A seminal figure of Hungarian painting with an international prestige, Béla Czóbel influenced the development of his native country’s art almost from the beginning of his career, in a manner already recognized by his own contemporaries. Along the way, he also left his impression in several of the centres of European modernism. He was only twenty-three years old when he had an exhibition in Paris, and he went on to be regularly featured in the Fauve section of the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Indépendants. He was one of the reformers of the Nagybánya artist colony, and a founding member of the Budapest group, The Eight. Later he joined the modern artists of the Netherlands, and made his home in Bergen, only to become involved soon in the work of the German Die Brücke group as well. He had important solo exhibitions in Paris, Berlin and New York. In 1940 he moved to Szentendre. In addition to the largest Hungarian public collections, his works can be found in several of the world’s leading museums.
Czóbel was the first painter to have a museum dedicated to him in Hungary in his own lifetime. Many have contributed to the collection – including his own daughter, Lisa Czóbel – since the Museum was opened on Szentendre’s Templomdomb in 1975, but the permanent exhibition changed little over the decades. Nonetheless, when it came to creating the concept of the new permanent exhibition after the 2016 renovation of the museum, the emphasis was not on permanence. The core material itself, which selects from the holdings of the museum, will be renewed year after year, and a room will now be dedicated to Czóbel’s graphic works, allowing them more attention than formerly. Additionally, and in a break with the former practice, works from private and public collections will be on deposit and will be integrated into the structure of the permanent exhibition, adding nuances and new insights to what is an exceptional and formidably rich œuvre.
The new exhibition presents the stages of the painter’s career in a chronological order, with sections dedicated to the different locales. We are introduced to his start in Nagybánya, his Fauvist period in Paris, his output at the time of joining The Eight, his time in the Netherlands, and the Berlin years of his association with the German Expressionists. His subsequent return to Paris was followed by a long period, the acme of his career, when he moved back and forth between the French capital and Szentendre.
Several works have been retrieved from storage and are shown at a permanent exhibition for the first time, just as it is now also possible to take a look at the verso of certain major exhibits, where images formerly hidden, covered or painted over have been revealed. Viewers can now walk around these “double-sided” works and examine both their sides.
Czóbel’s works have been dispersed in the world, indicating that his art was popular through almost his entire career, and still is. On the other hand, it is a sore loss that major works from his strongest periods have gone missing over the past century. Both the Museum’s homepage and the media section at the exhibition introduce those works whose current whereabouts are unknown, and which we tend to know thanks to black-and-white archival photos. It is our hope that at least the most significant ones will come to light one day, and may even enrich the Museum’s collection so that the already colourful image of Czóbel may become even richer at our display.
This year the focus of the restaging is Czóbel’s expressionist output in Germany. Most of the paintings that are shown this season alongside the works from the Museum’s core collection were made during the artist’s Berlin period, between 1919–1925, parallel with the endeavours of the Die Brücke group, partly in collaboration with them. Most of these pictures came from abroad – Germany, Austria, France, and even overseas – and include rarities that have not been presented at a Hungarian exhibition for generations. The most helpful institution was the Buchheim Museum by Lake Starnberg, which lent us three, formerly unknown works by Czóbel.
New information emerges almost every year about Czóbel’s early, post-Impressionist and Fauvist period, and we are again pleased to complement the core collection with excellent, major works. Especially notable among these is a landscape he painted in Nyergesújfalu, and which is the first to represent the related period in the Museum—a period closely associated with the propagation of Fauvism in Hungary.