How much do you know about Hungarian modern art? Following the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain we introduce five artists.
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If you do an online search for ‘Hungarian modern art’, chances are the results will be somewhat limited. At Bridgeman we now hope to address this cultural gap with the addition of the work of five contemporary Hungarian artists, spanning several generations, ensuring that twentieth-century Hungarian art is fully represented within the archive.
Bright, bold and idiosyncratic, their work is hugely appealing in its own right and can be used for book covers, cards and posters or for specific features on Hungary. Global issues are also addressed including the environment and consumerism.
Marta Martonfi-Benke’s (b.1958) art is characterised by a deep personal attachment to nature and natural patterns, her theme being the Hungarian countryside, usually capturing a sparkling sunlit atmosphere. Her series depicting eerie, suburban night scenes are a marked departure in her oeuvre.
Tamas Galambos (b. 1939) is an internationally acclaimed artist whose idiosyncratic sophisticated-naïve style renders him a champion of outsider art. He combines the surrealist's free associations with a children's fairy tale fantasy, applying characteristically ornamental, folkloric brushwork. His themes vary from mythology and politics to nature, with colourful compositions never short of a tinge of irony.
From the 1960s onwards he has had solo exhibitions world-wide, from Tokyo to Los Angeles, winning various awards both home and abroad. His work has been used on book covers including Garcia Marquez’ 100 years of Solitude.
Emil Parrag (b.1925) has lived through some of the most tumultuous events in Hungarian history. Painting in a figurative, expressionist style in the 1960s, in strong opposition to the Communist Party and its directives that propagated socialist realism in the arts, his choice of subject matter meant that his work was not exhibited in the Cold War era, with the resultant financial and existential insecurities.
During this period he used a dominantly darker palette but from the 1990s his palette lightens and, in his new form of expressionism, he combines figurative compositions with techniques developed from his abstract expressionist and structuralist experiments of the two interim decades.
Magdolna Ban's naïve painting perfectly reflected the idyllic world of her youth, in a Hungary that no longer exists. Moving away from naïve art she developed a distinctive style incorporating elements of mystic reverie and surrealism to create works of poetic beauty and vibrant colour.
Magdolna is a member of the Henri Rousseau Group and the holder of distinguished art prizes (Prix Suisse de Peinture Naïve).
Nora Soos (b.1979), the youngest artist of the group, depicts a Hungary that is cosmopolitan and commercial rather than rural and mystical.
Using a technique based on strong brush strokes and dominant contour drawings, outlined figures are piled on top of each another but structural unity is maintained thanks to a superb draughtsmanship and lively sense of colour. Her style can be perhaps summarized as post surreal pop art!
Nora has shown in international exhibitions and art fairs from Italy to Belgium, winning many awards.
The work of these artists is absolutely remarkable in the light of Hungary’s recent history
The fact that their spirits were not broken by so many years of economic hardship and suppression is testament to their devotion to artistic expression. Even though Hungary has been independent for twenty years, it has understandably taken a long time for the country to recover. Hungary is finally ready to emerge from the shadows of the past.
The Bridgeman Art Library would like to thank Geiger Szabo for his hard work in facilitating several of the relationships with artists within Hungary. Geiger's enthusiasm and assistance has been crucial in this project.
Not just Hungarian modern art…
A more extensive overview of Hungarian art and culture can be accessed from collections within the Bridgeman archive including Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest, the largest public collection documenting the rise and development of the fine arts in Hungary, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.
Footnote - Short history of Hungary
Hungary is one of the oldest countries in Europe and is home to a rich and varied culture. Occupied by Romans until the 4th century and then populated by Magyars in the 9th century, medieval Hungary was powerful and wealthy. Being a land locked country, Hungary was eventually weakened by the constant struggle to keep invaders at bay. Half the population was destroyed fighting the Mongols in the thirteenth century, and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were dominated by brutal wars against the mighty Ottoman Empire.
The modern era has been equally if not more calamitous for Hungary. WWI devastated her economy and led to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the defeat of Germany in WWII, Hungary became a Soviet satellite state under Stalinist rule. Thousands were executed and imprisoned and hundreds of thousands of intellectuals were purged. Cultural life was stifled and free thinkers deemed heretical.
In 1956 a nation wide revolt was brutally repressed by the Soviets. Thousands of Hungarians were assassinated including the much loved Prime Minister Nagy. Hungary remained under Soviet control until 1989 when Hungary began to taking down its barbed wire fences along the Austrian border. For many, this event was the first tear in the Iron Curtain and started a chain reaction that led to end of Soviet rule in Eastern Europe. In 1990 free elections were held in Hungary and the country finally shed Soviet dominion.