There is only one event of interest in life, and that is none other than death.
Hungarian symbolism has rich and previously unnoticed particularities. As a movement, it exerted an influence far more profound than earlier supposed, inspiring a generation of Hungarian artists who had just turned their backs on academism and easel-painting naturalism, and it went through much the same metamorphoses as other “isms” present in the art of the 1890s. Although symbolism raised its head in Hungary later than in the West, it was soon enriched in content and, like other subsequent schools of symbolism, it engendered a variety of local forms. Hungarian art students at major European art centres and working at academies such as that of Munich and Paris may have been mostly lured by the works of plein air painters, but they certainly took notice of the symbolists, particularly of Puvis de Chavannes.
The Hungarian art scene had lacked the sophisticated intellectual and formal arsenal of expression honed by centuries-old traditions which could have paved the way to a triumphant emergence of symbolism, which was initially met with rejection and never really achieved a breakthrough akin to the Nagybánya School in its heyday. While the movement had neither official fora nor even ephemeral journals of its own, it had a handful of distinguished representatives around whom intellectual companies gathered that made a remarkable contribution to the artistic image of the fin de siècle and the early 1900s in Hungary. In both literature and the fine arts, Hungarian symbolism was notable for its symbiosis with other ideas and styles, even those opposed to its own programme. One of the main reasons for this could be pinned to the complex, sometimes inextricably intertwined inspiration behind the school, including plein air, Art Nouveau and symbolism proper, all of which flooded Hungary in one fell swoop in the late 1880s. Not infrequently, as evidenced by the output of the Gödöllő Colony, there is a striking simultaneity of esoteric ideas and daily social commitment, a connection between universal mythologies and national myths flourishing since the age of Romanticism.
Nor is it possible to rule out the influence of a very multicultural Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, where many creative minds were preoccupied with an identity crisis. Their works were suffused with an awareness of the unmanageable diversity of forms, the unfeasibility of a synthesis, which led them to question the very foundations of expression. Hungarian art, as it went about absorbing arcane teachings and philosophies in its search for renewal, at once had to face intimations of perennial peril and a general sense of doom.
GRAVEYARD PAINTINGS, SKELETONS, DANSE MACABRE
“Bygone is the charming, gentle face of the youth of Classicism who glided around the globe with a blazing torch, sprinkling drowsy fairy dust on Earth everywhere it went; and so is gone the cheerful, sneering Man of Bones of Medieval Times and the early New Age, who tripped a grotesque toe in splendid palaces and dilapidated huts”, wrote the Hungarian novelist Viktor Cholnoky. Well, the image of death disguised in the effigy of a gentle youth may not have been around any more, but the medieval representations of the death dance certainly found new life in a symbolist milieu which carried forward the pet themes of Romanticism. A furtive figure of a skeleton donning a mask is visible in a drawing by Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch, a leading exponent of Hungarian symbolism, which harks back to the danse macabre motif of the Middle Ages (Death in Pursuit of Man, 1905). By contrast, his Man in Pursuit of Death (1905) has more affinity with the symbolist approach, insofar as the skeleton seduces a young man in the image of a maiden wearing a wreath of flowers.
Death, mourning, graveyards, and skeletons were considered symbolic themes in and of themselves. A drawing by Körösfői-Kriesch conjures up the image of a Cemetery in the Woods (around 1894), while the watercolour entitled Autumn (1894) features the allegory of death standing at the cemetery gate. His painting All Souls’ Day (1910) rises above the rest of the artist’s work by virtue of its sparsely structured decoration, and a mystical touch with light which transmutes the vision into an object of quiet contemplation.
The themes of cemeteries and mourning were addressed eloquently by Rippl-Rónai (Cemetery, 1895).1 His masterpiece composed in a three-part form Cemetery in the Great Plain (1894) features a Japonesque foreground with a trellis of trees, which forms a rhythmic sequence with the crosses of the snow-covered graveyard and, in the distance, a horizontal stretch of houses of a village. This rhythm, coupled with the open structure, suggests resignation to the eternal cycles of nature and human life. Rippl-Rónai’s female figures, with their strikingly ashen faces, evoke the symbolism of turn-of-the-century poems depicting transience, all marked by the recurrent adjective of pale. In the painting Two Women in Mourning (1892), the cold light filtered through the window, the black and white predominance with brownish hues convey a powerful sense of loss.
