There are pictures of the Englishman Walter Crane and his Hungarian colleague Jenő Radisics taken somewhat later, in 1911, showing them with quite different beards, Crane with a Vandyke and exaggerated moustaches, and Radisics with an exceptionally fine Franz Josef.
Being clean shaven marked you as either a conservative or a clergyman: liberals wore beards. Garibaldi, Mazzini and Cavour were all bearded, and the extent of their facial hair seems to be correlated directly with their radicalism. After the defeat of liberal Hungary in 1849, the Kossuth beard, with the chin neatly shaved, became a national symbol and was banned by the Austrians. Count Andrássy, the first Hungarian Prime Minister after the 1867 settlement, had complicated facial hair in which some of his chin was shaved but not all, a combination of the Vandyke and the Franz Josef.
Zsuzsa Gonda in her review of Crane’s visit to Hungary in 1900 says that it is one of the most extensively documented events in the artistic life of the country in that period. Despite Crane’s eminence in England, it does seem that he was more honoured abroad, which was flattering of course, and after being decorated by Victor Emmanuel III, he called himself Commendatore Crane at home.
The welcome extended to him in Hungary was not entirely personal, however: he was the representative of England, the bastion of liberty, the nation that sheltered Kossuth and took him to its heart. Crane the socialist could not fully understand why in Hungary the appreciation of traditional art marked one out as a nationalist.
Gonda’s article is principally about museum acquisitions of Crane’s work. The vase pictured above, with a design by Crane, was one of the items purchased by György Ráth, former director of the Museum Applied Art, from the 1900 exhibition. Crane very much appreciated the warmth of his reception and in his memoirs reproduced in full the address delivered to him by Gyula Wlasics, Hungarian minister of culture and religion; but he was disappointed by sales from the exhibition and was understandably annoyed that the magazine Új Idők did not pay a royalty for the reproduction of his Kalotaszeg drawings.
The Budapest Museum of Applied Arts included this sketch (above) by Walter Crane in Masters of the Secession, showing Crane, left, and the director of the museum, Jenő Radisics, right, riding hobby horses, with an unidentified Frenchman in the middle, as judges at the Turin Exhibition of Decorative Art in 1902. Radisics had been instrumental in mounting the large Crane exhibition in Budapest a couple of years earlier, and here they meet again.
Radisics made large acquisitions of contemporary art and is largely responsible for the museum’s having such a large collection of Art Nouveau. He toured Europe tirelessly, dressed in Hungarian ceremonial costume at public events (as he is in Crane’s sketch) and spent generously. He acquired the entire Alexandre Bigot pavilion at the Paris Exhibition of 1900, which remained in store until 2013, when much of it was put on display.
Crane’s visit to Hungary was more strenuous than I realised: as well as visting Budapest and Kolozsvár he saw the Zsolnay ceramics factory in Pécs. The Museum of Applied Arts has a Zsolnay lustre vase (below) decorated by Géza Nikelszky, who, it says, was probably inspired by Crane’s visit in October 1900.
I’ve been reading Walter Crane’s Ideals in Art (1905), in which I found these drawings of Hungarian peasant costumes (above), and was curious about his connection with Hungary and how he came to make them.
While British design reformers were looking to the middle ages, the Hungarians were studying peasant art in pursuit of national independence. Artists under the influence of Ruskin, Morris and Crane created a community at Gödöllő, near Budapest, built vernacular-style houses and affected peasant dress. Others discovered the peasant art of Kalotaszeg , the traditional Transylvanian village that became a focus of Hungarian arts and crafts.
Cranes’s reputation in Hungary was high enough for Jenő Radisics, the director of the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts, to organise a retrospective of his work there in 1900. Crane visited the city in the autumn, was feted, gave lectures and visited Transylvania. He went to Kolozsvár (now Cluj-Napoca), Bánffyhunyad (now Hudein), and Kalotaszeg (now Calata) in search of Hungarian traditional art.
One of his guides was Janos Kovács, for whom he made this book plate inscribed “Éljen Kolosvár” – Long Live Kolozsvár! (below). Is the man lifting his hat Walter Crane and the man in traditional dress Prof. Kovács? There are certainly cranes flying around the former, but what is the other bird?
