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Mihály Munkácsy – Ever Heard Of This Hungarian Artist?

Posted by on 30 Sep 2015 in Art of the past | 6 comments

Mihály Munkácsy – Ever Heard Of This Hungarian Artist?

Mihály Munkácsy (1844-1900), considered one of Hungary’s most renowned artists, yet, until now, an artist totally unknown to me.

 

We’ve just returned from three weeks in Budapest on a working holiday – we worked but we also had this incredibly vibrant and beautiful city outside our door to explore. I spent a most delightful day poking through the Hungarian National Gallery. I think I only knew one name among the many, many amazing Hungarian artists whose work hangs there. It was all so amazing and I wanted to share it all with you. So what to do?

I decided to share the work of one artist with you – Mihály Munkácsy. These pieces are ones that struck a chord with me and may not all be highlights of his career (although a couple are). The Gallery has a couple of rooms devoted to his evolution as an artist. There is not much biographical material easily available on Mihály Munkácsy and some of it seems to be contradictory. So I’m basing my info on what I found in the National Gallery.

 

Born 20th February 1844 in what is now the Ukraine, Mihály Munkácsy lost both his parents at the age of seven and went to live with his uncle in Békéscsaba, Hungary. At eleven, he apprenticed as a joiner and worked in the profession until 1861. After an illness, he began to take painting lessons from the academic painter Elek Szamossy. Between 1865 and 1870, Mihály Munkácsy studied at the Academies of Fine Arts in Vienna, Munich and Düsseldorf. After he travelled to Paris in 1867, he came under the influence of the work by the French Realists, particularly Gustave Courbet. It was while he was in Düsseldorf that he painted his first significant painting, The Last Day of a Condemned Man, which went on to win a gold medal at the 1870 Paris Salon and made Munkácsy instantly popular.

 

Mihály Munkácsy, "The Last Day of a Condemned Man I," 1869-70, oil on wood, 54 3/4 x 80 3/16 in (139 x 193.5 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, “The Last Day of a Condemned Man I,” 1869-70, oil on wood, 54 3/4 x 80 3/16 in (139 x 193.5 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest. This is the painting that won a Gold Medal at the 1870 Paris Salon. It’s huge!

 

Mihály Munkácsy, "The Last Day of a Condemned Man I," 1869-70, oil on wood, 54 3/4 x 80 3/16 in (139 x 193.5 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest - detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “The Last Day of a Condemned Man I,” 1869-70, oil on wood, 54 3/4 x 80 3/16 in (139 x 193.5 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest – detail

 

In 1872, Mihály Munkácsy moved to Paris on the persuasion of the de Marches who he got to know through his friend and artist, László Paál (1846-1879). In 1873 he visited Paál in Barbizon where the art colony followed the Barbizon traditions of painting nature. He painted the painting below while on that visit.

Mihály Munkácsy, "Woman Carrying Brushwood," 1873, oil on wood, 41 x 31 1/2 in (99 x 80 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, “Woman Carrying Brushwood,” 1873, oil on wood, 41 x 31 1/2 in (99 x 80 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, "Woman Carrying Brushwood," 1873, oil on wood, 41 x 31 1/2 in (99 x 80 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “Woman Carrying Brushwood,” 1873, oil on wood, 41 x 31 1/2 in (99 x 80 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail. I was enthralled by the density of the black – so clean and defined!

Mihály Munkácsy, "Woman Carrying Brushwood," 1873, oil on wood, 41 x 31 1/2 in (99 x 80 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “Woman Carrying Brushwood,” 1873, oil on wood, 41 x 31 1/2 in (99 x 80 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail. I was mesmorized by the brushstrokes and how they crossed the form of the girl.

 

After spending many months with the de Marches, Mihály Munkácsy married the widow of Baron de Marche in 1874 and they spent their honeymoon in Switzerland, Italy and Békéscsaba, Hungary – the town where he went to live after the death of his parents. While in his home town, he painted a number of paintings including an earlier version of this very Impressionistic looking painting (so different from the painting above):

Mihály Munkácsy, "Dusty Road II," ca. 1880 (or 1884 as it says on the website), oil on wood, 37 3/4 x 51 1/16 in (96 x 129.7 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, “Dusty Road II,” ca. 1880 (or 1884 as it says on the website), oil on wood, 37 3/4 x 51 1/16 in (96 x 129.7 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest. There is definitely an Impressionist feel about it with its rosy sky affected by the dust being kicked up by the cart which is barely described. (The first Impressionist exhibition had happened in 1874.)

Mihály Munkácsy, "Dusty Road II," ca. 1880 (or 1884 as it says on the website), oil on wood, 37 3/4 x 51 1/16 in (96 x 129.7 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “Dusty Road II,” ca. 1880 (or 1884 as it says on the website), oil on wood, 37 3/4 x 51 1/16 in (96 x 129.7 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail. I love the combination of luscious liquidy paint v thick daubs of paint

 

Earlier on, Mihály Munkácsy painted many scenes that recorded the bourgeoisie in their rich and carefree lives. Here’s an example:

Mihály Munkácsy, "Paris Interior (Woman Reading)," 1877, oil on wood, size unknown at this point, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, “Paris Interior (Woman Reading),” 1877, oil on wood, size unknown at this point, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest. I love the way Mihály Munkácsy has your eye move around the painting, from the woman reading over the table to the chair then up and over the large painting to the lit room in the background, and then finally, we discover the child on the floor playing with a dog. Marvellous! Mihály Munkácsy was a master at using values to create the drama and movement he wanted.

Mihály Munkácsy, "Paris Interior (Woman Reading)," 1877, oil on wood, size unknown at this point, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “Paris Interior (Woman Reading),” 1877, oil on wood, size unknown at this point, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail. You can see his exquisite draughtsmanship here!