Contemporaries held Ödön Kacziány in high regard as the modern interpreter par excellence of the traditional danse macabre theme. In his paintings, Kacziány rejuvenated allegories of death, the ghastly theme of “Black Romanticism”, sometimes – as in his Death in Flight – with gloomy monotony.
DECADENCE AND DECAY
The Academia and the circle of salon artists have bequeathed on us several paintings treating conventional symbolist themes and borrowing favourite formal solutions. The large triptych by László Tóth entitled Beauty, Money, and the Spirit (1894) offers tableaux suggesting allegories of debauched society. A favourite subject was the fatally attractive female type who leads men to ruin. In Lajos Márk’s Struggle (1890s), the high-society ladies are depicted hovering in a state somewhere between abandoned revelry and the disillusionment that inevitably follows.
Mihály Munkácsy, like the French painters of the academia and salons, did not hesitate to incorporate elements of plein air, impressionism, and symbolism in his works. His Victim of Flowers (1896) can be linked, remotely but unquestionably, to works representing Ophelia, and considered an imprint of the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, whose popularity had reached as far as Paris. Ophelia’s demise had become a favourite symbolist theme since John Everett Millais painted his own Ophelia (1851–1852). The Pre-Raphaelite group was introduced to Paris audiences at the world fair of 1855. In the 1890s, during the halcyon days of Anglo-French relations, Edward Burne-Jones was a featured artist of Paris salons almost every year.2 This female figure, with half-open eyes and mouth, uncovered breasts, and surrounded by flowers as she reclines in a languidly erotic position, recalls the heroine of Zola’s novel The Sin of Abbé Mouret (1875), another woman plunged in lush vegetation and the slavish maze of her own instincts.
Gyula Benczúr turned to another subject rediscovered by the symbolists. His Narcissus (1881), a youth in full bloom, is marked by nods to the Baroque and a theatrical touch with light. The subtly, almost artistically arched pose of the head implies fascination with beauty and self-adoration. Yet the decadence of moribund eroticism always remained fundamentally alien to Benczúr’s sensibilities. He grasps his hero at a moment just before his gaze catches his own reflection in the pool. What is then missing from this painting is precisely the mirror image, the lure of the beyond.
Mihály Zichy, who spent many years living in Paris, was not immune to the death mysticism of the fin de siècle, not to mention the decadence and eroticism of his Belgian friend, Félicien Rops. Although the representation of the demonic, which faithfully accompanies Zichy’s œuvre, is really proper to Romanticism, it cannot be regarded as being entirely unrelated to the works proclaiming the dominion of Satan, or pure Evil, which began to mushroom toward the end of the century, in works such as Égide Rombaux’s Daughters of Satan (1990) or Jean Delville’s Treasures of Satan. Beyond its political message, Zichy’s painting Triumph of the Genius of Destruction (1878) conveys a sense of general doom and annihilation. The female demon is the mate of Satan, the harbinger of the turn-of-the-century image of the woman as an amalgam of death wish and lust.
DEATH AESTHETICISED: EROS AND THANATOS
The poppy, a symbol of sleep and death in and of itself, makes an appearance during this period in many works representing slumber, day-dreaming, and half-conscious states of mind in general – all attributes of Hypnos, the deity of dreams. The male figure in Elza Kövesházi Kalmár’s ceramic relief Thanatos dons a wreath of poppies.
According to the great poet and essayist Mihály Babits, the image of death in Art Nouveau is generally implied, veiled, or aestheticised, but always “fantastical and transcendental”. The works of Lajos Gulácsy, the only Hungarian artist whose entire œuvre was conceived in the spirit of symbolism, often recall an idealised past, dreams, and intimations. The painful silence of the spirit marks his ethereal pastel Woman Among the Tombstones (1914), where the female figure perfectly illustrates the type favoured by the symbolists: she is virginal, wraithlike, and inscrutable, drawn with gentle contours and an ashen face with graveyard crosses and wind-torn trees in the background.
