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For this year’s dossier exhibition, the curators of the collection of prints and drawings at the Hungarian National Gallery chose to display the works of József Faragó (1866-1906), one of the outstanding representatives of political caricature, an art form that is rarely in the limelight.
In his days, József Faragó was a highly influential and extremely popular caricaturist who rejuvenated the genre of political caricature in Hungary. As a staff artist first at the satirical magazine Borsszem Jankó and then at Kakas Márton, he gained nationwide acclaim. Subscribers of the weekly magazine, where he published his penetrating and biting caricatures documenting the daily bickering of Hungarian politicians in a humorous yet merciless manner, were looking forward to the next issue’s publication day with keen anticipation.
Similarly to many aspiring young artists in Hungary, Faragó studied painting at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts (1887-1888), but unlike most of them, he abandoned his plans to become a painter rather early. As a popular member of the company of Hungarian painters studying and living in Munich, he drew countless caricatures of his friends and colleagues, and these sketches soon earned him considerable reputation. He went on to make a career as a master of satirical drawings, regularly publishing his works in the humorous magazines of Budapest after 1890.
In 1894 Faragó moved back to Budapest, where he became a staff artist of one of the long-established satirical magazines, Borsszem Jankó. After his arrival the visual character of the magazine was radically altered: he successfully adapted to Hungarian conditions the style of caricature originally developed in Great Britain and France. Instead of the generic figures of the earlier publications, he drew recognizable caricatures of persons familiar from daily political reporting. His drawings were so powerful that quite often no captions were required for the contemporary audience to grasp the situation instantly. In addition to political caricatures, Faragó also produced caricatures of artworks. Through these works he made fun of the paintings and sculptures shown at the two annual national exhibitions. Some of these drawings parodied artworks that are still widely recognized today, and in a few of cases we have decided to display the original work next to Faragó’s caricature.
At the end of the 1890s Faragó’s art career took an upturn. His works were shown at exhibitions and he began to work in areas outside the field of political caricature: he produced illustrations for books and magazines. Beginning with the early 1900s, he also became interested in etching and lithography, and he also produced ex libris and, most importantly, portraits.
In 1903 Faragó moved to Berlin. Here he continued to earn his living as a caricaturist, working for the magazine Ulk, but in addition he did serious work as an etcher, exhibiting eighteen of his compositions at the Galerie Gurlitt in 1905, including portraits of eminent Berlin artists. This was also the time when he completed his best known portrait, featuring the composer Richard Strauss.
In 1906, one year after the succesful exhibition of his etchings, Faragó committed suicide. Contemporaries looking for an explanation for the tragedy considered possible motives both in his professional and private life. His wife’s death a few months earlier definitely contributed to his fatal decision, and so did his dissatisfaction with the way his artistic career developed. Faragó first and foremost wanted to be a painter, and the idea to become a caricaturist was born more or less out of necessity. No matter how successful he had become in that field, he aspired to a career in fine arts. His distinctive style, which in the 1890s had been seen as up-to-date, became outmoded by the first decade of the 20th century, and nowhere more than in Berlin, where the stupendously talented modern caricature artists of the Munich magazine Simplicissimus (Thomas Theodor Heine, Olaf Gulbransson, Emil Orlik, Ferdinand von Rezniček) had already set the new trends for the art of caricature. His prospects as an etcher seemed much brighter, but his sudden suicide prematurely ended a promising career.
The several hundreds of his caricatures have mostly been scattered about by now, and therefore we know most of his works only from the printed press. The compositions shown at this exhibition have been brought together from the collections of the Hungarian National Gallery and the Hungarian National Museum, Historical Gallery, where most of them have been deposited since the 1906-1907 bequest exhibition held shortly after his death.
Through this exhibition, we would like to commemorate and honor this unjustly forgotten representative of the art of caricature.