Szentendre: the Hungarian Capital of Visual Arts

The story of the Szentendre, a town located on the Danube close to Budapest, became intertwined with modern art in 1890. It was the year that a young Ferenczy Károly (1862–1917), having finished his studies in Western Europe, settled in town with his family. (Fifteen years later, when he received the gold medal of the 6th Venice Biennial, he was considered by art circles to be the greatest living Hungarian painter.) That same year marked the birth of Noémi Ferenczy (1890–1977), who established Hungarian Gobelin art, and her brother Béni Ferenczy (1890–1967), a great master of Hungarian sculpture and coin art, who founded a new school of thought.  At the turn of the century, the dominance of Budapest as the centre of fine arts teetered, as was clearly evident from the creation of numerous artists’ colonies. At the end of the twenties – thanks to the efforts of Jenő Paizs Goebel (1896–1944), among others – Szentendre came to have its own artists’ colony. While not garnering quite as much prominence as its counterparts in Nagybánya/Baia Mare, Szolnok and Gödöllő, the Szentendre colony did provide numerous important artists with the motivation to settle there. This was how Béla Iványi Grünwald (1867–1940), shortly after, Jenő Barcsay (1900–1988), and, later, János Kmetty (1889–1975) – three Hungarian artists of international eminence – ended up in town.
In the mid-thirties, Dezső Korniss (1908–1984) and Lajos Vajda (1908–1941) also appeared on the local scene; the Szentendre Program they developed signified a key manifesto of modern Hungarian art. For the past fifty years, the oeuvre of youngly deceased artist Lajos Vajda has signified a cardinal reference point of – as well as one of the most influential bodies of work in – Hungarian art. The intellectual circles of Vajda included Imre Ámos (1907–1944), who brought modern visionary art to Hungary, Margit Anna (1913–1991), who renewed her art several times, and Endre Bálint (1914–1986), who created an enduring body of work in multiple stylistic tendencies of avantgarde art. The latter two were also active participants in the progressive European School, established after the war, only to be then suppressed by the ruling political regime. Internationally renowned artist Béla Czóbel (1883–1976) had moved to the town before the war; his work continued to be influential even during the communist era. The painting of Pál Deim (1932–2016), which unfolded as of the late fifties, along with the art of sculptor Ádám Farkas (1944), was already grounded in the Szentendre tradition. In 1968, largely self-taught artists – in defiance of political expectations – launched a forum for their own works under the name Szentendre Plein Air Exhibition. Later, in 1972, members of the same group established the Lajos Vajda Studio, which became an influential hub of alternative Hungarian art for decades to follow, with such internationally notable artists as Imre Bukta (1952) and László feLugossy (1947).

In 1951, an autonomous museum was founded in Szentendre. In the seventies, in addition to the Ferenczy Museum, a system of so called “small museums” and exhibition spaces was created. The next art venue to add was the ArtMill, which opened its doors in 1999. At present, the Ferenczy Museum Center (FMC) operates the town’s main exhibition spaces and manages its substantial collection, consisting of over ten thousand pieces, and built around the most important pieces of Szentendre’s art. The FMC regularly organises exhibitions of Hungarian and international, modern and contemporary art – in addition to its own spaces, in external venues as well. Art Capital, the largest cross-border visual art festival of the Central Eastern European region, has become FMC’s most notable recurring program. First held in 2016, the yearly held event has featured works by such internationally celebrated artists as the American Bill Viola (1951), the Serbian Marina Abramović (1946), the South African Mohau Modisakeng (1986), the German Daniel Richter (1962), the Japanese-American Yoko Ono (1933), the Ukranian Oleg Kulik (1961), the Macedonian Žarko Bašeski (1957), the Polish Wilhelm Sasnal (1972), the Japanese Chiharu Shiota (1972) and the Russian Dmitrij Kavarga (1972).