The cemeteries fitting in subtly with the cypress-studded Italian landscape (Omnia vanita, 1903; Graveyard I–II, 1904–1905) seem to allude to nostalgic longing and hidden sorrow. The Remembrance of Caspar and Hermina (Bier, 1911–12) reflects the mood of the artist’s short stories: sweet yet cruel, with flashes of intimating mortality. Behind the bier, the canvas is painted with amorphous patches hovering in the background, including a female with eyes shut and a skull, not unlike Mednyánszky’s ghosts (Spirit of the Woods; Prayer Over the Grave). The grave is surrounded by roses in bloom and a candle with blue and red ribbons. All this serves to replace dreaminess with a surrealistic chaos and foreboding. Gulácsy’s drawings, created on the eve of the Second World War, are suffused with fear. The interlocking themes of love and death, specifically the tryst between Dante and Beatrice, were often treated by Gulácsy in a manner clearly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites (Song about Old Light and Love, 1904).
The concealed affinity between Eros and Thanatos made an appearance in salon painting as well, particularly in representations of Salome. The figure was painted, with a light touch but an emphasis on her lustful smile, by Gyula Éder (Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, 1907), and by Gyula Tornai, who brought a revelry of oriental colour to the subject (The Dance of Salome, 1887). The bloody martyrdom was only concretised by Gulácsy (Salome, ca 1910). The illustrations for the Hungarian edition of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, made by Emil Sarkadi, were inspired by the drawings of Beardsley. On a slightly different note, Lajos Kozma’s illustration to Endre Ady’s poem Death Flower: The Kiss, an ink drawing published in Magyar Iparművészet [Hungarian Arts and Crafts], represents a male corpse on the bier that has been identified by many as that of the poet.
The tragic love of Tristan and Isolde, another favorite subject of symbolism, was illustrated by Rezső Mihály using a sweeping grid. A similar but denser, almost foliage-like system of raster lines was employed by Sándor Nagy in his Pelléas and Mélisande, making room in the weave for the figure of the traitor who causes the couple’s ruin.3 It was in the spirit of “white symbolism” that Sándor Nagy attempted the old Transylvanian folk ballad Kata Kádár, whose heroine is depicted, not unlike Ophelia, floating in the water amongst undulating fish and rush. The cardboard painting, made for a stained window, also pays tribute to the mystical reunion of the lovers after death, the transience of terrestrial love. The theme was implemented in its final form as one of the stained windows of the Culture Palace in the Transylvanian city of Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureș), executed by Miksa Róth with a subtly arched grid of lines complemented by brilliant colours.
DEATH WISH AND OPIUM
Dreams, along with drug- induced rapture and yearning for Nirvana, feature prominently in the literature and arts of the era. In Attila Sassy’s Opium Dreams and Gulácsy’s Opium Smoker’s Dream, the drug transports the artist to the realm of visions and memories. The price to be paid for ecstasy, the proximity of death, is suggested by a skull concealed in ornamental motifs in Sassy, and by the turbid water world in Gulácsy.
THE DEATH OF THE ARTIST
In Hungary as elsewhere, artists interested in mythological subjects often turned to the figure of Orpheus. Unlike the representation by Franz Stuck (1891) and other typical works of the era which reflected the decadent fascination with death and stressed the self-destructive spirit assumed to be part of being an artist, Károly Ferenczy’s memorable painting Orpheus (1894) emphasised the birth of art from the mysteries of nature. The symbol of the artist as an incarnation of Orpheus found its purest expression in the Portrait of Endre Ady by Dezső Czigány (1907, made for the cover of the poet’s volume Blood and Gold), which is special among the Ady portraits known to us for presenting the symbolist poet as the bloody subject of sacrifice. Czigány conceived his portrait of Ady much in the vein of Félix Vallotton’s series of symbolists (Remy de Gourmont: Le livre des masques: portraits symbolistes, 1896), these predominantly reduced to showing the face, the head, hovering in empty space. A similar approach was adopted by Edvard Munch in his portrait of Mallarmé.