Mihály Munkácsy, "Paris Interior (Woman Reading)," 1877, oil on wood, size unknown at this point, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “Paris Interior (Woman Reading),” 1877, oil on wood, size unknown at this point, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail

 

 

The next paintings shows the influence of his friend László Paál and the Barbizon school with its emphasis on the recording of nature.

Mihály Munkácsy, "Landscape At Dusk," 1882, oil on wood, size unknown at this point, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, “Landscape At Dusk,” 1882, oil on wood, size unknown at this point, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, "Landscape At Dusk," 1882, oil on wood, size unknown at this point, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest - detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “Landscape At Dusk,” 1882, oil on wood, size unknown at this point, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest – detail

 

What I love is the way he’s worked opaque paint over a transparent red/brown underpainting that glows through. He’s certainly as proficient in landscape painting as he is with the figure. With a few strokes, he tells us all we need to know.

Mihály Munkácsy, "Park in Colpachi," 1886, oil on wood, 38 x 51 3/8 in (96.5 x 130.5 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, “Park in Colpachi,” 1886, oil on wood, 38 x 51 3/8 in (96.5 x 130.5 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, "Park in Colpachi," 1886, oil on wood, 38 x 51 3/8 in (96.5 x 130.5 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “Park in Colpachi,” 1886, oil on wood, 38 x 51 3/8 in (96.5 x 130.5 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail. Here you can

 

This next one, a floral, is a large painting. The photo doesn’t do it justice! I’ve included some details so you can take a closer look at the mark making.

Mihály Munkácsy, "Still Life With Flowers," 1881, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 45 3/4 in (147 x 115 cm), Hungarian Nartional Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, “Still Life With Flowers,” 1881, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 45 3/4 in (147 x 115 cm), Hungarian Nartional Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, "Still Life With Flowers," 1881, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 45 3/4 in (147 x 115 cm), Hungarian Nartional Gallery, Budapest-detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “Still Life With Flowers,” 1881, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 45 3/4 in (147 x 115 cm), Hungarian Nartional Gallery, Budapest-detail  Again, look at the way he worked opaque paint over a thin undercoat.

Mihály Munkácsy, "Still Life With Flowers," 1881, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 45 3/4 in (147 x 115 cm), Hungarian Nartional Gallery, Budapest-detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “Still Life With Flowers,” 1881, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 45 3/4 in (147 x 115 cm), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail. I love the way he just scratched out the poppy stems in one confident stroke. Such bravura!

 

Okay, one last one. Mihály Munkácsy was commissioned to create a fresco for the ceiling of the entrance hall of the Kunsthistorische Museum of Vienna which he created over the years 1889-1890. Click here to see the finished painting.

Mihály Munkácsy, "The Apotheosis of the Renaissance (study for the ceiling decoration of the Kunst-historisches Museum in Vienna)," 1886-1888, oil on canvas?, size unknown at this time, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, “The Apotheosis of the Renaissance (study for the ceiling decoration of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna),” 1886-1888, oil on canvas?, size unknown at this time, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

 

Mihály Munkácsy, "The Apotheosis of the Renaissance (study for the ceiling decoration of the Kunst-historisches Museum in Vienna)," 1886-1888, oil on canvas?, size unknown at this time, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “The Apotheosis of the Renaissance (study for the ceiling decoration of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna),” 1886-1888, oil on canvas?, size unknown at this time, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail

 

Although a celebrity, Mihály Munkácsy was always unsure and questioning of his own talent. By the 1890s his depression grew and he succumbed to mental illness which, it is speculated, was brought on by the syphilis he caught as a youth.

His health declined drastically 1896-97 and he spent a year in a sanatorium in Baden-Baden. He retired to Paris and was later taken to a mental hospital near Bonn where he died 1st May 1900. He was laid to rest at the Kerepsi Cemetery in Budapest (which we didn’t have a chance to visit).

 

I’m quoting from Wikipedia here: “Nineteenth century visual art or the historical developments of Hungarian art cannot be discussed without considering Munkácsy’s lifework. His works are considered the apogee of national painting. He was a standard-setter, an oeuvre of reference value. He was one of the few with whom the antiquated colour techniques of 19th century Austro-Hungarian painting reached its most powerful and most lavish expression.”

 

Well that was a wee taste of the work by Hungarian artist, Mihály Munkácsy. Had you heard of him before? I’d love to know. And if you do know something about him, I hope you’ll comment below.

I’d also love to know what you think of these pieces. Naturally, in life, they were spectacular and photos just don’t do them justice. Still, better than nothing!

 

Until next time,

Gail

 

PS. A little bit of a rant. I don’t know why art galleries don’t put the medium and size on the accompanying labels – it would make things so much easier! And it’s important information for some of us! I went to the Hungarian National Gallery’s website for this kind of detail but unfortunately, they don’t have every piece on the website hence the notations of “unknown at this time”. One day I’ll discover the info and insert it.

 

Okay one more – I forgot about this one and I was stunned by it in life. Really, it’s a study in black, white and grey. When you first see it, you see only the design of white lines across the canvas – you really see the abstract foundation of the piece. I’ve also included a close-up because it tells you so much about how Mihály Munkácsy handled paint.

 

Mihály Munkácsy, "In the Studio," 1876, oil on wood?, size unknown at this time, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Mihály Munkácsy, “In the Studio,” 1876, oil on wood?, size unknown at this time (but it’s a biggie!), Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

 

Mihály Munkácsy, "In the Studio," 1876, oil on wood?, size unknown at this time, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail

Mihály Munkácsy, “In the Studio,” 1876, oil on wood?, size unknown at this time, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest-detail