The Beauty of Utopia. Pre-Raphaelite influences in the Art of Turn-of-the-century Hungary

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The Beauty of Utopia. Pre-Raphaelite influences in the Art of Turn-of-the-century Hungary

Building C, 2nd Floor - 13 May – 26 September 2021

The first comprehensive exhibition entitled Desired Beauty, displaying the works of the Pre-Raphaelites, in on view in the Hungarian National Gallery in collaboration with the Tate.
The exhibition, which presents the unrivalled Pre-Raphaelite collection of Tate Britain – including the masterpieces of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and John William Waterhouse – is accompanied by The Beauty of Utopia – Pre-Raphaelite influences in the Art of Turn-of-the-century Hungary, showcasing the impact of the movement in Hungary.

In revolt against the conservative educational principles of the Royal Academy in London, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt founded the seven-member Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (P. R. B.) in 1848. As the choice of the group’s name also suggests, its members regarded medieval and early Renaissance art, predating Raphael, as their model. Embracing the theories of John Ruskin – a prominent art critic and social philosopher of the period, and later their patron – the young Pre-Raphaelites made an attempt at a thematic and stylistic renewal of painting in their depictions of nature as well as their works inspired by the Bible, historical events, literature, and addressing social issues.

Following the break-up of the group in 1853, Rossetti became the leading figure of the second phase of Pre-Raphaelite art, and his aesthetic movement exerted great influence across Europe. Joined by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, he looked for connections between the fine arts, poetry, and music and under the spell of the cult of beauty, sought to demolish the borderlines between genres. Opposed to the soul-destroying, mechanised world and mass production of the industrial revolution, Morris advocated the importance of building aesthetic environments and reviving handicraft traditions. He initiated the total art movement of Arts and Crafts, extending to the various branches of fine and applied arts.

Art in nineteenth-century Hungary was primarily shaped by Austrian, German, and French influences. However, the British-Hungarian relations that developed at the turn of the century facilitated the productive effect of Pre-Raphaelite art, the Arts and Crafts movement and numerous English artists on Hungarian literature, fine and applied arts as well as in architecture. The most notable influence of the Pre-Raphaelites was manifest in the ars poetica of the Gödöllő artists’ colony and the early period of Lajos Gulácsy’s oeuvre, but other Hungarian artists also drew inspiration from their English contemporaries.

The exhibition documents the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites in Hungary in four thematic groups: the works made by the Gödöllő artists’ colony, the paintings of Lajos Gulácsy’s “Pre-Raphaelite period”, the English influences in Hungarian art at the turn of the century, and also Pre-Raphaelite prints and drawings that are of major significance in the history of our museum’s collection, including pieces by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Walter Crane.


The Gödöllő artists’ colony

Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch founded the Tolstoyan, Symbolist – Art Nouveau artist colony in 1901, after settling in Gödöllő. The art theoretical writings of the art critic John Ruskin, who was of great importance for the Pre-Raphaelites, also fundamentally shaped the ars poetica of Körösfői, and his book on Ruskin and the English Pre-Raphaelites was published in Budapest in 1905. Laura Kriesch (Mrs Sándor Nagy), Leo Belmonte, Rezső Mihály, Árpád Juhász, István Zichy, Ödön Moiret, Jenő Remsey, Tom von Dreger, Ede Wigand Toroczkai, Ferenc Sidló and Mariska Undi were among the members.

The oeuvre of the Gödöllő artists’ colony is also presented with its antecedents harking back to the romantic historicism of the English Pre-Raphaelites, as well as to the work of William Morris, who revived handicraft traditions and initiated the Arts and Crafts movement, and also in the art and activity of Walter Crane. In the spirit of all the artistic aspirations of the period, works were made in many branches of fine and applied arts in Gödöllő: paintings, murals, graphics, sculptures, furniture, embroidery, textiles, tapestries, glass windows, costume designs, book illustrations and art books.


The “Pre-Raphaelite” period of Lajos Gulácsy

Gulácsy spent most of his narrow creative years, almost a decade and a half, in Italy. During this time, he lived and worked in numerous Italian cities. Moving away from space and time, he created a unique literary and pictorial atmosphere. The subject of his admiration between 1903 and 1908 was primarily early Renaissance painters; Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi and Botticelli, and Dante’s writings, artists who previously had a great influence on the English Pre-Raphaelites. In Italy, at the turn of the century, the Pre-Raphaelite artists had been worshipped, so Gulácsy could have been influenced simultaneously by the paintings of Rossetti and Burne-Jones, as well as the original Italian works that inspired the British artists.


English influences in Hungarian art at the turn of the century

The inspiring knowledge, as well as a kinship in style, subjects, and motifs with English art, can be presumed in the case of a great many Hungarian artists. These connections are demonstrated at the exhibition through works by József Rippl-Rónai, Károly Ferenczy, Ferenc Helbing, Ferenc Paczka, Aladár Kacziány, Lajos Kozma and Attila Sassy.


Pre-Raphaelite prints and drawings in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts

The prints of Rossetti and his pupil, Burne-Jones, were donated to the Museum of Fine Arts in 1934 as outstanding pieces of Pál Majovszky’s large-scale collection of drawings.

