some brief associations with the Julian Acacemy, yet according to her, his "Still Life with a Pitcher" is likely the best still life of the whole group, yet he could paint very dull works as well.

Karoly Kernstock went on to exhibit at the 1915 World Fair in San Francisco.

And Czigany Deszo killed his entire family, then himself.

In 1919, Bereny and Belatran Por adopted the new order, Communism, and actively supported the new Socialist Realism.

Dezso Orban, who emigrated to Australia in 1939, fearing the worst from Nazi Germany, died at age 102.

"Composition with Nudes" by Odon Maffry, oil on canvas (1909)
Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
In this second story about The Eight and their circle's fringe of painters and sculptors, I want you to see some of the WANTED pictures posted by curator Barki in a separate salon adjacent the temporary show.

Help locate the most WANTED missing pictures of The Eight 

You might know where one or more of these works resides and help bring together more of Hungary's most energized and rebelious Fauvist painters. 

Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler ™

"Miroma´s Majesty," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2008)

Check out a sculpture or mosaics workshop or walking tour in our beautiful mountains.

See: and

Contact me at or by calling (34) 951 067 703; from the UK at BT landline rates, 0844 774 8349.

No comments:

Post a Comment