PREMONITIONS OF RUIN
The contrast between city and village is one of the topoi of Hungarian Art Nouveau and symbolism, in which the urban environment stands for sin, suffering and, already, the spectre of nature in the process of being destroyed, as envisioned in a drawing by Viktor Erdei. On the other hand, the albums of drawings by Lajos Kozma (Last Reveries: Melodies, 1908; The Great Sonata) repeatedly focus on the theme of folk art, the gradual disappearance of the rural way of life, and the painful farewell to the past.
Gulácsy’s Art Nouveau and symbolist period ended with a series of surrealistic visions around the outbreak of the Great War. A sheet in the Danse Macabre series by József Divéky, who worked in Vienna for years, treats a pet subject of the Monarchy: a frog’s view of a bridge being traversed by a boisterous masquerade. Nobody in the delirious company can see Death itself chopping away at the foot of the bridge with an axe. It was the figure of a skeleton that Gyula Tichy chose to illustrate the tragic end of the belle époque, the havoc wreaked by the First World War.
MEDNYÁNSZKY’S THEOSOPHICAL VISION OF DEATH: HYPNOS AND THANATOS
During his roaming in France, László Mednyánszky became one of the first to take note of the changes in the art scene at the turn of the 20th century.4 Consequently, around 1895, symbolist elements began to loom large in his painting, otherwise closely associated with the Barbizon masters and the “mood painters” of Vienna. His susceptibility to a renewed iconographic tradition and various forms of mysticism was amplified by the environment in Nagyőr (today Strážky in Slovakia). Although this direction was to prove a dead-end later, its influence endured throughout his entire œuvre, specifically informing the enigmatic atmosphere of his landscapes. In the landscape paintings of Mednyánszky his brother-in-law, István Czóbel, a historian of religion, saw the manifestation of the state the theosophists called Devachan. According to Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, Devachan is the dwelling of the gods similar to Christian heaven, except that it serves as a transitional zone for the soul to inhabit prior to rebirth.
Like others of his symbolist generation, Mednyánszky fell under the spell of the mysticism penetrating the art world at the turn of the century, particularly of theosophy, an amalgam of Christianity and Buddhism. In his sister’s recollection, it was during his second trip to France, starting in 1899, that Mednyánszky became exposed to the “Theosophical-Buddhist” teachings, which he embraced as his own guiding principles. Quite possibly, at this time he made the acquaintance of André Chevrillon (1864–1957), whose book Dans l’Inde was published in 1891. Mentions of Nirvana first appear in the artist’s diary entries of 8 December 1895 and, probably, of a date somewhere between 1896 and 1897. Mednyánszky does not expressly name Helene Petrovna Blavatsky’s 1888 seminal work The Secret Doctrine until 1900, but the memoirs of Sándor Nagy prove that, already in the early 1990s, he had been familiar with theosophy and its followers, including the Rosicrucian group emerging in 1892, who took art communities by storm from Paris to Vienna.
On the evidence of a few laconic entries in his diary, Mednyánszky found in theosophy a tool pointing him the way to the purification of the spirit and the contemplation of his own innermost problems. “Now that I have reimmersed myself in the Secret Doctrine, I feel that, after such lengthy preparations, I must get down to tackle the main task ahead, which is the rebirth of my own self. I have known the way to do this for a long time, since the moment I strayed from the true path […] I must replace Platonic love on the pedestal. From there, it’s just a stone’s throw to utter purification…” In her book Egy másik Mednyánszky [Another Mednyánszky] (Budapest: Meridián, 2008), Csilla Markója argues that Buddhism and theosophy were integrated with the artist’s system of ideas founded on synaesthesia and typology.
At around 1895, the painter entered a new period, ushered in by a turn that triggered a series of changes in his art. As his notes attest, he began to repudiate photographic representation and the “blindfolded backyard realism” burdened by the genre of the “still life”. Like his symbolist contemporaries in 1896 Paris, he had high, if qualified, hopes for the creation of new symbols as the token for the liberation of painting from, as he said, “the outmoded symbolism toward the realism of simple facts. And then, from the simple facts to the facts of the subject, and then from the facts of the subject on to a new kind of symbolism.”
