The history of modern art has its share of icons, and the Bauhaus in particular is considered a reliable supplier of great achievements between the wars. Undoubtedly one of them was the design for a single-family house by Farkas Molnár (1897–1945), famously titled the Red Cube, which was planned for the first Bauhaus exhibition in 1923 but then remained in the design stage. The focus of most commentators has rarely been on how the building can be analysed and situated in detail, however, since it is its iconic look that has draw most of the attention. The colour and forms of the designs are reminiscent of the latest creations in painting in the early 1920s, which circulated across Europe, especially in the Soviet Union and the Netherlands. This entails the discussion of Constructivism, which also had an impact on architecture. In the first years of the Bauhaus, the utopian and rational character of art in the machine age was thus negotiated, but at the same time, for many artists, including Farkas Molnár, the human being remained the measure of all things.
In the Budapest suburb of Pasarét, just some 400 metres away from the church of St. Anthony’s, discussed in an earlier article in this blog, is a quiet residential street of villas built in the early 1930s. This unassuming road, Napraforgó utca (Sunflower Street), occupies an important place in the history of interwar architecture and urban thought in Hungary, for it was an experiment in the uses of modernist design in addressing the acute housing problems of the post-war city. Somewhat neglected in the decades after the Second World War, it was declared a national historic monument in 1999, and in the last ten years or so it has become a subject of particular interest due to its putative association with the Bauhaus. The title alone of the Napraforgó Street Bauhaus Association (Napraforgó Utcai Bauhaus Egyesület), set up in 2017, indicates the importance given to this connection. On the occasion of the 2019 Bauhaus centenary, the Association organised walking tours and an open-air exhibition in the street.
1938 was an important year in the history of Hungary’s authoritarian interwar regime. The nine hundredth anniversary of the death of King Stephen I (Saint Stephen, c. 975–1038), Hungary’s first king, was declared a Jubilee Year, and a long series of celebrations and commemorations were organised on the occasion. One of the most significant projects was the Ruin Garden in Székesfehérvár: a new memorial site set up to preserve and make accessible the ruins of the basilica Stephen had founded in the town in the early eleventh century. The garden was flanked by a mausoleum built to house a sarcophagus believed to have been the king’s. Behind the sarcophagus, elevating the sacral aura of the space, the wall was divided by a tall and imposing stained-glass window. Its maker, Lili Sztehlo (1897–1959), was the most prominent artist working in this technique in interwar Hungary.
Unfinished Empire? Visual Arts and Architecture in Post-Imperial Contexts, 1900–2022
will take place at
The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague
on 19–20 May 2023.
The Hungarian town of Szentendre is known for its small museums dedicated to individual artists, but the Margit Kovács Museum stood out in popularity after it first opened in 1973. Looking at the ceramicist’s Bundt-Cake Madonna, it is not hard to understand why. As the title indicates, the conical shape of the Madonna’s body is designed to recall a cake; the white glazing on the surface, then, makes us think of the cake’s icing. The baby Jesus wears the same, cake-shaped garment, but a tiny one, and his mother holds him lovingly, gently bending her neck to touch her face to the baby’s crown. It is a sweet composition, and it is also a very well-formed one, which unites simple, pure form with intricate surface decoration, so that the ceramic sculpture as a whole appears robust and solid, rather than finicky. It represents a cake that is not only sweet, but also filling; a dessert of considerable substance.