A supporter of dress reform, Crane thought the peasant style might suggest an antidote to the constrained, vulgar and commercial clothing of his age. He sought “utility, simplicity, picturesqueness”. “The peasantry in all European countries alone have preserved anywhere national and local picturesqueness and character in their dress,” he said, “Often, too where it still lingers unspoiled, as in Greece and in Hungary and Bohemia, adorned with beautiful embroidery worked by the women themselves.”
I was talking to Kati about the way our parents furnished their homes in the 1960s, when mine moved to to a new house in the London suburbs and hers to an apartment in the Budapest suburbs. Both used the move to dispose of their old-fashioned furnishings and to buy modern pieces. Kati admired the armchairs her father bought, I liked my parents’ Grundig radiogram.
Her father bought his chairs in an iparművészeti bolt, a small shop selling interior design and decorative items like jewellery. I asked Kati what iparművészeti meant, recognising the word from the Iparművészeti Muzeum, the Budapest equivalent of the V&A. Its literal meaning is “industry art”, but it doesn’t mean that exactly, it means hand-made objects manufactured in small quantities – so it’s close to our “arts and crafts” but it has extra connotations of design and originality.
The Italian equivalent is artigianato, but that has different connotations still, suggesting, as far as I can understand, any product of a small workshop – there’s plenty of gelati artigianale and “craft ice cream” doesn’t sound quite right. Italy has managed to retain far more small artigianale workshops alongside its advanced industries than Britain, despite Britain and Italy having a similar GDP per capita, and they’re more mainstream than any arts-and-crafts producer in the UK. Now, however, the English “craft” is acquiring something of the Italian meaning, with craft beers and craft coffees. In Italy, artigianato became current later than than “arts and crafts”, during the fascist era, not surprisingly, compared to the early 20th century in Britain, and it peaked later, in 1960, compared to 1940 – in other words, in the era of rapid post-war growth.
There has been a good exhibition of the ceramics of Géza Gorka at the Kieselbach Gallery in Budapest, which I’m sorry to have missed. There is a detailed article about Gorka’s long career here, from which the pictures are taken.
Pursuing the theme of public statues, I was curious as to why Tamás Szabó, who made the Lutz monument in Budapest, had been asked to make a statue of Abraham and Isaac on an isolated housing estate in Kisvárda, a small town in eastern Hungary.
As it happens, the circumstances were similar. Lutz saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust and the Kisvárda statue commemorates the ghetto into which local Jews were forced before being sent to Auschwitz.
There is still a Jewish community in Budapest – and in the area around the Lutz monument and the Great Synagogue, it’s chic to eat in Jewish-style restaurants – but there are no Jews in Kisvárda. It was in the Maramures region, the centre of Hassidic Hungary. A few Jews returned after the Holocaust but they left in 1956. Their descendants probably live in Williamsburg now.
The Kisvárda town council features the Abraham and Isaac statue Touch prominently on its website. But in 2009 the figure of Isaac was taken, as the Hungarian website Köztérkép, which helpfully maps public art, explained:
For several months now (if not for a year), Isaac, the third figure, has been missing from Tamás Szabó’s ‘Touch’ on the housing estate in Tompos Street, Kisvárda.
According to a narrative in the Old Testament Books of Moses, the patriarch Abraham, obedient to the his God’s commandment, took Isaac his son to the mountain, built an altar and prepared to sacrifice him. When Abraham raised the knife to Isaac, the Angel of the Lord appeared, declaring that the father and child were merely participants in a divine ordeal, and so prevented the tragedy.
This exemplary, dramatic conflict of faith and sacrifice has been captured in many masterpieces throughout the history of art. In Kisvárda, prize-winning sculptor Tamás Szabó placed a bible-themed public work of art depicting the sacrifice on a pedestal in the urban setting of Tompos Street.
The triple statue was inaugurated on June 9, 1988. At the centre is a standing, stepping male figure. In front of him, slightly sloping and turned towards him, kneels the bound Isaac. To Isaac there comes from above a floating, leaning angel in female form.
In this bronze three-figured sculpture, Szabó created a genuine 360-degree composition. The personality of the mummified Isaac’s is unknowable. His painfully bound and leaning body can be interpreted as the futility of resistance, as impotence, as an expression of helplessness. Or so it would be if the figure were not missing from the base of the sculpture.
