About Hungarian Modernism

Hungarian Modernism

Iliad is proud to present our collection of Hungarian Post- Impressionist and Modernist art 1900-1940. Since World War II and the Soviet occupation, the vast majority of representative works by these artists were cut off from circulation in Western Europe and the United States along with the record of their contribution to the stylistic movements of which they were part. The past ten years have witnessed a boom in the Hungarian art market accompanied by intense public interest and a resurgence of scholarship on early 20th century Hungarian art. The recent traveling exhibition entitled “Hungarian Fauves: From Paris to Nagybanya” at the Hungarian National Gallery and currently in Dijon, France echoes a growing sense of Hungary’s importance and its unique place in the Modernist oeuvre.

A Background to Hungarian Modernism

Twentieth century Hungarian painting had deep connections to the contemporary European art movements of the time, but suffered isolation due to a series of historical dislocations that have left the West largely unfamiliar with its significant contributions. At the end of WWI, the Treaty of Trianon in 1918 transferred the region of Hungarian Transylvania to Romania. The formation of the new state left Hungary’s most seminal and influential artists’ colony, Nagybanya, within the jurisdiction of a foreign country. Due to the political disunity and nationalistic tensions resulting from the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, most of the contributions of the Inter-War Hungarian painters were left in limbo and hence were poorly understood by critical scholarship. Hungarian art historiography was denied full access to the material of these painters, and Romanian scholars regarded Hungarian institutions with ambivalence and neglect. The catastrophe of WWII further eclipsed an already complicated picture of Hungarian artistic identity. Hitler’s “Final Solution” also claimed the lives of many Jewish artists who were vital contributors to the Hungarian modernist movement. After the German defeat by Russia, the Communist consolidation of power in 1949 in Hungary forced artists to struggle under the yoke of Soviet cultural policy. The Cold War and the isolation of the Soviet bloc from the West further disconnected Hungarian art from mainstream scholarship. Western art historians are somewhat responsible, as the Iron Curtain became a justification for ignoring Eastern European artists. Only with the fall of the Berlin Wall has the Western art market come back into contact with the important work of the Hungarian modernists. Art historians are now beginning to understand the cross-pollinating influence of Hungarian painters with their counterparts in Paris and Berlin, as Hungary’s role in modern art emerges from the isolation and the turmoil of the last century.