Csontváry 170

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Csontváry 170

Ground Floor - 14 April – 16 July 2023

Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (1853–1919) was born 170 years ago. The anniversary is marked by an exhibition jointly organised by the Museum of Fine Arts–Hungarian National Gallery and the Janus Pannonius Museum of Pécs. The displayed material assembled from the two public collections preserving the most important works of the brilliant painter will opens within the framework of the Bartók Spring International Art Weeks on 13 April, in the Museum of Fine Arts, where it will run for three months. The joint exhibition providing a comprehensive picture of the art of Csontváry will then travel to Pécs, the seat of Baranya County, to the Csontváry Museum, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year; it can be viewed there from August for the duration of three months. The exhibition parading forty-five works pays tribute to one of the most original and best-known artists in the history of Hungarian painting.

An exhibition of Csontváry’s works last opened in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest sixty years ago, in 1963, while in Pécs the works displayed in the Csontváry Museum will be supplemented with pieces from the Budapest collection for the first time. Thanks to the cooperation between the two institutions, the public can now see Csontváry’s famous Self-portrait, The Lonely Cedar, his monumental Ruins of the Ancient Greek Theatre at Taormina, his large-scale Valley of Great Tarpatak in the High Tatra as well as his Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon and Waterfall at Jajce together.

The material of the two institutions displayed at the exhibition in the Museum of Fine Arts is also augmented by some paintings from private collections. Sacrificial Stone in Baalbek and Sunset over the Bay of Naples were last shown to the public in 1994, at the Csontváry exhibition organised by the Hungarian National Gallery.

Guiding visitors through the painter’s one-and-a-half-decade-long oeuvre, the displayed forty-five works, including the almost thirty-square-metre Baalbek and other monumental paintings, provide a complete overview of the main themes and motives in Csontváry’s art as well as of his life. The exhibition opens with the artist’s first oil painting, Butterflies (1893), continuing with his famous depictions of birds, known as “studies prior to school”, whose meticulous method and lively palette demonstrate the technical skills of the fledgling painter-pharmacist.

An important turning point came in Csontváry’s artistic career when he spent six months in Simon Hollósy’s art school in Munich, in 1894. His studies in Munich are documented by delicate model drawings, which are displayed in a separate section at the exhibition. A profile depiction of Mihály Wirthmüller is a surprisingly mature and original work, showing no trace of the tentative exploration typical of art students. Csontváry’s first figurative painting, titled Old Woman Peeling an Apple (1894), is also included in the exhibition.

One of the most important concepts forming part of Csontváry’s views on art is that of “living nature”. It is known from his autobiography that during his childhood he lived in close proximity with nature and was keen to understand natural phenomena. Dreams sustained by “landscapes never seen” and reality “directed at the sky” provide a key to his art. Living nature, albeit in different forms, can be found in all of his pictures: in strangely folding rock formations, winged shapes of clouds, sheaves of waterfalls evocative of animal figures, mosaic-like colour patches of hillocks and hillsides squeezed together, as well as in the boldly foreshortened spaces and in an unusually curved individual perspective opening up a way into new dimensions.

Csontváry was under the spell of the immense scale of the dimensions of time and space: thousand-year-old cedars, colossal sizes, mountains, and cascades. He was driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge: he wanted to see and understand everything that the world had to show him. He was captivated by the High Tatras from a young age and had been cherishing the plan of his great painting of the Tatra Mountains for a long time. His travels were also inspired by his search for the “great motif”. During his first trip to Taormina, he immediately set down to capture the ruins of the ancient Greek theatre to gain experience for his painting of the High Tatras. From Taormina he travelled on to the Tatras, and from the Tatras back to Taormina, so that he could finally realise the much-desired, great composition. The grandiose depictions of the Nagy-Tarpatak in the Tatras and the Ruins of the Ancient Greek Theatre at Taormina were executed almost at the same time. It was during 1904–1905 that he managed to find the final, monumental form for both of his great motifs: the Valley of Tarpatak in the High Tatras and the ruins of the ancient Greek theatre at Taormina.

Csontváry’s paintings take us along his journey around the world. The Waterfall at Jajce to Bosnia and Herzegovina, At the Entrance of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to the Holy Land, and his largest-scale painting, Baalbek, to Lebanon, where he also painted The Lonely Cedar and Pilgrimage to the Cedars. He completed his last painting, Horse Ride by the Sea (1909), in the environs of Naples.

In recent decades, numerous monographs and studies interpretations Csontváry’s pictures and enriched our knowledge on the legendary painter. Whether we approach these works with pure reason or the passion fed by the Csontváry cult, in the end we are bound to conclude that his painting is unmatched in the entire history of Hungarian art. However his art is interpreted, it is certain that Csontváry is the most original Hungarian painter. He always remained free from established styles and schools, while his peculiar life, his visionary calling, and the virtually miraculous survival of his oeuvre all contributed to the myth that developed around his person. Csontváry was a child of the turn of the century, in whose life’s work the universal individualism of romanticism is inimitably merged with the modernist quest for collective ideals.

Simultaneously with the Csontváry exhibition, the art of Lajos Gulácsy can be seen in the Hungarian National Gallery until the end of August. In recent decades, many analyses and art historical publications have drawn attention to the strange kinship between the visionary art of Lajos Gulácsy and Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka. Indeed, the intention and plan for the concurrent exhibitions devoted to these two unique oeuvres, impossible to categorise into contemporaneous art trends, arose in professional circles already one hundred years ago. However, the opportunity to present the extraordinary life’s work of these two extravagant visionaries of early twentieth-century Hungarian art has only opened now.

The exhibition’s curator is Mariann Gergely, an art historian at the Hungarian National Gallery–Museum of Fine Arts.


Csontváry 170

14 April – 16 July 2023

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