This triple form has been vandalised many times and Isaac is probably being guarded in a better place now. But will someone send the angel to return him to the pedestal and back to that missing moment of tragic sacrifice?
Isaac remained in the council’s possession for some time, but it’s not entirely clear whether he was stolen or simply removed and whether he has been returned or not.
It’s part of Imre Madách Square, a Budapest city led development designed by Gyula Wälder and commenced in 1937. The Square leads to a grand arch and on either side are matching apartment blocks. Kovac’s reliefs are cut into travertine facings on the south block (shown with a marker in the picture).
Wälder is said to have adapted Baroque forms to modern developments, though I can’t see that in the Madách Square development. Early in his career he designed sections of the Wekerle Estate, an Arts-and-Crafts style development influenced by the English garden city movement. His historicism drew criticism from his contemporaries and from architects of the socialist period, but Madách Square is now a protected development and is pleasantly pedestrianised.
When we visited Košice, Slovakia, a few years ago, we heard Hungarian spoken in the street, and on a walk in the hills encountered a family picnicking over a bogrács, a typical Hungarian cauldron. Košice was once Kassa, part of the kingdom of Hungary, and was one of the areas lost at Trianon after the First World War.
Public art can be an exciting introduction to a previously unfamiliar artist. The Story of the Old Kent Road introduced me to Adam Kossowski, and an unsigned cartoon in a river boat on the Danube opened to me the fascinating world of Pál Molnar-C. In Budapest a few weeks ago, I stopped to look at a heroic piece of relief sculpture (above) on a building in Károly körút, just opposite Deák Ferenc tér, which I took, from the modernity of the building and the style of the work, to be a piece of Socialist Realism celebrating Communist power and the harvest, a remnant of Hungary’s fifty years under Soviet rule. It was unsigned, and so I thought that this interesting and neglected bit of artistic flotsam, marred by modern graffiti, would forever remain a mystery to me.
However, when I posted a picture of it on Facebook, Peter Langh, who owns Gallery 567 in Budapest, told me that that artist was Zoltán Boboreki-Kovács and that the sculpture represented the annexation of Upper Hungary following the First Vienna Award – part of the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and taking in Košice/Kassa. So, obviously not Socialist Realism. But its idealized figures, its juxtaposition of the maternal, the bucolic and the military, its strong faces and dramatic gestures, all indicate how similar nationalist art and communist art can be.
Boboreki-Kovács (19007-92) trained at the Academy of Fine Arts, Budapest, and in Rome, and was associated with the Szolnok Artists’ Colony, where he became interested in sculpture. Wikipedia says of him that he created realist monumental sculptures, that his compositions were closed and block-like, and that his art was characterized by pure forms and folk styles. At first he worked in in stone, then switched to bronze and wood. He also created sculptures for buildings. He left Hungary for South Africa after the war and his heroic style changed under the influence of modernism, abstraction and African art. His Hungarian Calvary (1941)(above) in the Farkasrét Cemetery is still in the style of his Re-annexation tableaux (below).
Most of the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest is closed for a long-overdue refurbishment, so I was deprived of one of my regular pleasures on a trip to the city last week. Instead I visited the home of the founding director, György Ráth, (above) which contains his personal collection and some museum exhibits. The museum is noted for its Art Nouveau collection – the second director, János Radisics, made extensive acquisitions at the 1900 Paris World Exhibition – and Art Nouveau objects are well represented in the Ráth villa. They were also displaying contemporary Art Nouveau-inspired glass by Agnés Smetana, (below) whose work was new to me.
Ráth collected studio pottery from England, France and Denmark by brilliant experimenters in stoneware and lustre glazes, some of whom were unfamiliar to me – Harry Nixon of Royal Doulton, William Howson Taylor of the Ruskin Pottery, Valdemar Englehardt of the Royal Danish Porcelain Company, Albert Heinecke of the Königliche Porzellan-Munufaktur, Pierre Clément Massier, Alexandre Bigot and Max Leuger – as well as several dazzling pieces by Vilmos Zsolnay and by Jenő Farkaházy-Fischer of Herend.
The grand feu potters made great technical and artistic innovations in a short time – all the pieces illustrated here were made between 1895 and 1906 – but much of their technique was lost in the 20th century. Alan Caiger-Smith gives a uniquely good though short account of this period in Lustre Pottery.