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Szőnyi István Emlékmúzeum

Opening hours:
XI.01-II.28.: Friday, Saturday and Sunday 10-16
III.01-X.31.: Every day except Mondays 9-17

You are welcome to the house where István Szőnyi, one of the most prominent Hungarian painters of the 2oth century, lived in the great part of his life. This house is more than just a museum in the traditional sense of he word. The purpose of the founders has been to preserve and to show as much as possible of both Szőnyi’ s works and the milieu where these works were created. So besides seeing the collection of Szőnyi’ s outstanding works the visitors can enter a world not existing any more, can get acquainted with the relics of the studio otherwise closed from the public. They can feel the spirit of the place. The pictures can be seen at the most authentic surroundings: where they were produced.

There is also a film to be seen taken by Ágoston Kollányi in 1957, which contributes to the accomplishment of the experience of the visit. The portrait film was shot three years before the master’s death. Though Szőnyi is not interviewed in the film, he demonstrates the viewers the whole process of drawing, etching and painting from the preparation of materials to the final touches. He reveals his secrets. He initiates those being interested. It is worth seeing the 20 minute film before entering the museum as it helps become imbued with the exhibition.

Before entering the rooms of the museum let us say some words about Szőnyi’s life. He was born in 1894, in Újpest. After finishing the grammar school he was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in the autumn of 1913. His first master was Károly Ferenczy, who in the summer of 1914 took his students – among them István Szőnyi, as well -, who were bursaries of the academy, to the Artists’ Colony of Nagybánya. Szőnyi also spent the summers of 1917 and 1918 as a soldier on leave. So the young painter could get direct impressions of the colony and the life of the free school before and during World War I. The summers spent in Nagybánya plaxed an important role in the artistic inducement of Szőnyi. In 1918, after he had been discharged, he got back to the Academy, this time as István Réti’ s pupil. (Károly Ferenczy died in 1917.) The school years proved to be short as he had been expelled because of his participation in the reform movements at the Academy. Fortunately this decision did not cause any interruption of the young painter’s career.

In 1921 Szőnyi had his first one-man show at the Ernst Museum, which met a great success. His contemporaries celebrated him as a great master creating a school. He transmitted, for instance, the influence of Béla Uitz through his special screen, towards Vilmos Aba Novák, Jenő Pais Goebel, Erzsébet Korb, Dávid Jándi, Jenő Barcsay and Károly Patkó. Their art was influenced by him for a shorter or longer period.

During his first trips to Europe (Vienna and Berlin) he got acquainted with the great classical masters. He learnt from them, from their works what he missed because of his expelling. This resulted in fis adoration to Rembrandt, his following Marée’s Classicism and Brueghel’s influence on his art. In the whole course of his career he was able to avoid the traps of Neo-classicism.

After he had been forced to leave the Academy he sometimes visited the Artists’ Colony of Kecskemét. It was at this time that he began to deal with graphics and etching intensively though he did not belong to Viktor Olgyai’s pupils like most of his contemporaries. In the first part of his career he etched more than two hundred plates. As a significant member of the “etching generation” he contributed to the development of Hungarian graphic art at the beginning of the 1920s.

A decisive stage of his life and art was his marriage to Melinda Bartóky, as well as his moving to Zebegény. The landscape, the country way of life, and the nature still undisturbed made a deep impression on the painter standing at the beginning of a promising career. At the end of his first period a series of masterpieces were produced on Zebegény topics: “Burial At Zebegény”,” An Evening At Zebegény”, “Motherhood” and “Village Covered With Snow” – regarded by István Benthon as the most beautiful Hungarian etching – all dating to 1928.

In 1929 he was one of the first bursaries of the Hungarian Academy of Tome to get to Rome but he returned home after a few months. Though he was deeply impressed by Roman art Treasure and the Italian landscape, he could only produce works at his chosen home place, in Zebegény, at the Danube Bend.

Szőnyi’s palette was changing gradually; lighter, brighter and radiant colours broken with white appeared on it. He found a new technique suitable for the new view: the egg tempera, the recipe of which he worked out himself. Since his childhood he was much interested in chemistry. His technical experiences were published in 1941 in the book titled “The School Of Fine Arts”, of which he was both co-author and editor. At the beginning of the 30s a new period of his started. In this decade were his most radiant pictures created: “Evening”, 1934; “Nude With Red Kerchief”, 1936; “People With Umbrellas”, 1939; and “The Garden Bench”, 1943. These are but a few examples, which cannot reflect the richness of a life work consisting of several thousand panel pictures and drawings. Most pieces of the great oeuvre are precious parts of private collections, only a few main works belong to public collections: the Hungarian National Gallery or the Szőnyi István Memorial Museum in Zebegény.

Szőnyi was appointed to a teacher of the Academy of Fine Arts in 1937. He was teaching for more than two decades. Though he was the leader of the mural department he got but a few monumental commissions. That is why he was delighted to be commissioned to paint the Saint Emery Church in Győr. He did his best to execute the program prepared by the church. The fresco of Győr can be said to be of much higher standard than the contemporary works of ecclesiastic art.

His real genre, however, remained panel picture and drawing. It was Jenő Elekfy having visited Zebegény, very often in the 30s under whose influence Szőnyi began to paint aquarelles, or found the most suitable water-colour technique for himself: gouache. Gouache-paint with its velvety and dull surface is similar to tempera, so it was perfect for making sketches and studies. Several hundreds of small paintings of such kind were produced at this time, many of which are more than a mere sketch; they are perfect compositions.

If we want to evaluate István Szőnyi’s art, we have to speak about the complete world having found by him, about the harmony he was able to create both in his life and his art. He gave a particular answer to the challenge of his age, he did not follow modernismus but remained faithful to his inner inducement. Undertaking the intellectuality of the first generation of Nagybánya and making use of the results of the “Moderns”Szőnyi brought about his own particular world not inaptly called the fourth branch of Post-Impressionism by Dénes Pataky. His art deservedly belongs to the most important chapters of our painting art between the two world wars.

During his last years he was often ill. He spent almost all his time in Zebegény. In 1958-59 he took a pleasant trip to Italy on his daughter’s invitation. The old spasm had already relaxed and he could paint some important gouache and tempera pictures under the blue sky of Italy. He was especially inspired by the sea and the harbour of Fiumiccino. In 1960 he was just preparing for the exhibition of the pictures painted in Italy. This is what he wrote about it to his daughter, Zsuzsa in his last letter of 21st August 1960: “…the exhibition causes me great anxiety again. Never have I been so worried before an exhibition like now…Aging has been badly invented. One is losing the mark of genius though it has not developed entirely yet. “In 9 days, on 30th August he died at his home in Zebegény.
His wife lived there for another 7 years. When she had died in 1967, the Hungarian state bought the estate from the inheritors, and the history of the museum began.