Please find more information on the cookies here
This “virtual guided tour” presents a subjective selection made by some of the authors of the volume The Paper Side of Art, published to mark the 150th anniversary of the Collection of Prints and Drawings.
We asked our curator colleagues to select works of graphic art from the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery, comprising nearly two hundred thousand sheets, which do not form the subject of their areas of research but are important for them for some reason. The selected paperworks show great diversity in their techniques and the date of their creation, ranging from the late fifteenth to the second half of the twentieth century.
- Israhel van Meckenem: Ornamental Decoration with Dancers, ca. 1490/1500
- Parmigianino after Raphael: Saint Peter and Saint John Healing the Cripples at the Gate of the Temple, ca. 1524–1530
- Annibale Carracci: Nude Study, ca. 1593–1594
- Francesco Guardi: The Campo San Zanipolo in Venice, 1760s
- Vincent van Gogh: The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Winter, 1884
- Vilmos Aba-Novák: New York (View from the Window of Martin Munkácsi’s Studio), 1935
- Tamás Hencze: Dynamic Structure, 1968
Israhel van Meckenem: Ornamental Decoration with Dancers, ca. 1490/1500
Kata Bodor’s primary area of research at the Collection of Prints and Drawings in the Museum of Fine Arts is modern drawing and printmaking. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the meandering plant motif in this late fifteenth-century sheet she chose is strongly reminiscent of the decorative art of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
“My area of research is modern art, so at times I tend to associate the art of the late-fifteenth century with a range of majestic, moralising, or sombre subjects. This is why I was genuinely surprised by this print, which combines figural and ornamental details in a most dynamic and exquisitely clever manner. At first glance, this work, with quite a bit of an erotic overtone, seems to be a depiction of a dance popular at the time, called moresca. Being passionate about the art of drawing, I am simply amazed by the ease of draughtsmanship manifest in the twisting lines indicating the movement of the figures and executed perfectly even in this miniature format. Human shapes and tendrils of plants are entwined here as if they could merge into a single essence in a transcendent world. As we trace the meandering course of the lines with our eyes, we can virtually hear the rhythm of the music inspiring the dance, the sound of the flute and the rustling of the clothes. The bending of the male figures on the thick tendrils twisting around the female figure, the latter’s flirtatious smile and posture, as well as the tempting apple in her hand cunningly imbues this seemingly innocent scene with an erotic charge.”
Parmigianino after Raphael: Saint Peter and Saint John Healing the Cripples at the Gate of the Temple, ca. 1524–1530
Orsolya Hessky, a curator specialised in nineteenth-century Hungarian drawing at the Hungarian National Gallery’s Department of Prints and Drawings, chose a sixteenth-century Italian print from the Collection of Prints and Drawings in the Museum of Fine Arts:
“During my university studies it was Professor György Kelényi from whom I learnt what a rebellious person Parmigianino was, an artist who experimented with the boldest distortions of form with remarkable ease. This print has everything that characterises his mannerist period unsurpassable in its revolt and excitement, as well as his restless attitude always seeking what is peculiar and exquisite. This print reproduces one of Raphael’s compositions, which handles the jungle of columns in the interior of the temple in Jerusalem in an entirely novel way: while in the original, Raphael’s columns structure the space, dividing it into more and less important sections, Parmigianino copied the composition of his illustrious predecessor by obviously abandoning all intentions aimed at creating harmony. We see a beautifully rendered biblical scene – but the focus of Parmigianino’s version is rather the two columns dominant in the foreground. To further enhance the effect, one of the columns is a ’normal’, classical one, while the other is twisted unendingly, enhancing the conceptuality of the copy. While Parmigianino virtually ’imposes’ the two emphatic architectural elements on the viewer, he depicts the figures with delicate lines, making them almost ethereal.”
Annibale Carracci: Nude Study, ca. 1593–1594
Eszter Földi, a curator at the Hungarian National Gallery’s Department of Prints and Drawings, discovered avant-garde elements of form in a sixteenth-century Italian drawing:
“Working as a museologist in a graphic collection, I am always fascinated by nude studies. People might think it is a boring genre – what could be more familiar and less unimaginative than studies of form typically made by artists during their years of training, or preparatory drawings for large compositions?
Drawing nudes formed a fundamental part of academic training for centuries. The study of the structure, proportions, and the connections between parts of the human body serves as a continued challenge and an unabating source of inspiration for artists. If an artist knows the human body perfectly, he can allow himself to deviate from the ’rules’, as he is not bound by the rigorous constraint of true-to-life depiction. It was only a matter of time for nudes to evolve into the terrain of experiments in form.
Avant-garde artists in the early twentieth century first employed nude drawings to explore the effects of distortions and intended ‘misdrawings’. Since I am a museologist dealing with nineteenth- and twentieth-century drawing, I have a routine in finding such surprise nudes – drawings coping with the challenge of forms yet executed with ease – in the history of modernism. And then here is this boldly executed, almost nonchalantly drawn nude of a man’s back by a sixteenth-century master, Annibale Carracci. It is obvious that Carracci was experimenting with the shapes of the human body just like his twentieth-century successors. His focus of interest was without doubt the depiction of the twisting back and the bent-back arms. The bundles of muscles break up the space virtually like spatial elements. The twisting back lends dynamism to the body, creating a movement that virtually erupts, while the appearance is expressive, almost prompting us to say: here is Carracci, a sixteenth-century avant-garde artist.”
