Judit Reigl Dance of Death

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Judit Reigl Dance of Death

Ground Floor, Michelangelo Hall - 26 May - 3 September 2023

“I visited the Museum of Fine Arts every single day. Come to think of it, I was already one with the craft in my teens, I saw and tried everything. I am in intimate dialogue with the old masters…I regard them as gifts, heaven-sent. Evoking the old masters solved my painterly problems. I didn’t have to look back at the past, I could look into myself …”     

To celebrate the centenary of Reigl Judit’s birth, the Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery presents an important exhibition of rarely seen work by one of the most original figures to emerge in European art after World War II. Judit Reigl Dance of Death presents the final series of drawings by the Hungarian-born French painter. Reigl’s Dance of Death offers a remarkable pictorial account of a life of ceaseless creativity, recapping episodes and experiences that stood out in the way that one’s life can only be truly understood in retrospect. The drawings evince both a youthful buoyancy and the frailty of age. Reigl’s hand retained a lifetime’s worth of assurance even as her eyesight declined. Her memory was undiminished: recurring motifs within the series reference a range of images and symbols from throughout the history of art.

Reigl’s basic visual language was developed in her youth, when, in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest, she discovered many of the paintings that impacted her vision. The first canvas that profoundly impressed the seventeen-year-old budding artist was Courbet’s Wrestlers. Over time, she painted several versions of it, including one painted directly on her studio wall. Her 1966 Wrestlers mural was later transferred to a portable support, and is now in the collection of the Musée Maillol, Paris.

Leonardo’s Studies of Horse’s Legs and Delacroix’s Horse Frightened by Lighting are as present in Reigl’s work at the end of her life as they were when she first encountered them eighty years earlier. Details from Fra Angelico’s Thebaid debuted in her surrealist works of the 1950s, then reappeared in her late drawings. Libalt’s startling mound of skulls and Holbein’s vivacious skeletons are also often alluded to by Reigl.

For Judit Reigl, this exhibition is both a homecoming and a testament. True to Reigl’s wishes, the drawings are displayed in concert with some of her favourite paintings from the Budapest museum’s own collection. The presentation features a movie with footage of Reigl in her studio working on Dance of Death, interspersed with images of all the drawings of the series. In them, Reigl recalls pieces by Cranach, Dürer, Gaddi, Goltzius, Goya, El Greco, Hans Baldung Grien, and other masters whose works she first admired and copied in the museum during her student years. After viewing the exhibition in the Michelangelo Hall, visitors will have a fresh view of many of the masterpieces in our permanent collection.

Curators of the exhibition: Janos Gat and Zsolt Petrányi

Cooperative Partner:
Fonds de dotation Judit Reigl

Even though my oeuvre is complete in terms of painting,
what I draw these days is like a musician’s encore after an exhausting recital (…) I am
tired even before I start, but it feels good to be drawing, and however much strength it
saps out of me, it feeds back even more.

Quote by Judit Reigl were first published in They Have an Insatiable Thirst for the Infinite (Budapest: Corvina, 2020) and Judit Reigl: Interview with Janos Gat (Paris: Manuella Editions, 2021).

Judit Reigl Dance of Death

26 May - 3 September 2023

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