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The Tradition that Lives on

At the turn of the century, a number of artists who were working in Naturalist, plein air and Post-Impressionist styles, still found it vital to give expression to the Hungarian character besides keeping in step with the latest European trends and striving for stylistic renewal. Both the audience and art critics wanted to see art that was modern and national at the same time. The attempts to create a national style in the late 19th and the early 20th century resulted in a number of masterpieces. While traditional themes and motifs partly survived, artworks now conveyed national identity in a new tone, through the personality of the artist.

National History and Mythology

To mark the Hungarian Millennium at the end of the 19th century, a number of artists who had studied in Munich and later joined the Nagybánya group of painters created historical paintings. The picture of Simon Hollósy, Zrínyi's Charge on the Turks from the Fortress of Szigetvár, is one example of the combination of Munich Naturalism, a traditional historical theme and conventional schemes of iconography. Besides the artists' innovation-with its key elements as much related to the development of international art as the toolkit of Academic painters was in the second half of the 19th century-these works fitted into the tradition of the more-than-half-a-century old theme of national sacrifice. But Hollósy's Rákóczi March or István Réti's Burial of a Hungarian Soldier demonstrated a new approach not only in terms of their manner of execution. In opposition to earlier schemes, they capture the experience of history, of national fate, free from Romantic pathos. In his writings, Hollósy spoke of the creation of national art as being his mission, an endeavour he consciously pursued throughout his career.

The Modern Poetry of Rural Life

At the turn of the last century, a number of artists who had visited foreign countries still insisted, in their choice of subject matter, on the typical Hungarian countryside and the colourful life of its inhabitants. That seemingly unchanging tranquil world continued to be their "sub-historical" fountain of resources. With the expansion of capitalism the microcosm of the village and the market town was seen in a new light and its traditional cohesive power took on new significance. The eternal tranquillity of the countryside, the "home world"-the only one they accepted as authentic-was for them a valid alternative to the disconcerting dynamism of the metropolis, impersonal and modelled on Western patterns. Serene village homes, handmade objects, rustic requisites, working outdoors in the fields-all this added up to create a familiar "counter-realm", hallowed by tradition, in contrast with an outer world showing signs of fragmentation everywhere. Whether they immortalised busy workdays or painted still lifes, the artists who took inspiration from this microcosm were stressing the shared fate of a people held together by a common culture.

Painters turned to Hungarian traditions in order to express their commitment to the community, but they also strove to meet expectations. Apart from personal emotional attitudes, the search for a national style-an aspiration that permeated contemporary writings on art subjects-may well have inspired them, too. The gingerbread motif in Post-Impressionist still lifes by Pál Jávor and Adolf Fényes-artists belonging to the Szolnok colony-evoked a domestic world well-known to the audience. When István Csók did pictures with ©okac motifs or painted his Chest Decorated with Tulips, it was his deliberate intention to establish a Hungarian style.

Folk Art and National Mytholog y in the Gödöll ő Artists ' Colony

The works of Gödöllő artists exhibit the notion of national art based on art form, subject matter, and folk traditions of ornamentation alike. Folk art was first noticed thanks to studies on national ornamentation; later on, around the turn of the century, artists at the Gödöllő colony regarded it as a potential source of inspiration for national art. The approach of the Gödöllő artists' colony was influenced by the European art and design movement. The colony's founders, Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch and Sándor Nagy, were both greatly inspired by the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris who had thought that applied art offered the potential of a harmonious unity of work, life and art. At the same time, the Hungarian artists' ideas were closely related to the programme of producing national art. The connection was demonstrated in the writings on art of ministerial councillor Elek Koronghi Lippich, the patron of Gödöllő artists. It was Koronghi Lippich's support that helped realise Dezső Malonyay's folk art collection and research with the involvement of Gödöllő artists, culminating in the publication of a comprehensive series of volumes. Both in terms of motifs and the structural approach to objects, the project had a decisive influence on the works (of chiefly applied art) created in Gödöllő in the first decade of the 20th century. It was the folk art of Transylvania that the artists drew most heavily on, regarding it as the most ancient Hungarian tradition. Researching folklore in Transylvania, the quest for the primordial source of art and the fascination with mythical prehistory became intertwined. Besides the stories in Arnold Ipolyi's Hungarian Mythology and the ballads of János Arany (considered to be closely related to folk poetry), a powerful influence on the artists was exerted by the tradition of the Székelys' descent from Attila's Huns they encountered in the course of their field work in Transylvania. Mythical-historical characters such as Ildikó, Attila's wife, and Gyöngyvér, are dressed in folk attire in Sándor Nagy's carpet and drawing, respectively. The artist used motifs meant to refer to the Oriental origin of Hungarians as well as to the unbroken tradition preserved in folk lore.