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Images of the Country and its People

Hungarian landscapes as well as the country's ethnic groups and their costumes provided a recurrent theme in print series popular throughout Europe since the end of the 18th century. The Hungarian artists who worked on such series were chiefly inspired by enlightened authors usually writing in German about regions in the Austrian Empire. The concept of nation prevalent in those circles was one based on the idea of state patriotism, presuming that the identities of the various linguistic and ethnic groups were primarily determined by their loyalty to the state. In the early 19th century this concept of Hungarian nationhood applied to all residents of the country, regardless of ethnicity or social status. One purpose of the propagation of knowledge of regions and peoples in the Kingdom of Hungary was to reinforce their joint identity. Besides loyalty to the state-forming nation of Hungarians, creating a sense of belonging to the more loosely defined state-forming nation of the Austrian Empire was also added to the agenda. This was the intention of Viennese historian Josef Hormayr who edited works about the joint history of peoples and about the regions of an empire thought of as a unity. Among the authors contributing to the volumes were numerous Hungarians. One of them, Alajos Mednyánszky wrote a text titled A Picturesque Journey on the River Vág in Hungary to accompany the prints of Joseph Fischer.

While interest in the representation of various rural characters was aroused in the 18th century, it was in the first two decades of the 19th century that the genre became truly popular. "Uncorrupted" rural people were regarded as the guardians and propagators of national characteristics, and the creators of prints endeavoured to capture such characteristics. Print series of such pictures, aiming to reflect the image of a multiethnic state-forming nation, reached a wider public, becoming formative factors of their identities. The most unique undertaking of the era in terms of both technique and genre is a three-page lithograph by Ferenc Neuhaser, entitled Fair in Transylvania, which can also be regarded as the first significant rural genre picture in Hungary. It took another two decades for the genre to appear in significant oil pantings as well. Miklós Barabás' Travelling Gipsy Family in Transylvania and Romanian Family on Their Way to the Fair represented typical figures of individual ethnic groups, in accordance with the development of contemporary ethnic characterology. In the second third of the 19th century, the half-century-old tradition of typological representation of ethnic groups continued in newspaper illustrations. However, series of landscapes and rural genre pictures of that period no longer mirrored the concept of a commonwealth nationhood, but one based on a common language and common traditions. As for the notion of imperial state nationhood, its imagery appeared in a grandiose endeavour of the late 19th century, a book series published under the title The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in Words and Pictures.