Mednyánszky’s monochromatic paintings, whether in a glowing red or a predominant green tone, can clearly be associated with the synaesthetic works of the symbolists. The artist described a work of his depicting a man standing by the waterside as populated “by strange fish that might be […] clouds… It’s a terrifying labyrinth of filiform growth and algae, cast in the sick colours of sea green and yellow.” Having studied the physiology of colours, in 1895 and 1897 he developed a theory of emotions, colours, and flavours in the way they relate to one another – a theory of synaesthesia he would later expand to apply to key concepts in astrology, theosophy and alchemy. For instance, he classified rust red as a stimulating, even “threatening” colour, not unlike the “colour of anger” according to the theory of aurae proposed by Charles Leadbeater in his volume Man Visible and Invisible (1902). Mednyánszky essentially linked the theory of correspondences to his own theory of moods and allegorism. For him, an “anti-realistic work” simply meant “a figurative composition based on pure mood”. As Mallarmé put it in his ars poetica, “paint not the thing, but the effect that it produces”. As if obeying this dictum, Mednyánszky scorned the idea of the “true” representation of the real, whatever that means, but preferred instead to express the emotions and moods triggered by the subject, understood as the medium of spiritual substance. According to a note he penned in 1895, “allegories […] are best to convey any mood, feeling, and certain thoughts…” Despite their schematic nature, allegorical figures are capable of rendering these schemes poetic and very much alive, by engaging the mood of the observer…,” he remarked in 1898. In fact, Mednyánszky defined his portraits of people in the antechamber of death as allegories.
Silence, motionlessness, and quiet contemplation – in general, the marginalisation of plot or action under the influence of Puvis de Chavannes and Odilon Redon – became hallmarks of Mednyánszky’s art from the outset. In an entry dated in Paris, 1896, he explains that he prefers to “depict human bodies in the state of perfect rest” because it is then that “the spirit is at its most active”.
The deaths occurring in rapid succession in the painter’s family played into his innate proclivity to melancholy. The passing of his father in 1895 foregrounded the theme of mutability, the search for a way to connect with the dead in his work.5 Among his representations of death, the most important are those giving new meaning to traditional allegories and well-known subjects of painting, such as his Old Man at a Game of Chess with Death (ca 1895) and Old Man and Death, I–II (1895–1900).6 Unlike his earlier takes on the theme of illness and impending death, conceived in a realistic vein (Dying Man; Moribund Woman, 1880–85), in his symbolist paintings the favourite window motif of the Munich painters is transformed from a pane of glass, whether flickering mirror-like or dimmed, into the symbol of new life. In the allegorical work The Death of the Painter’s Father (ca 1895) a clad skeleton of a figure pulls aside a curtain to reveal a distant source of light. In the sketch The Cloak of Death, the expressive quality and dynamic play of lines combine forces with the blazing whites to fuse the two figures into one. Mednyánszky made another portrait of his dead father in 1895, this time in a composition evoking the martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist.
As Ján Abelovský points out, he had a penchant for the props of Romanticism such as ghosts, skeletons and other weird subjects relying on a macabre effect. His Nostalgia and his revisit of the grave-digger theme Memento, Scene of Horror both ca 1895, feature skeletons springing to life much in the same manner as in some of the paintings of Odilon Redon, among other contemporaries (The Wall of His Room Was Opening up and through the Crack a Death’s-Head Was Projected, 1887; Battle of Bones, ca 1887), and sometimes even becoming protagonists themselves, as in James Ensor.
During his sojourn in Paris, Mednyánszky paid a visit to Mihály Zichy, familiarising himself with his colleague’s variations on the vanitas theme (The Painter and Death, 1875, and The Ghost Hour, 1880), which he began working on in Paris but completed in Zala, Hungary. A treatment of the then chic danse macabre theme, the latter work was also shown in Vienna. Presumably like Redon, Mednyánszky was influenced by Rodolphe Bresdin’s lithograph The Comedy of Death (1854).
