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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Károly Ferenczy

Round Dance, Karoly Ferenczy
Many, if not most, artists paint for two different audiences. They paint for public consumption, prizes, critical acceptance, and (hopefully) robust sales. However, usually to a lesser extent, artists also paint for themselves. Most of the time, these two audiences are quite similar, their differences often barely discernible. On the other hand, it's hard to say how often the two diverge, because if an when differ to any great degree, artists are careful to keep works they paint solely for themselves under wraps...that is, until they die. Then, unless the artist has taken steps to destroy his most personal creative efforts, such work comes to light, revealing new insights into the artist's interests, character, and personality.
Ferenczy is considered the father of Hungarian Impressionism.
Born in 1862, Karoly Ferenczy was a family man, married, the father of three children, Valer, born in 1888, and a set of fraternal twins, Beni and his sister, Noemi, born in 1890. All three became artist. Even his wife, Olga Fialka, was a painter, though she gave up her career to support her husband's and raise their children. Valer became a portrait artist, Beni a sculptor, and Noemi created tapestries.
When your wife, father, mother, brother, and sister are
all inclined to be artists, everyone gets painted a lot.
Though born in Vienna, the family resided in Karoly Ferenczy's hometown of Szentendre, a small town north of Budapest. Today Szentendre boasts a small museum displaying the work of all five family members. Ferenczy's earliest work is in a naturalistic style, influenced by Jules Bastien-Lepage. In seeking more training, the artist took his young family with him to Munich in 1893, where they lived until 1896. There he availed himself of free art classes run by Simon Hollósy, a Hungarian painter not much older than Ferenczy. He found Hollósy much more open to new influences than those at the Munich Academy. Hollósy encouraged an appreciation of French painters including en plein air painting. In returning to Hungary, Ferenczy persuaded Hollósy to bring his classes there. They founded an artists' colony at what is now Baia Mare, Romania, where they taught and mentored many Hungarian artists.
The painters in the family.
Ferenczy's studio paintings were most important to his art, and he painted a traditional array of genres: female nudes, still lifes, urban scenes, and circus performers. By his own work and his teaching, Ferenczy is considered the "father of Hungarian impressionism and post-impressionism" and the "founder of modern Hungarian painting." In his later years, Ferenczy painted subjects ranging from portraits, to nudes, and Biblical scenes. In this period, the reconciliation of the abstract aesthetic ideal with sensual beauty became a central concern of his art. Ferenczy was highly productive and worked in a variety of materials and genres.
The Sermon on the Mount, 1896, Károly Ferenczy
Karoly Ferenczy died in March of 1917. As a father, Karoly was close to his two artist sons, keeping in contact with both through letters written long after they'd left home to study art and pursue their on careers. In 2012, the Hungarian National Gallery mounted a retrospective exhibition of Károly Ferenczy's many landscapes, nudes, portraits, and biblical scenes. In the course of preparing the exhibition, something changed. That change was brought about not by speculation, but by the most rigorous, old-fashioned, art historical research. Apart from the lavishly illustrated scholarly catalogue, the Gallery also ventured to publish a collection of Ferenczy’s annotated letters. In carefully reading through these documents one of the curators, Judit Boros, discovered a previously unknown aspect of Ferenczy’s personality in which his private life and art interests were so closely intertwined that untangling them became a virtually impossible. The sources show Ferenczy as a devotee of homoerotic male beauty as influenced not by Impressionism but by British Aestheticism. He came to regarded the youthful male body as the ideal of eternal yearning.

The "secret" art of a proper family man.
The sources are not easily read. What they conceal is sometimes even more important than what they reveal. For one thing, many of the letters only survive in a fragmented form, because their addressee, Ferenczy’s elder son, Valér, cut out the parts he considered unfit for future readers. On the other hand, the letters the painter wrote to his younger son, Béni, survive intact. It would have been only natural to discuss artistic questions with both of them. The homoerotic tendencies were sublimated into artistic questions in the letters; thus, their absence from those addressed to Valér is quite poignant. In terms of written sources, Ferenczy’s homoerotic Aestheticism can only be reconstructed from such fragmented evidence. It's unlikely that Ferenczy was gay in the modern day sense we think of today. However, curator, Judit Boros’ theory is also supported by his paintings. In fact, they seem to provide an unprecedented, universal key to the interpretation of his work. Orpheus (above-top) when juxtaposed with Ferenczy's Wrestlers, his Athletes, his Adam, and other less well-known works, paint a remarkably different picture today, one-hundred years after his death, than that long-depicted by his life, wife, and family.

Károly Ferenczy Museum, Szentendre, Hungary.
(Note: this photo may be outdated.)

Clown, 1910, Károly Ferenczy


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