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A Collection Within the Collection

15 June, 2010 - 13 February, 2011

Illustration and Advertising Design in the Collection of Prints and Drawings

A Collection Within the Collection - Part One

As for the number of items contained, the department of drawings and prints holds the largest collection in the Hungarian National Gallery. However, the significance of prints and drawings is less well known, as paper-based objects are very sensitive and cannot be included in the permanent exhibition. The array of cabinets with prints and drawings has, for five consecutive years now, represented an effort to change this, showing a constantly renewed selection to accompany the permanent exhibition of twentieth-century paintings and statues. Collections of posters in Budapest museums, including the Hungarian National Gallery, have recently started to come to the forefront. Being on the borderline between drawing and printing and held partly in the collection of drawings and partly in that of posters, poster and book designs continue to remain hidden treasures, a hidden 'collection within the collection', as it were. In 2010, two of our exhibitions will feature graphic design: illustrations will be on display at the show of Félicien Rops' art to be opened in September, while an exhibition of modern Hungarian commercial posters dating from the inter-war period, currently housed in the National Széchényi Library, will be opened in October. The program of the year 2010 has provided the stimulus for us to compile the content of the graphic cabinets including graphic design (i.e. book and commercial design) works from the collection of drawings and prints in the Hungarian National Gallery.

Deriving its toolkit from the prevailing style of its age, this particular field of graphic arts runs at all times in parallel with mainstream fine arts. Its bold, progressive inventions might even exert an influence on other art forms. At the end of the 19th century, well-known painters such as Gyula Benczúr and Ottó Baditz did illustrations in the spirit of Historicism, a style which also shaped the early work of János Vaszary. In his illustrations for Petőfi's poems, a young Gyula Rudnay used the toolkit of Symbolism. Árpád Basch, Ákos Garay and Károly Mühlbeck, who were primarily graphic artists, drifted away from compact painterly composition towards a free play of lines on the surface of the paper. Their realistic drawings of literary characters reveal a faint Art Nouveau influence. Similarly, Ferenc Helbing, a master of poster design and a mentor to several generations of graphic artists, started his career as a lithographer and draughtsman. Visitors of the Hungarian National Gallery have already seen János Vaszary's and József Rippl-Rónai's decorative designs of a bold simplicity, inspired by French art; now displayed beside them, the works of Ernő Barta and Miklós Vadász evoke an air of Art Nouveau in Munich. Stylizing features latently present in Károly Ferenczy's paintings became more noticeable in his graphic design works. The illustrations Arnold Gara and Ernő Barta did for Die Marquise von O. by Heinrich von Kleist were products of the boom in bibliophile publishing after the First World War.

Painters also played a major part in poster design but the main role was soon taken over by well qualified graphic artists such as Mihály Biró, Imre Földes and Márton Tuszkay, each developing his own personal style. Gusztáv Végh's poster for the Artists' Advertising Studio was already testimony to the intention on the part of designers of posters and other printed materials of creating a professional forum. On account of the Social Democratic labor movement and the First World War, the political poster soon appeared on the scene in addition to stylish and funny commercial posters, with Mihály Biró - the genre's most successful Hungarian master - gaining an international reputation.

A Collection Within the Collection - Part Two

The idea of shaping the environment was crucial not only for Art Nouveau, but for the Avant-garde as well; in addition, the intention of conveying new social and artistic visions also provided an incentive to the artistic design of printed materials in accordance with the aesthetics of the new styles. Avant-garde formal experimentation came to be aligned with political thought in the designs of Béla Uitz and Sándor Bortnyik, whose careers started in the circle of MA, Lajos Kassák's avant-garde magazine. In their work, the two artists gave emphasis to Kassák's notion that there was a close relationship between the straightforward suggestive power of posters and the artistic expression of a ground-breaking Avant-garde intrigued by visions of the future. Hugó Scheiber's exuberant Cubo-futurism, inspired by a sense of wonderment at twentieth-century technology and the dynamism of urban life, was perfectly suitable to illustrate fashionable fiction.

The pioneering experimentation of the isms - the deliberate use of various visual effects - had a productive impact on modern advertising posters of the inter-war period. Designs by Sándor Bortnyik, György Konecsni and József Ottó Reysser, on display here, are from the collection of the Hungarian National Gallery, just like the fine posters documenting the ambitious advertising campaigns of the company Modiano. Designs by György Konecsni and the work of Zoltán Fábri demonstrate how productive the playful application of abstraction remained well into the thirties. Lajos Csabai-Ékes put the tools of Cubo-futurism to good use in his poster designs. Even Mihály Biró and Jenő Haranghy, the great masters of the early 20th century, came to be influenced by the Moderns. In a like manner, Benedek Baja merged Art Deco elegance with a modernist vision.

Renewed interest in tradition and in classical values - a dominant trend in the monumental arts and in the painting of the thirties - was also reflected in poster design. The expression of traditional values in a dignified, classicizing manner was especially required by the promotion of the St Stephen Memorial Year and tourism advertising, which was strongly encouraged by the state. This goal was often achieved by employing archaic elements as seen in the powerful, plastic modelling and the allusion to a motif from antiquity in Antal Fery's poster, or in the evocation of the beauty of ancient crafts in the work of Ferenc Helbing. Using a neoclassical idiom, Gábor Papp condensed the essence of an accident prevention poster in a metaphor.

Gyula Hincz's theatrical poster, composed of amorphous patches of colour applied with delicate painterliness, seems quite out of tune with the style of contemporary posters; it recalls the intimate, lyrical painting styles of the thirties and forties which at the time appeared to be inherently incompatible with poster design. Although dating from the second half of the forties, the poster designs of Álmos Jaschik's students and the theater posters of Sándor Bortnyik represent in fact a continuation of poster design in the thirties.