Artwork of the Month, June 2022: Numbered Poem No 18 by Lajos Kassák (1921)

This is the first time a work by Lajos Kassák (1887–1967) features as our Artwork of the Month, but many of our previous articles have mentioned the artist’s name. This is due to Kassák’s uniquely central position in early-twentieth-century Hungarian avant-garde culture. He was not just a visual artist, but also a writer, poet, editor, organiser and thinker. Artists as important and diverse as Sándor Bortnyik (1893–1976), János Mattis-Teutsch (1884–1960), or Lajos Vajda (1908–1941) all belonged to Kassák’s circle before continuing on their separate paths. The significance of Kassák’s periodicals and collaborative projects is so great that they can easily steal the limelight from his individual artistic output. This is how Kassák became a recurring background figure on this blog, and it is high time for him to come into focus.

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Artwork of the Month, April 2022: The Manual Workers and the Intellectuals by János Mattis-Teutsch (1927)

Few artists moved between worlds as much as the painter and sculptor János Mattis-Teutsch (1884–1960), who was born in Brașov (Hung.: Brassó, Ger.: Kronstadt), but spent considerable time in Budapest, Bucharest, Munich, Paris and Berlin. This demonstrates the mobility of artists in Central Europe before and after the First World War, but it especially showcases the variety of artistic developments that ran throughout Europe since the early twentieth century. No matter which influence he followed, Mattis-Teutsch aimed at expressing the inner spirit of the human soul. He was close to Expressionist, spiritual and, later, Constructivist tendencies, on which he always put his own stamp, with a desire to unite ethical and aesthetic values. Reconciliation is also the theme of the painting presented here, The Manual Workers and the Intellectuals (1927), which marks a seldom-noted phase of his work towards the end of the 1920s, when the social aspirations of his art came into their own particularly strongly. Following artists such as Sándor Bortnyik (1893–1976), he sought to add a human touch to Constructivism. His ethereal figures represent generally human principles for a ‘New Man’ who was to move in the idealised space of a new society. The term ‘New Man’ gathered a wide variety of utopian ideas for the transformation of the human being in the interwar period, and found frequent expression in art.[1]

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Artwork of the Month, January 2022: Morphine Addict by János Vaszary (1930)

When it comes to continuity and rupture, the long career of János Vaszary (1867–1939) is certainly emblematic. He was born in 1867, the year of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, and died in 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War. He lived through the 1896 Millennium celebrations, when the self-confident Hungarian state marked its 1000-year existence, the First World War, the collapse of Austria-Hungary, two revolutions and a counterrevolution, the political shifts of the Horthy regime. Meanwhile, he went from being the talented nephew of an archbishop and an indisputable member of the establishment to being attacked and pushed out of his professorship for his liberal and modernist views. The evolution of his art, too, can be characterised as a series of ruptures: he started under the influence of Symbolism and Naturalism, developed a colourful post-impressionist style by the early 1900s, then abandoned it around 1910 for a new style based on anti-impressionist principles and an interest in the avant-garde. His wartime experiences turned him into an expressionist painter of misery; then, in the 1920s, he transferred his agitated Expressionism to peaceful, mundane subject matter as his palette brightened up. Influenced by his stays in Paris, he took on the light touch and urban themes of the École de Paris, and finally developed a characteristic method of colourful small brushstrokes, which he mostly used to depict pleasant beachside and garden scenes.

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Imrich Weiner-Král, Zidovska Street III, detail

Artwork of the Month December 2021: Židovská Street III (1935–36) by Imrich Weiner-Kráľ

Nowadays, Židovská ulica (Jewish Street), wedged between Bratislava castle and the historic city centre, is only a meagre leftover of what it used to be. Forming one of the central locations of the city’s Jewish quarter, a large stretch of the street was destroyed in 1972 during the construction of the New Bridge (officially called ‘The Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising’), as was a large part of the Jewish quarter with it. Even though more recent years have seen efforts to resuscitate the Jewish heritage of the city, including the opening of the Museum of Jewish Culture in 1993, the destruction of the community’s built environment as late as the 1970s underlines a difficult, near erased heritage. With a focus on the painting Židovská Street III (1935–1936), this article seeks to redraw a connection between interwar Jewish life in the eastern part of Czechoslovakia (Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia) and a prominent representative of Slovak modernism: the Jewish-Hungarian-Slovak painter and graphic artist Imrich/Imre/Imro Weiner (later Weiner-Kráľ , 1901–1978).[1] Ultimately, it argues that if we interpret Weiner-Kráľ s work in the light of his Jewish identity, we might also question traditional interpretations of Slovak modernism that have seen it primarily as an expression of national identity.

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