In fact, some of Mednyánszky’s works display similarities to Redon in terms of technique as well. Although not mentioned in his diaries until later on, we have reason to assume that he was conversant with the Buddhist teachings of reincarnation and the theosophy of Franz von Hartmann and Madame Blavatsky. His Allegory of Death and New Life (ca 1895) depicts a ghost-like, dematerialised figure with a white aureole around its head in the background that symbolises the transmutation of the body, of matter, into light. The translucent, Baudelairesque male body in the foreground allows a glimpse of the bones inside. His skeletal arms are flung wide open in a gesture of submission, his head barely more than a sheer skull. He is set in a barren, denuded landscape, whereas the apparition higher above is surrounded by yellow, red and blue flowers blooming in a pale green meadow – a symbol of flourishing life. The whole is a masterful representation of spiritual rebirth awaiting a man still alive but on the cusp of having his soul released from the prison house of the body.
In his diaries, Mednyánszky often converses with his departed, and a specific group of his works employ spirits, spectres and gruesome forms around realistically rendered human figures. In several drawings and sketches, including The Monk and Temptation, Shadows and Spirit of Good and Evil (all ca 1895), the two spectral figures surrounding the protagonist (this familiar from the earlier painting Dying Man) can be identified as the twin deities of Hypnos and Thanatos.7 On first sight, the two heads – each of a beauty reminiscent of Leonardo – seem menacing, but on closer inspection their facial expression turns out to be curious and inquisitive rather than conveying threat. The depictions of Hypnos known to us from Antiquity were also revamped by Redon, for instance in his Fall of Icarus (ca 1890). His earlier Dream series, published in 1879, had already featured winged phantasy creatures and heads floating in the air.8
Mednyánszky was equally fascinated by revelations of mortality hidden within humans and by unveiling animal instincts and other primordial drives lurking beneath the surface of personality. His realistic portraits of tramps unmask the darkest aspects of anguish, of the soul, and of the nearness of death. These paintings, like a number of his landscapes, lay bare for us the universal suffering. In End of Life: Elderly Couple at Night (late 1890s) the incisive light all but shatters the facial features of the two old figures. The realistic portrayals of mourning (Over the Grave, 1878) were followed by Romantic-Symbolist treatments of the subject, such as Spirit of the Woods (ca 1895) and Prayer over the Grave (ca 1895). The Sufferer: An Allegorical Scene (ca 1895), which has surfaced recently from the Ringwald Collection, depicts one of Mednyánszky’s recurrent motifs: a half-naked young man kneeling, with his hands tied behind his back and his head bowed.
Suggesting a convict, a prisoner or a repentant, the figure is beset by screeching monsters harking back to the etchings of Goya – bird-like creatures alternately with a human or an animal-like face.
Mednyánszky’s work is linked to the symbolism of the 1890s by its purposeful search for ambivalence, obscurity and synaesthesia. His essentially realistic landscapes are fittingly described by the same words by which Baudelaire characterised Goya: “the seam, the juncture between the real and the fantastic is impossible to detect…” Or, as Zsigmond Justh wrote about him in his novel Fuimus (1894): “He was enthralled by the mysterious, magnificent force that is the inscrutable universe, before which one can only prostrate oneself without ever fathoming its motives.” The trees reflected in the water, the vapours, the fog, the glittering surfaces of rocks and snow, the rapid streams all intimate the major forces at work within. The pinnacles of Mednyánszky art certainly include his landscapes which unite earth and sky in a deep darkness interspersed with barely perceptible specks of light – in a portrait of a world without redemption. These paintings possess an expressive power that is comparable to that of Van Gogh and as such stand without peer in the history of Hungarian art.