Francesco Guardi: The Campo San Zanipolo in Venice, 1760s
Kinga Bódi, keeper of the Museum of Fine Arts’ Collection of Prints and Drawings, mainly works with contemporary paper-based art. This eighteenth-century drawing is her favourite from among the old sheets:
“I celebrated my eighteenth birthday in Venice – that was my first visit in the city, which later became a crucial location in my career. My PhD research and the Venice Biennale took me back there regularly during a certain period of my life. I had the chance to explore every niche, to walk in the city at dawn and by night, to witness its sombre and irresistible faces alike. I saw the city in the bustling summer swelter, in sparking sunshine, floating in the November mist, glowing in resplendent tones after spring rain, or swimming in autumn floods.
I love each and every part of Venice for a different reason, but my favourite places are in ‘the tail of the fish’, the Castello district, where only a few tourists venture. Such a place is the Biennale’s large park full of trees, the broad and endless Via Garibaldi, and the spacious Campo San Zanipolo, depicted by Francesco Guardi among others, with one of the largest and most beautiful churches in Venice. In these places I could feel the city expand beyond the narrow lagoons and alleys, the impressive facades reveal their beauty, and people can take a sniff of the magical Venetian air, which captivated so many painters, architects, writers, composers – and myself. This atmosphere is captured in Guardi’s gracefully bold and at the same time meticulous drawing.
Regardless of styles and periods, I am inexplicably drawn to paper and pencil: the world of lines. Although it was always obvious to me that I would deal with contemporary paperworks, I look at every drawing with admiration, as I find drawing the most open and diverse forms of artistic expression.”
Vincent van Gogh: The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Winter, 1884
One of the favourite works of Bernadett Tóth, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts specialised in Netherlandish drawings, is a wonderful drawing by Van Gogh:
“The delicate pen-and-ink drawings of Netherlandish painters display a peculiar interest in trees. For example, a tree with a hollow trunk is the protagonist of the sheet by Hieronymus Bosch regarded as his ars poetica, and Pieter Bruegel included hundred-year-old oak trees in his works – these are not only fascinating and powerful studies of nature but also glorify Creation. Many other such works could be mentioned by great artists from Jan Brueghel through Joos de Momperen and Jacques de Gheynen to Rembrandt.
This drawing by Van Gogh is striking for its monumentality: the sheet is close in scale to a middle-sized panel painting. At the same time, it displays the profoundly detailed and observant mode of depiction that was characteristic of the aforementioned great predecessors. The trees in the garden of the artist’s family, with their intertwining branches, exist in a common aura; their roots are most probably also interconnected under the ground, sustaining each other. The bare branches resembling human arms reach out to the sky with elemental force, and instead of a winter sleep they tell the story of the intense inner workings of the soul. The sheet is imbued with the tense energy before buds start to burst.”
Vilmos Aba-Novák: New York (View from the Window of Martin Munkácsi’s Studio), 1935
László Százados shared inspiring thoughts about Vilmos Aba-Novák’s watercolour:
“I look at this boldly executed and elegant cityscape of New York, noting Aba-Novák’s usual, casually and virtuously controlled technique, and I try to put it into words what highlights this watercolour from his oeuvre. The viewer’s eye is searching for points of reference: where can Central Park be and where is the ocean, which cannot be seen here? Where could the famous photographer Martin Munkácsi’s studio be, from the window of which this view opened? The system of patches organising one another and the line-structure frame are familiar but there is still something unusual here, something surprising. Where does my sensation of fractured time come from? A modern metropolis mixed with a postcard feeling also evoking the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the technique recording the impressions of travellers.
Lying under the skin of every city is the bone structure of its previous as well as possible future versions. New York is especially rich in urban roles: travellers are susceptible to different ones for different reasons. How does space and time meet in life situations and people’s experience of a city?
The immense rigidity of the skyscrapers is softened, warmed up, and lent colour by the filter of Aba-Novák’s Italian experience here. Earth tones, sandstone yellow, brick brown, fired clay red: the Mediterranean, Italy. San Gimignano’s overgrown blocks.
Clouds with the promise of rain suck the skyscrapers’ blocks towards them. The shadows of clouds move across the wall surfaces of the building blocks of the metropolis. The vantage point defines it all: this is not what urban explorers see meandering along the street canyons squeezed in-between facades, but the staggering bird’s-eye view of urban peaks. As the eye glides along the monumental building memorials aiming for the sky as they proclaim wealth and power, the hierarchical order of the architectonic elements is tamed into an artificial environment lived in by people, an urban landscape. As Michel Certeau writes, ‘Unlike Rome, New York has never learned the art of growing old by playing on all its pasts …’ Yet, it is as if this is what seems to happen in Aba-Novák’s watercolour.”
Tamás Hencze: Dynamic Structure, 1968
Zoltán Kárpáti, a curator specialised in Italian Renaissance drawings at the Museum of Fine Arts’ Collection of Prints and Drawings, wrote about a work preserved in the Contemporary Collection:
“I wrote my first ever critique on Tamás Hencze. I was twenty-four at the time, a painter, and it never occurred to me that one day I would become an art historian. A lot has changed since then: I work at the Museum of Fine Arts, primarily researching the Renaissance, and I rarely come across contemporary art. When I was in my twenties, however, I was a fan of abstract art, and I found Hencze’s reductionist visual language especially exciting. I have always been interested in where that thin line lies between a work still being ’receivable’ and the point when it disintegrates. I also liked Hencze using an industrial tool – a paint roller – instead of a brush, and I loved the rich and subtle tonal transitions he produced on the canvas despite his dispassionate work method; or as I described it two decades ago: the painter’s gestures frozen into paint.”