Sunday, 24 November 2013

Picture Post 21 - Hungarian art Venice!

Venice by Yekkes
Historical scene, Hungarian pavilion, Venice biennale
In 2010 I visited Venice to attend the Architecture Biennale. As you would expect I saw the major sites - San Marco, the Ghetto, the Rialto and many others, all of them beautiful and all known. I also managed to fall into one of the canals whilst taking a photograph. I saved the camera but ruined my favourite coat and had to walk through the streets of Venice, past the Guggenheim Collection building covered in you know what on the way back to my hotel to get washed and changed. So much for being a sophisticated traveller.

Its a good thing I saved the camera from the water as it contained my pictures of one of Venice's less well known treasures- the Hungarian pavilion from the Biennale site built in 1909. It was one of the first foreign pavilions to be built (Belgium got in first in 1907) and was designed by architect and sculptor Geza Maroti. It is instantly recognisable as a Hungarian design from the beginning of the twentieth century with its arched entry, beautiful multi-coloured ceramic tiles and art nouveau representations of historical events. Following the success of his design for the pavilion, Maroti secured a commission in 1912, to design the glass curtain and dome of the Opera House in Mexico City. Tiffany undertook the manufacture of his curtain design demonstrating the prestige of the commission and the prominence of Hungarian artists during this period. Maroti's also designed the very beautiful and recently restored Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.

Venice by Yekkes
Homage to Balissa Balint, Hungarian pavilion, Venice biennale
Venice by Yekkes
Detail ceramic tiles, Hungarian pavilion, Venice biennale
As well as history, literature is referenced in the decorative elements of the pavilion. Poet, Balint Balassa is commemorated in one of the mosaics. Proficient in at least nine languages he was also quite prolific producing love poems, hymns, martial songs and translating works from other languages into Hungarian.

The mosaics were by none other than Miksa Roth who left an enormous legacy in stained glass in Hungary as well as further afield. Amongst other things he was responsible for the stained glass in the synagogue at Subotica, now in Serbia but formerly in Hungary, as well as the cupola in Mexico City's Opera House, working with Maroti. His Venice mosaics were based on drawings by the artist Aladar Korosfoi Kriesch. Budapest born Korosfoi-Kriesch worked in the art nouveau style and was heavily influenced by Hungarian folklore and history. A key member of an artists colony founded at Godollo in 1903, he was instrumental in reviving the art of weaving in Hungary.

The pavilion was damaged during the Second World War and remained closed until 1958 during which time it was partially reconstructed under the supervision of artist Agost Benkhard but was not fully restored until 1984. The Hungarian is perhaps the most beautiful of all the biennale's pavilions with its exquisite decorative features possibly outshining some of the contemporary items displayed inside. Also worth a look is the modernist pavilion of the former Yugoslavia, now used by Serbia and the Bauhaus influenced Israeli pavilion

Detail, ceramic tiles, Hungarian pavilion, Venice biennale
Venice by Yekkes
Historical figure, Hungarian pavilion, Venice biennale 
For more information on Hungarian art and architecture of this period it is still possible to pick up the beautifully illustrated A Golden Age: Art and Society in Hungary 1896-1914. There is also an excellent website called Budapest Architect which is well illustrated and offers guided architectural walks of the city.

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