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Dancing 1925 – Hungarian Artists in Parisian Nightlife

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Dancing 1925 – Hungarian Artists in Parisian Nightlife

Graphic cabinet - 29 April – 28 August 2022

Our chamber exhibition presents the Parisian nightlife of the 1920s through the eyes of three Hungarian artists, Marcell Vértes, János Vaszary and Miklós Vadász, whose works evoke the vibrant ambience of Paris nightclubs. The focus of the exhibition is Marcell Vértes’s album titled Dancing, presenting various scenes from a night in Paris. This is nicely complemented by works János Vaszary and Miklós Vadász made in the French capital, allowing visitors to get a picture of the Parisian night of the 1920s from the perspective of three different artists who drew on the same inspiration.

Art Deco, which emerged in the decorative arts and architecture after the cataclysm of World War I and remained one of the defining trends in the 1920s all over Europe and even in the United States, not only held sway of the arts but defined the lifestyle and general spirit of an entire era. Images of nightlife, modern entertainment, bars and nightclubs are depicted just as decoratively in the drawings and prints as modern machines, automobiles, airplanes and tumultuous cities. The International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925 fundamentally determined the spirit and visual expression of the decade. Paris’ lively cultural scene was not restricted to daytime: the city had a bustling nightlife with a great many nightclubs and restaurants to entertain the public. Jazz, the new genre of music coming from America, conquered all of Europe, thus Paris, too, with Charleston, shimmy, Boston, foxtrot and tango being the most popular dances. The word dancing did not merely refer to the act of dancing but also to the special Parisian feeling, a frenzy of sorts, which people trying to forget the trauma of the war were desperately seeking.

The era also introduced an important change in society: the ideal of the independent woman emerged and was clearly manifest in hairstyles and clothing. The generation of women called garçonne in French and flapper in English – characterised by a boyish haircut, known as the bob, a slender build and ever-shorter skirts – could be found in all the places of entertainment.

In this period numerous Hungarian artists lived in or visited the French capital, including Marcell Vértes, János Vaszary and Miklós Vadász, whose works displayed at our exhibition provide an insight into the Paris of the ‘années folles’. Their favourite nightclubs were the Palace, the Casino de Paris, Chez Maxim’s, Le Bœuf sur le toit and Ermitage, whose revues, dancers, famous or unknown figures picked out from the crowd they captured in their art.

 

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Marcell Vértes’s album titled Dancing, which evokes scenes from a night in Paris. The Hungarian illustrator and graphic artist Marcell Vértes arrived in Paris in the early 1920s and published his album of twelve lithographs in 1925, the year of the Paris World’s Fair. The sheets of the album bring to life the jazz orchestra, dancing crowds, extravagant couples, elegant ladies and gentlemen as well as other snapshots of night parties, such as cleaning up at dawn or the disillusioning journey back home. This is the first time the complete series – which is unique in the Hungarian art of the period and was met with huge success already in its day – is being exhibited to the public.

The album capturing the world of Parisian nightclubs in detail is complemented by additional works by Vértes relevant to the theme as well as by pieces of two other artists, János Vaszary and Miklós Vadász, who were also inspired by Parisian nightlife. Vaszary arrived in Paris in 1925. He was greatly influenced by the bustling scene that opened up a plethora of experiences in art, life and entertainment. Besides crowds of dancers and the characteristic types and fashionable women in bars, his works depict performances and dancers in nightclubs. Miklós Vadász’s and Marcell Vértes’s careers have a lot in common. Vadász also started off as a newspaper illustrator and after the war he also moved to Paris, where he worked for the same magazines as Vértes. They are often mentioned together in contemporary Hungarian accounts, moreover Vadász too is referred to as a successor of Toulouse-Lautrec. “… no one since Toulouse-Lautrec has been able to capture the steam of dance, evening dresses and French champagne as individually as him,” is how his works executed in Paris were described in a memoir written about him. Miklós Vadász’s drawings of contemporary bars, dance parties and elegant female figures representing the new style of the era are nicely augmented by the Parisian pieces of the other two artists of our exhibition; thus, the milieu of the Parisian nights of the 1920s is conveyed through the eyes of three different artists with the same inspiration.

