July 19, 2018

Jewish Historical Museum brings the Hungarian avant-garde to the Netherlands

From 29 may to 24 September 2017 the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam will be placing work by nineteen Hungarian avant-garde artists in the limelight. The exhibition from Fauvism to Surrealism: Jewish avant-garde artists from Hungary presents the innovative paintings of these artists from the first half of the 20th century, when the country was plagued by nationalism, communism, and war. Most of the artworks included have never been shown in the Netherlands before.

The exhibition displays work by celebrated Hungarian artists such as Vilmos Huszár, Béla Czóbel, László Moholy-Nagy, and Lahos Tihanyi. Also on display will be Róbert Berény’s masterpiece, Self-Portrait
with Top Hat. Some of the artists spent part of their working lives in the Netherlands. Huszár was one of the founding members of the movement De Stijl, a hundred years ago. Czóbel was involved with the Bergen
School and produced the first known portrait of the poet Adriaan Roland Holst. László Moholy-Nagy also lived and worked in the Netherlands for few years. Some of his early works are on view here.

Hungary provided a vibrant artistic milieu in the first half of the 20th century. The country was a magnet for artists from Eastern, Central and Western Europe, becoming a hub of countless artistic movements. Artists
experimented with French Fauvism and Cubism, Italian Futurism, German Expressionism, and Soviet cinema and Constructivism.

Growing Anti-Semitism

At the same time, this was a turbulent period in Hungary. The country went through an upsurge of nationalism, the First World War, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Second World War, and the early years of the Communist regime. Many artists came from Jewish backgrounds and from the early 1920s onwards they faced growing anti-Semitism. They shared a belief in progress and a desire for a just world, but all of them fell victim to the Holocaust in one way or another.

The exhibition shows some ninety paintings that illustrate both the urge for experimentation and a range of different styles. For instance, we see Béla Kádár’s cubist landscapes, painted in the style of  Chagall, and images of Budapest’s night life by Armand Schönberger, painted in the style of Italian Futurism. The artworks also capture the
atmosphere of the times. Lili Ország portrays the consequences of the Holocaust in dark, grim paintings.

The works on display have been provided on loan by a range of museums and private individuals in Hungary and the Netherlands, including the Hungarian National Gallery and the Jewish Museum in Budapest. With this display of Hungarian art, the Jewish Historical Museum is continuing along the lines of earlier successful exhibitions of work by Jewish
artists from Russia and avant-garde artists from Romania.


The exhibition From Fauvism to Surrealism will be accompanied by a book with the same title, published by Walburg Press. The book’s editor is Joël Cahen, who served as director of the Jewish Cultural Quarter until October 2015.

Art gallery

Simultaneously with this exhibition the museum will be displaying work by a contemporary Hungarian artist in its small art gallery (Kunstkabinet). False Testimony by Hajnal Németh is about the Tiszaeszlár Affair of 1882, sometimes referred to as the Hungarian equivalent of the Dreyfus Affair in France. A modern opera tells the tale of the false accusations made against Jews in connection with the disappearance of a 14-year-old girl.

The photographs, which the artist produced in partnership with the historian Zoltán Kékesi, provide a subtle exposé of present-day anti-Semitism in Hungary.

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