Forsaken World. The Art of István Farkas (1887-1944)

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Forsaken World. The Art of István Farkas (1887-1944)

Building C, Ground Floor - 13 December 2019 – 1 March 2020

The Hungarian National Gallery’s temporary exhibition to open on 13 December 2019, presents the oeuvre of István Farkas’ with unprecedented richness. The Forsaken Wold runs until early March, and comprises 170 works by the artist as well as those by his masters and contemporaries, from the collection of the Hungarian National Gallery, and from five foreign and eleven Hungarian collections.


The exhibition has a complementary chamber exhibition, titled Shoah, which pays a tribute to the victims of the Holocaust seventy-five years ago.

 István Farkas is one of the most original artists of post-WWI Hungarian Modernism. Hungarian and French art criticism regards him as one of the foremost artists of the time, whose way of seeing, pictorial world, technical sophistication and skill as well as experimental spirit made him unique among his contemporaries.

István Farkas’ father, József Wolfner, was the owner of Singer and Wolfner Publishers, which published the most popular periodical of the era Uj Idők [New Times]. Farkas lost his mother at the age of five, and his father raised him with a rigorous discipline that left lasting pain and feelings of hurt in the painter for the rest of his life. His childhood was spent in financial prosperity and the carefree life of the middle-class but also in an atmosphere of emotional bleakness and a fear of his father. At the same time, he was surrounded by good friends and artists such as László Mednyánszky, Károly Lyka and Ferenc Herczeg, who he learnt a lot from.

The Hungarian National Gallery presents the oeuvre of István Farkas in hitherto unprecedented wealth. While earlier exhibitions brought at most 80 paintings to the public, the current show comprises 170 works, including those by Farkas’ masters and contemporaries. Pieces by László Mednyánszky, James Ensor, Edvard Munch and Leon Spilliaert provides a broader context for Farkas’ art.

A section is devoted to István Farkas’ early works, which he painted during his studies under László Mednyánszky. The least known compositions of his oeuvre are those originating from his years in Paris between 1929 and 1932; a great part of these works at the exhibition are loans from Hungarian, European and American private collections.

The exhibition opens with a section devoted to Farkas’s works from his youth. The section of portraits depicting the artist’s family members is followed by the most spectacular part of the show, comprising pieces from his Parisian years. In addition to paintings, books and graphic works are also displayed in this section, visitors can see newsreels and enlarged photographs of articles published on Farkas at the time, bringing to life the milieu in which Farkas became one of the highly esteemed artists in Paris.

An entire unit aims to present the recurring subjects and motifs that are specific characteristics of Farkas’s oeuvre, such as the white garden chairs, the lonely houses and the two-figure compositions . Another section seeks to reconstruct a distinct part of Farkas’s exhibition of 1936 in the Ernst Museum. The paintings in broad, white frames demonstrate Farkas’s intention to illustrate how his pictures are suitable for decorating the large white walls of modern interiors. Works anticipating the approaching war and its terror are displayed in the section titled “Barbaric Forces”.

Farkas’s landscapes painted of Szigliget are arranged in a separate section. The artist had his summer home built in 1937 but he could only spend a few happy summers there, the last one was in 1943. The 1943 compositions close the chapters of paintings at the exhibition.

The last, nearly empty room has only three postcards. There is one request on each one: asks for paint, notebooks and food. And then, the last cry for help, written in agitated and gnarled letters on 23 June 1944, on a crumpled piece of paper in the collection camp set up in the brickyard in Kecskemét. The last month of Farkas’s life, which ended in a crematorium in Auschwitz, can only be partly reconstructed from the reminiscences of eyewitnesses.

The exhibition introduces so far unknown photographs, letters and documents to the public in order to show the art and personality of István Farkas from a more personal perspective.

A three-hundred-fourty-page, richly illustrated catalogue in Hungarian and in English accompanies the exhibition.

Curator: Marianna Kolozsváry

Co-operating partners: Farrow & Ball, Hotel Zenit Budapest Palace.

Highlights, curiosities

István Farkas: Fool of Syracuse, 1930

The bearded man in the middle of the picture is raising his left arm menacingly, while in his right he is holding a dried out, spiky branch of agave, a plant that grows all over Sicily, and which flowers only once before dying. Appropriately for this ominous painting, the plant is known locally as the “flower of death”. In the background, Etna is emitting smoke, and all around is a deserted, volcanic landscape, with neither trees nor grass, only a road leading nowhere. It is hard not to interpret this painting as a premonition of the tragic events to come.

István Farkas: After the Storm, 1934

This is one of István Farkas’s most significant works, a kind of summary of his oeuvre. The picture is full of mystery. We can only guess who these two women are, if there is any connection between them, or why they are passing each other as though complete strangers. The old lady coming towards us recalls the lines of the poet Endre Ady: “I am, of Death, a close relation, / I love a love that had lost its way, / I love to kiss and kiss the one / Who goes away.” (Translated by Leslie A. Kery). The surrounding area and town are deserted, giving off an ominous feeling of god-forsakenness.

István Farkas: Red Table, 1931

There are some casually painted human figures, formed out of diffuse patches, but the truly important elements are the objects, the table and the chair, which Farkas often included in his works. The artist “never painted other furniture, only what he had seen while growing up in his father’s home – they were ghostly”. It does seem as though the “family” table of his childhood has come to life, with the old members of the Wolfner family sitting or standing around it. Towering in the background is another of Farkas’s recurring motifs, the house with unseeing windows, looking as if it has never been lived in, but nonetheless concealing some troublesome secrets.

Forsaken World. The Art of István Farkas (1887-1944)

13 December 2019 – 1 March 2020

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