 

The atmosphere of the era is brought to life by newsreel- and music excerpts that faithfully evoke the times as well as by a congenial innovation of the twenties, called the Mikiphone music player (invented by Miklós Vadász and his engineer brother, István). The displayed material fits in well with the “Nightlife” section of our Art Deco Budapest exhibition.

 

This graphic art exhibition accompanies our show titled Art Deco Budapest. Posters, Lifestyle and the City (1925–1938).

 

The curators of the exhibition are Krisztina Csizmadia art historian and Zsófia Drienyovszki art historian.

The exhibition can be visited with a ticket exchanged for the exhibition Art Deco Budapest. Posters, Lifestyle and the City (1925–1938).

Highlights, curiosities

Marcell Vértes: Dancing album, ca. 1925

At the centre of the exhibition is Marcell Vértes’s album Dancing, which brings to life a variety of scenes from a night of revelry in Paris. Vértes published the album of twelve lithographs in 1925, with a title page that boasts artistic merit in its own right. Alongside the jazz orchestras, crowds of dancers, unconventional couples, and elegant ladies and gentlemen, his lithographs bring to life other scenes of nightlife, such as the dawn clean-up and the disillusion of the revellers as they head home. Vértes was also caught up in the crazy nightlife of the années folles, although rather as an observer; he frequented the nightspots of Paris for artistic inspiration, even visiting Chez Maxim’s and the Ermitage on several occasions.

Miklós Vadász: Saint Catherine’s Day in Paris, 1921

The feast day commemorating the Catholic martyr Catherine of Alexandria (died ca. 305), the patron saint of unmarried women, has been celebrated in France since the tenth century. On 25 November, the “Catherinettes”, or unmarried women over the age of twenty-five, traditionally gather to pray to the saint before holding a joint celebration. Costume plays an important part in the dancing and revelry: the Catherinettes wear green and yellow hats, with which they are “crowned” by their friends. Yellow is the symbol of hope, while green symbolises the wisdom they have accumulated over the years. Milliners would produce special collections for the event, which were shown in Saint Catherine’s Day parades. During the années folles, Saint Catherine’s Day was a defining event in Paris, when costume balls, parades, and hat competitions were organised in the streets and nightclubs. The sketch by Miklós Vadász conjures up the crowded scenes of the 1921 Saint Catherine’s Day costume ball: the young and not-so-young women in the nightclub wear a variety of hats and bonnets, while some of the dancing Catherinettes are shown still holding their hatboxes in their hands.

János Vaszary: Mistinguett (Paris), 1925

Along with a number of other artists, János Vaszary made several portraits of one of the most famous performers connected with French nightlife. Jeanne Florentine Bourgeois (1875–1956) adopted various stage names during her career: she appeared as Miss Helyett, Miss Tinguette, Mistinguette, and finally Mistinguett. She began her career in the late nineteenth century, becoming popular once again in the 1920s. Her revue shows took the Casino de Paris, the Folies Bergère and Eldorado by storm. Mistinguett also worked at the Moulin Rouge: she performed on stage there several times, and for a while, she was also artistic director at this most famous of Parisian nightclubs. Her revue performances featured one iconic scene in which she greeted her audience as she descended a flight of stairs wearing an enormous feather headpiece. Besides her appearances on stage, she was a silent film actress and singer: in 1916 she recorded the chanson Mon Homme, the English version of which, My Man, became one of the worldfamous jazz hits of the era. In 1919, Mistinguett’s legs were insured for 500,000 francs, a fact that speaks volumes about her popularity. She was the highestpaid female entertainer in the 1920s.

Dancing 1925 – Hungarian Artists in Parisian Nightlife

29 April – 28 August 2022

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