By the turn of the century, like in other European countries, the art of the island country had become popular in Hungary. The English connection of the Hungarian art scene is reflected in Walter Crane’s exhibition in 1900 at the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. In Hungary, a real cult developed around the artist at that time, for the reason that Crane, like the group of artists organised around Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch, encouraged the discovery of folk art motifs. Numerous works by Crane from this exhibition got into the collection of museums; many of his graphic works have enriched the British material of the Museum of Fine Arts. And of particular interest, our exhibition also includes the masterpiece by the English artist, entitled Abduction of Europa (1881), which entered the collection of the Hungarian National Bank in 2020 from a private collection in Hungary.


The public can view 79 artworks (17 paintings, 59 graphic sheets, 1 sculpture and 2 tapestries) from the collections of the Hungarian National Gallery, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Applied Arts and the Ernst Gallery in Budapest, as well as from those of the Janus Pannonius Museum in Pécs, the Municipal Museum of Gödöllő and the Ignác Tragor Museum in Vác; this is supplemented by numerous documents, books and photographs.



The curator of the exhibition is Edit Plesznivy.
The curator was assisted in her work by Júlia Vargyas.


The exhibition can be visited with a ticket exchanged for the permanent exhibition. For a complete overview of the art movement and era, see Desired Beauty. Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate Collection, for which you can exchange tickets here.


The Main Sponsor of the exhibition is Gránit Bank.

The Major Sponsor of the exhibitions is Szerencsejáték Zrt.

Highlights, curiosities

Paolo and Francesca, 1903

Lajos Gulácsy’s admiration for Dante led him to illustrate a hellish scene from the Divine Comedy. The medieval parable concerns Francesca di Rimini, daughter of a nobleman from Ravenna, who, while reading the story of Sir Lancelot and Guinevere, became enamoured of her husband’s younger brother, Paolo Malatesta; despite sharing just a single kiss, they were both killed by the jealous husband. Gulácsy depicted the lovers in pencil and watercolour. Set against a medieval backdrop, this desire-filled moment of togetherness between the two gothically slender figures exudes a sense of melancholy, while their distant gaze almost foretells their inevitable downfall. The attribute of their story – the book that leads to sinful temptation – features prominently in the foreground; Paolo’s skull-adorned dagger refers to the impending tragedy, while the soft twilight is a symbol of their mortality. Gulácsy’s handling of line and colour and the formulation of his figures recall the style of English Pre-Raphaelite painters.

Portrait of Lenke Boér, 1905

At the Gödöllő artists’ colony, great importance was attached to preserving handcraft traditions and to supporting folk applied art. This culminated in the establishment of the colony’s own weaving workshop in 1904. As part of their educational programme, they revived older weaving techniques and undertook a serious study of how their forebears coloured their thread, making use of plant-based dyes. Among the applied artists who were active in the workshop was Lenke Boér, who had long been friends with members of the colony. In this portrait of her from 1905, whose colouring recalls the atmosphere of early Renaissance portraits, the weaver is shown in profile, her gaze looking calmly downwards. The model’s father, Jenő Boér, had previously hosted Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch and his companions in Diód (Stremț, Romania), the forerunner – so to speak – of the Gödöllő colony, and his views had greatly contributed to the intellectual foundations of the later artists’ colony. Körösfői-Kriesch’s close relationship with the Boér family is indicated by the fact that he made several pictures of Lenke.

The Garden of the Magician (Enchantment), 1906–1907

The works Gulácsy produced at the start of the century were palpably inspired by the English Pre-Raphaelite masters. The female figure in this painting is a reincarnation of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s delicately profiled model, whose features can be recognised in other pictures by Gulácsy. The painter’s nostalgic vision was fundamentally defined by the fact that between 1901 and 1915, apart from short breaks, he lived in Italy for almost a decade and a half. Lost in each other’s embrace, the lovers are surrounded by a mysticalgarden that shows the pantheistic union of nature and humankind, and yet the painting also expresses the Art Nouveau joie de vivre of the period and a longing for idyllic existence. Similarly to French symbolist poets, Gulácsy often used his pictorial motifs to conjure up the different senses. The lush vegetation and the gently rising plumes of smoke on the right evoke the aromas of rose blossom and frankincense.

Mermaids and Boat (Project for the Mosaic Frieze in the Leighton House, London), ca. 1877–1879

This large frieze design was one of several made for the so-called Arab Hall in the studio-house of Frederic Leighton, President of the Royal Academy in London. Interestingly, this is the only surviving design. In 1877, Lord Leighton commissioned the architect George Aitchison to add an extension to his home, where he could house his collection of oriental tiles and ceramics. Having studied a twelfth-century palace in Palermo, the architect rephrased the palace’s antechamber to suit this new purpose. The walls were adorned with Crane’s friezes and William De Morgan’s tiles, and the original Moorish decoration was fused with contemporary ornamentation: in this instance, Crane created an arabesque composition combined with plant and animal forms, with three central medallions. In the catalogue for the Walter Crane exhibition held in Budapest in 1900, the frieze design was marked “sold”; it was bought by the Hungarian state for the National Museum. When the collections of Hungary’s museums were reorganised in 1905, the piece was transferred to the National Picture Gallery, the predecessor to the Museum of Fine Arts.

The Beauty of Utopia. Pre-Raphaelite influences in the Art of Turn-of-the-century Hungary

13 May – 26 September 2021

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