Mednyánszky’s forest paintings often make use of a favourite motif of symbolist-theosophist painters such as Jean Delville or Walter Siegmund Hampel: an enigmatic ray of sunlight illuminating the darkness of the woods. A similar mystical light filtering through the twigs is seen in Morning in the Woods (ca 1902), a lithograph by Viktor Olgyai, who had spent time in Nagyőr in 1895 and had become a theosophist under the influence of the Mednyánszky–Czóbel Circle. In his painting Close-up of the Forest (ca 1908) the trees seem to form a cathedral with a veiled romanticism recalling the methaphor of Chateaubriand. Olgyai’s contemporaries regarded his landscapes dominated by fog (Foggy Morning, 1893; Foggy Morning in February, 1894) and snow as symbolist paintings par excellence. Finally, sunlight gleaming through the woods is also the force that attracts the robust but raptured woman in Ad Lucem (after 1920), a work by Róbert Nádler, who served as president of the Hungarian Theosophical Society for years, and was otherwise known almost exclusively by his naturalistic genre paintings.
Some of Mednyánszky’s own landscapes also fit within the classic symbolist style (Landscape with Circles of Light; Flatlands, late 1900s; Moorland Scene, ca 1906). These are akin to landscapes by Fernand Khnopff (Quiet Waters: Der Teich von Menil, 1894) and the drawing Spring Evening (1908) by the aforementioned Olgyai, in that the reflection or internal image of the real becomes more prominent or emphatic than the real itself. As such, they might themselves be taken to reflect the theosophist thought of unity, taking a cue from Hermes Trismegistus:
That which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below, to perform the miracles of one only thing.
Translation by Péter Balikó Lengyel
(The present study is based on excerpts from the book A magyar szimbolizmus [Hungarian Symbolism] (Budapest: Corvina, 2016), and has been expanded by new research findings.)
1 On Rippl-Rónai see Mária Bernáth: “A Central European Model. Influence and Assimilation in the Work of József Rippl-Rónai”. In: József Rippl-Rónai’s Collected Works. Budapest: Hungarian National Gallery, 1998, pp. 35–48. On Rippl-Rónai’s symbolist traits see Katalin Gellér: József Rippl-Rónai’s Secessionist Image of Arcadia. The Unity of the Life Work. Acta Historiae Artium, Tomus 40, 1998, pp. 160–169.
2 Cf. Jacques Lethève: “La connaissance des peintres préraphaélites anglais en France (1855–1900)”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 6e période, vol. 53, mai-juin 1959, pp. 315–328.
3 The Artist’s Colony of Gödöllő. Catalogue. Edited by Katalin Gellér, Mária G. Merva, Cecília Őriné Nagy. Gödöllő, 2003.
4 Mednyánszky visited and stayed in Paris and Barbizon in three stretches: from 1874 to 1876, from 1889 to 1892 and, finally, from 1896 and 1897. Életrajz/Biography, compiled by Orsolya Hessky. In: Mednyánszky. Catalogue, ed. Csilla Markója. Budapest: Kossuth, Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, 2003, pp. 236–238.
5 His monographer suggests that Mednyánszky’s mysticism deepened after his father’s death, bringing “a starker, more impassioned, more dramatic dimension” to his art. Ernő Kállai: Mednyánszky László. Budapest: Singer és Wolfner, 1943, p. 42.
6 In the cited monograph, Kállai had already alluded to certain works by Mednyánszky, recently discovered in the collection of Dr Leo Ringwald and at the time still kept in Trencsén (today Trenčín in Slovakia), which monographer would be the first to describe in “Július Barczi: Egy meg (nem) valósult álom története” [The story of a (non-)realised dream. In: Mednyánszky dr. Ringwald Leó gyűjteményéből [Mednyánszky from the collection of Dr Leó Ringwald]. Ed. Július Barczi. Bratislava: SOGA, 2012, pp. 10–11. Also published in German and English.
7 The painting is part of the recently discovered Ringwald Collection; all the titles were given by Kállai. A similar theme is rendered by the painting titled Sompolygó halál [Sneaking Death], which depicts a ghostly apparition set against the decorative backdrop of a flowery meadow.
8 Cf. Michael Gibson: Odilon Redon. 1840–1916. Le prince des rêves. Köln: Taschen, 2011, 48–49.