The significance of the 80.000-piece graphic collection of the Hungarian National Gallery is a little-known fact, since the paper-based objects are very sensitive and cannot be part of the permanent exhibition. That is why the paintings and sculptures of the 20th century permanent exhibition are complemented with our graphic cabinets of a changing thematic concept twice a year.
József Rippl-Rónai (1861-1927) was born 150 years ago, and this exhibition recalls his life and work. Rippl-Rónai’s abundant drawing and printmaking activity is shown at the exhibition with such pieces that came into the property of the Hungarian National Gallery through the Museum of Fine Arts which received them as a gift from both the artist and three collectors playing an important role at the early 19th century Hungarian art life: Elek Petrovics, Simon Meller and Dr. Pál Majovszky.
Rippl-Rónai arrived in Paris in 1887 and from the beginning of the 1890s he was seeking his way among the era’s modern post-impressionist artists, mainly the Symbolist and Art Nouveau painters. The “break-through” came in 1894, when he became a member of a group of artists with similar art concept, called the Nabis. The Nabis’ approach to Gesamtkunstwerk simply thrilled Rippl-Rónai who started to turn his hand seriously to graphics, lithography, posterdesigning and applied arts under their influence.
Rippl-Rónai’s colour lithographs are of trailblazer significance in the history of Hungarian graphics. Among Rippl-Rónai’s masterpieces of his Paris period are the Woman Reading by Lamplight (1894) and the Les Vierges (1895), the latter presenting the symbolic stages of women’s fate; both published in the Nabis’ favourite review, the Revue Blanche. Another masterpiece is the Fiesta in Bretagne (1896) which was published in the album of the French editor, Ambroise Vollard. Several preliminary studies, variations and pencil drawings were prepared for the four lithography stones of Les Vierges on which we see young girls walking, reading and picking apples. One of the most beautiful and known piece of these is the watercolour painting entitled Woman Walking. The theme ‘woman in a garden’ was also used for the design of a carpet to the dining-room of the palace Andrássy, the Woman with a Rose merges with the compositions prepared for the Les Vierges. Rippl-Rónai put these figures next to each other in a small-size drawing put down to a notepaper on which four slender young women in artistic pose form line in front of a fence in a closed garden. Around the end of the 1890s the artist was requested to make several Hungarian lithographs, in 1897 he designed a poster for the National Salon with a woman embroidering on it where the flower motifs are almost flowing over the embroidery frame and surrounding the figure doing needle-work. He designed the invitation card to the ball of the Club of Journalists and its envelope in 1899, and the menu card of the Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1900. He used the technical challenges of colour lithography as an artistic opportunity through different colour printings and he created series with special effects by selecting the papers used for printing.
From the middle of 1890s Rippl-Rónai was also interested in applied arts. Designing furniture and glasses, making book illustrations and designs for tapestries – many things fit into the thinking of the era about applied arts and shaping the environment, most of these Rippl-Rónai tried out, too. Designing tapestries he started with his friend, Aristide Maillol, the later famous sculptor. The tapestries were embroidered by their wives. The small drawing entitled Woman Weaving a Carpet portrayed Rippl-Rónai’s later wife, Lazarine working. His designs are many times only delicate drafts, first thoughts on the typically used striped notepapers, but sometimes detailed compositions coloured with aquarelle. Among the earliest designs are Birth and Death of Christ and Idealism and Realism which show the influence of the idealism of Symbolism. Rippl-Rónai prepared several pieces on which a carousel appears (Women at the Carousel) and he also used this motif symbolising the cycle of life as a theme for a ceramic picture (Carousel, design for a tile). Already in Hungary was the pencil design Tablet of Remembrances made in 1907 and also its finished aquarelle-coloured version which was used in 1911 as a flyleaf for the book József Rippl-Rónai’s Memoires.
A significant part of Rippl-Rónai’s graphic works contains large-scale ink drawings prepared between the 1890s and the middle of 1910s. The pieces, originally dating from the 1890s from France, he only dated later and were most probably pre-dated. In most of the pieces, in fact dating back to the middle of 1890s, the model was Lazarine Baudrion, Rippl-Rónai’s partner in Paris. On his pen drawings, sometimes coloured with aquarelle, Lazarine is dressing, lying on a bed, pedicuring, embroidering, sewing or reading with her hands under her chin. Outstanding pieces of the early pen drawings are the extremely plastic Female Nude (Marguerite Renard) and two pieces with a woman dancer on each. Some of the pen drawings were prepared in 1899 in a small Pyrenees village, Banyuls-sur-Mer where Rippl-Rónai spent three months as a guest of the sculptor Aristide Maillol. A piece of these is one of the most beautiful portraits of the artist, depicting Maillol’s wife, Clotilde in a pondering, affectionate manner.
Leaving Paris in the summer of 1901 Rippl-Rónai spent some months in Ostende. A lithograph and a pen drawing of the seaside hotels keep the memory of this holiday. Coming home to Hungary the painter held a more and more important position in the national artists’ life. The drawing The Members of the MIÉNK on Excursion is kind of a documentation of the era and also a nice flick where the illustrious members of Magyar Impresszionisták és Naturalisták Köre (Society of Hungarian Impressionists and Naturalists) can be seen.
After repatriating to Kaposvár (South Hungary) Rippl-Rónai enjoyed painting and drawing his own people during their home activities, his guests and models who were young girls from town. This is how the series of ink drawings continued and became more clear and ambitious than those of Paris, with even thicker pen strokes. His family was often portrayed during listening to music. He drew with pleasure Fenella Lowell entertaining the guests with her guitar whom he got to know in Paris staying at Rippl-Rónai’s house near to Kaposvár, the so called Rome villa in 1910-1911, or portrayed József Novák, teacher from Kaposvár playing Chopin or his own family enjoying piano music (Lajos, Margit, Fenella, Lazarine Listening to the Liszt Rhapsody). Two real rarities are exhibited among the nude compositions of his models, two etchings which were prepared after ink drawings. The exhibition ends with one of Rippl-Rónai’s most interesting graphic designs (The Violinist Pitacco Tells the Story of His Miseries. The Listeners). The large-scale charcoal drawing was made in France in 1915 where Rippl-Rónai and his family were interned after the outbreak of World War I. Among the “listeners” there is the artist resting on a walking stick while listening to the narration of the violinist who is actually not seen on the drawing.
Let us have some words about the old collectors who donated these pieces to the Museum of Fine Arts and through it to their present place, the graphic collection of the Hungarian National Gallery. Elek Petrovics (1873-1945) became the director of Museum of Fine Arts in 1914 and director general from 1921 until 1935. Petrovics was Rippl-Rónai’s close friend and a great collector of his works. In 1942 he published a monograph on the artist. Simon Meller (1875-1949) worked for the Museum of Fine Arts between 1901 and 1923 and from 1910, he headed the Graphic Department. Meller’s role was very important in creating the museum’s modern graphic collection.
Several outstanding pieces of Rippl-Rónai’s graphic oeuvre were donated to the museum by him and most probably thanks to his taste the graphics acquired through purchase from the artist enrich the collection today. Rippl-Rónai immortalised these two illustrious museologists-collectors, his friends on a painting. Dr. Pál Majovszky (1871-1935) was a colleague and later the head of the Art Department of the Ministry of Religion and Education from 1894 to 1917. He founded and later donated his outstanding 19th century European drawing collection to the Museum of Fine Arts. Besides the European great artists’ works, Majovszky also collected the works of Hungarian drawing art, just like those of József Rippl-Rónai. Our exhibition, unusually, does not only show masterpieces in a new taste of selection but sheds light on the history of our collection, too.