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.
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.
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):
Earlier on, Mihály Munkácsy painted many scenes that recorded the bourgeoisie in their rich and carefree lives. Here’s an example:
The next paintings shows the influence of his friend László Paál and the Barbizon school with its emphasis on the recording of nature.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
6 thoughts on “Mihály Munkácsy – Ever Heard Of This Hungarian Artist?”
Glorious examples of the difference it makes to meet an artist for the first time when the photos have been taken BY ANOTHER ARTIST! Great job, Gail. Love the focus on the brushwork. Yum. Vicki
Thanks Vicki!! I know, I just reveled in the brushwork and seeing how he used thin, transparent paint and opaque paint. Wish the photos were even clearer!
Your blogs are always fascinating. Love the enthusiasm brimming over in your words as you discuss strokes and scrapings!! Love it! Thank you so much for sharing. And, no, I had never heard of Mihály. I especially love his drawing skills and the use of line. Beautiful!
Thanks so much Karen. I’m glad my enthusiasm comes through. It was such a delight to see this work and experience it close-up!
I enjoyed your observations and the naming of what spoke to you. For me I experienced the Park in Colpachi as my favorite- the sense of movement, the light, the opacity. It was a more unconventional landscape- unexpected after viewing the more traditional landscapes and the portrayals of human relationships. Always enjoy these sharings of your love of expression and soul that art is.
Thanks so much for commenting and bringing your thoughts Linda. The painting you refer to was magical. As always, the painting just doesn’t capture the light and quality of the painting. Even so, you picked up on some of its brilliant characteristics!