While we were in Budapest a few weeks ago we visited the Museum of Fine Arts on Hero’s Square. Like all the museums in the city, the entry pricing structure was very complicated. In addition to the permanent collection there were a number of temporary exhibitions and you had to pay an additional charge on top of the basic entry fee for each of these you wanted to visit. Looking at the list we decided to have a look at the exhibition entitled “The Eight (Nyolcak)” which, according to the limited information available at the entry, was devoted to paintings by a group of Hungarian artists influenced by the new modern art styles in Paris at the turn of the 20th Century. It sounded like it might be of interest and the charge didn’t add much to our entry fee for the permanent collection.
We had a look round the sections of the permanent collection which were of most interest to us (it’s a massive collection and there’s far to much to see during one visit) and then thought we’d have a quick look at the temporary exhibition we’d paid for. We expected it to be of limited interest, and would get round it fairly quickly. How wrong we were. It was a large scale contains about 200 paintings, drawings, sculptures and we were taken aback by just how good they were. We ended up spending considerably longer than we expected looking around.
“The Eight” were, as the name suggests, a group of radical young Hungarian artists – Róbert Berény, Dezső Czigány, Béla Czóbel, Károly Kernstok, Ödön Márffy, Dezső Orbán, Bertalan Pór and Lajos Tihanyi – who met in Paris where they were studying. They were strongly influenced by the modern art movements developing there. Karoly Kernstok, the oldest member of the group was its de facto leader. All of them, except Kernstok and Maffry were Jewish.
On returning to Budapest they organised an exhibition in 1909, which was a turning point in the history of Hungarian art. For the first time the public was introduced to the new styles of art and the exhibition didn’t, to put it mildly, meet widespread approval. A further two exhibitions were organised in 1911 and 1912. Not all of the group participated in the later exhibitions, which also included works by other associated artists.
The exhibitions were accompanied by series of cultural events. Participants included the poet Endre Ady, the composers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, and the philosopher György Lukács. It seems to me that for a relatively brief period certain sections of Hungarian society were receptive to new ideas, including modern movements in the arts. This is also reflected in architecture where Szecesszió buildings became fashionable in the rapidly developing Pest area of the capital.
It wasn’t to last. The storm clouds of war gathered over Europe and Hungary, as part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire were involved in the conflict. After the war, in 1919, there was a brief period when the Communists took power creating the Soviet Republic of Hungary. When this was crushed, Hungary was ruled by a right wing dictator, Admiral Horthy, and as is the case with such reactionary regimes, there is little room for radical forms of art.
Most of the members of the Eight were radical in their political views as well as their art and actively participated in the Soviet Republic. Károly Kernstok who was a commissioner for culture and education. When it fell he emigrated and lived in Berlin until 1926 when he returned to Hungary. Róbert Berény , became the leader of the department for painting in the Art Directorate. His poster, “Stand to!” became one of the symbols of the revolution. After 1919, he fled to Berlin, only returning to Hungary in 1926. Bertalan Pór and Lajos Tihanyi were also revolutionaries (Pór designed posters for the Republic) and had to leave the country in 1919. Pór emigrated to Czechoslovakia, where he made a living by painting portraits. He returned to Hungary after the Second World War and became a teacher at the Art School in Budapest in 1948. Lajos Tihanyi emigrated to Vienna, and from 1924 he lived in Paris where he painted non-figurative pictures. Pór emigrated to Czechoslovakia, where he made a living by painting portraits. He returned to Hungary after the Second World War and became a teacher at the Art School in Budapest in 1948. Lajos Tihanyi emigrated to Vienna, and from 1924 he lived in Paris where he painted non-figurative pictures.
Orbán Dezső remained in Hungary andfounded the Arts and Crafts Academy, Atelier, in Budapest in 1931. being Jewish he fled from Hungary in 1939 eventually settling in Australia where he worked as an artist, living to the ripe old age of 101.
The Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts which opened on 18 May and runs to 12 September. It includes a large number of works from all three of the original exhibitions together with contextual information and earlier works by members of the group and other, less radical, modernist movements. I felt that it was an excellent exhibition and that these artists deserve much wider recognition outside Hungary.
Due to the large selection of works on show,which are displayed chronologically, it’s possible to see how the styles of the different individuals changed over the relatively short period. Initially very strongly influenced by Cezanne and the Fauves, some of the later works are more cubist and Expressionist in style. Each individual artist developed in different ways and there is a clear divergence in style.
There are a number of dominant themes evident in their work, illustrated by the examples below.
There were self-portraits of most of the group in the exhibition.
Self-portrait with Straw Hat by Róbert Berény (1906). Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
Self-portrait with Top Hat by Róbert Berény(1907) . Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary. Here he emphasises his Jewish characteristics, undoubtedly as a radical statement.
Self portrait by Lajos Tihanyi (1910). Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
Self portrait by Lajos Tihanyi (1912). Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary. A later painting showing a distinct cubist influence.
Self Portrait by Dezső Czigány (1912). Picture source Wikipedia
Constructive self portrait by Ödön Márffy (1914) . Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary. Another a cubist influenced painting.
Reclining Female Nudes
Reclining Nude by Róbert Berény(1906) . Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
Reclining Nude by Ödön Márffy (1911) . Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
“Small Nude” by Lajos Tihanyi (1911).
Picture source: www.magyarmuzeumok.hu
Reclining Nude by Dezső Orbán Picture source: Art Portal
Other Nude Figures
Woman with glass by Róbert Berény (1906). Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
Boy Leaning against a Tree by Károly Kernstok (1911). Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
Portrait of Béla Bartók by Róbert Berény (1913). Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
The Family by Bertalan Pór (1909) Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
Groups of Figures
Sermon on the Mountain by Bertalan Pór (1911) Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
Riders on the shore by Károly Kernstok (1910). Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
Many of the still lives on display are clearly strongly influenced by Cezanne.
Still Life by Dezső Czigány (circa 1910). Picture source Wikipedia
Still Life with apples and plate by Dezső Czigány (1910). Picture source Wikipedia
Still life by Róbert Berény (1910). Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
There were vary few landscapes and most of those that were on display appeared to be earlier works.
Street at Passau by Dezső Orbán Picture source: Art Portal
Kernstok’s Stained Glass Window Design
The Schiffer building is a late Art Nouveau style building constructed between 1910 and 1912 for by Miksa Schiffer, a wealthy entrepreneur. Kernstok was commissioned to design a stained glass window for the building. It was restored in the 1980’s.
Although not shown in the original exhibitions, a copy of the design featured at the end of the Museum of Fine Art exhibition.
Stained Glass Window Design for the Schiffer Villa by Károly Kernstok (1910). Picture source: Fine Arts in Hungary
A number of the pictures above were sourced from the Fine Arts in Hungary website, which was set up to present a full range of fine arts in Hungary by introducing artists and their most important artworks from the beginnings in the 11th century to the middle of the 20th century. As well as an education tool, it is intended to increase knowledge of Hungarian fine arts which, despite their abundance, are somewhat underrated outside the country.
Other websites with information about, and pictures by the Eight include: