This article contains some basic information about Socialist Realism and politically progressive art in Hungary. I will try to update this as I research more.
The most famous pre-revolutionary music composer was Franz Liszt (1811-1886) who represents perhaps the peak of bourgeois-revolutionary music in Hungary. Liszt was a romantic composer who tried to create a Hungarian national style. As his inspiration in this venture he used the verbunkos, a style of dance music used in military recruitments in Hungary.
An important composer of the early 20th century was Béla Bartók (1881-1945), whose work (such as his symphonic poem “Kossuth” about the 1848 revolution) was progressive and supported national liberation. During the Hungarian Soviet Republic (1919) Bartók was a member of the Musical Directorate. After the revolution was crushed he toured abroad and considered emigration. “Everything is being ruined here”, he wrote in his autobiography. He finally emigrated after Hungary joined WWII on the side of the Nazis.
Right from the beginning Bartók had been inspired by Liszt to create a Hungarian national music and his “Kossuth” is in this style. However, after serious research into Hungarian folk music he realized that although the verbunkos are genuinely Hungarian, they are not really folk music. After conducting serious research among the masses he began using and popularizing folk musical motifs collected from the peasants of Hungary and neighboring countries.
However, due to periods of marginalization and isolation from the people (which he deeply regretted), and foreign emigration, part of Bartók’s work suffered from negative bourgeois influences. He lived during the period when capitalism entered its imperialist stage, and the bourgeois system suffered a serious decline in quality of art which has continued ever since. Bartók’s early goal had been to unite the folk music of the masses with elements from contemporary academic music. He abandoned this project as impossible, and was disturbed by the deepening crisis of bourgeois music.
Bartók’s idea of uniting mass music with classical music had been absolutely correct. However, he didn’t realize that what the contemporary academia considered ‘classical music’ was really decadent capitalist music, which was decaying more and more, and abandoning all principles of art, and all principles of classical music. He understood this only instinctively.
Influential Socialist Realist composers include Endre Székely and Ferenc Szabó. Especially Szabó’s work was of excellent quality, but he lost influence after de-stalinization and the rise of revisionism.
In the realm of popular music and musical entertainment Folk Ensembles were created, such as the Honvéd military Ensemble, the Radio Folk Ensemble, the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble and Rajkó Ensemble, Gypsy Orchestra of the League of Young Communists.
Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849) was a legendary patriotic poet and revolutionary. He was a key leader in the 1848 revolution and is the National Poet of Hungary.
Probably the most important pre-revolutionary Hungarian poet of the 20th century was Endre Ady who wrote patriotic works and Critical Realism.
Politically progressive writers of the 20th century include the likes of narodnik Zsigmond Móricz (1879-1942), who wrote Critical Realism.
However, a superior Socialist Realist type of literature was already emerging. Perhaps the best representative of this new art is Béla Illés (1895-1974). Other socialist realist authors include Antal Hidas, Andor Gábor, Sándor Gergely, László Benjámin, Ferenc Juhász, Péter Kuczka, Sándor Rideg and others. The 1948-54 period represented the peak of Socialist Art in Hungary. The rise of revisionism negatively affected the work of authors, either forcing them out of politics or causing them ideological confusion.
PAINTING AND VISUAL ART
Realism and Critical Realism
The foremost painter of pre-revolutionary Hungary was the Realist Mihály Munkácsy (1844-1900). He painted many masterpieces, most famously the gritty “The Last Day of a Condemned Man”. Near the end of his career he turned towards more political themes and painted “Strike”, a picture of striking workers.
László Mednyánszky (1852-1919) was from a noble background and influenced by impressionism. However, he became disgusted with the aristocracy and began painting Critical Realist works depicting the suffering of ordinary people. During WWI he painted the misery of prisoners of war.
János Nagy Balogh (1874-1919) came from a proletarian background and painted pictures of workers.
Adolf Fényes (1867-1945) painted many Critical Realist works, most famously “The Life of the Poor Man” series. In the Hungarian Soviet Republic he belonged to the “Artistic Executive Committee”. Because of his jewish origin he was forced into the Budapest Ghetto by the Arrow Cross Fascists which seriously undermined his health. He died from illness in 1945.
In pre-revolutionary Hungary the Nagybánya artist colony (founded in 1896) included many leading painters of the time. Its style began with naturalism (which depicts reality metaphysically, as static and with an over-emphasis on unimportant details) and later developed under the influence of impressionism (which sometimes meant progress but soon lapsed into subjectivism especially with the neo-impressionists or “Neos” of Nagybánya) and more abstract styles. The Nagybánya school included elements of the stagnation of bourgeois art, but also trained future artists. By the 20s the school had stagnated and lost relevance. In 1920 the territory was annexed by Romania and the school was closed by Romanian Fascists in 1937.
The French cubist, Italian futurist, German expressionist and other foreign trends were influential in Hungarian bourgeois art for a short period in the 1900s but never took root with the people. They merely represented the crisis of bourgeois art internationally and in Hungary. This is also shown by the fact that although many artists dabbled in these styles they also quickly abandoned them as the styles ended in stagnation and crisis.
“The Eight” (approximately 1909-1918)
The “Eight” group also had contradictory tendencies. Their project represented an attempt to solve the problems of contemporary bourgeois art. The attempt ran into a blind alley, but their work had a progressive influence on the next generation of artists. It was the necessary transitionary step for some artists of bourgeois origin. The “Eight” did not have a unified style, but were influenced by a variety of foreign bourgeois trends. Their ideology was petit-bourgeois radicalism and idealist utopianism. Many of their members are not worth mentioning here as they did not contribute to progressive or socialist art.
A significant early member of the group was Károly Kernstok (1873-1940). Inspired by the Critical Realism of those times, one of his earliest paintings is a realistic picture of a socialist agitator. He also created paintings of workers and peasants (such as “The Plum Pickers”) but these were already impressionistic. Afterwards he veered further and further away from reality. This is when “the Eight” group was created. Kernstok supported the Hungarian Soviet Republic and had to flee Hungary to escape the White Terror.
Bertalan Pór studied at Nagybánya, later joining the Eight. In the course of his career he was able to overcome the bourgeois influences of his early period. During the Hungarian Soviet Republic he was the head of the painting department of the Art Directorate and designed some of the most iconic posters for the revolution. After the revolution he lived in emigration in the Soviet Union. After his return to Hungary in 1948 he changed his style completely, and began producing works of Socialist Realism.
“The Activists” (approximately 1914-1925)
The artists gathered around the magazines “Tett” (“action”) and “MA” (“today” but also short for “Magyar Aktivizmus”) are known as “the activists” . Their style was similar to the Eight and they shared a similar petit-bourgeois outlook.
A member of the activists worth mentioning, Béla Uitz, became a marxist and joined the Hungarian Communist Party. Like many other members of the group he was initially attracted to the ultra-left Proletkult art movement in the USSR. Together with his comrades he split from the activists and created a communist art magazine Egység (1922-24). During the revolution of 1919 he had created posters for the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Most activists had to escape from Hungary after the revolution was crushed by the Horthyists, many emigrated to the USSR. In the USSR Béla Uitz began developing a realistic style focusing on frescoes. He painted frescoes for the Kirghiz Soviet Republic.
Istvan Desi Huber was influenced by post-impressionism but worked in the Labor Movement and tried to develop a socialist style of art. He died in 1944 during the Nazi occupation.
Gyula Derkovits originally followed the post-Nagybánya style but the content of his work made him a forerunner of the Hungarian Socialist Realists. He was a proletarian, and created pictures of proletarians. He joined the Communist Party in 1918. After the mid 1920s he began to discard the formalistic bourgeois influences of his past more and more. In the late twenties he created the “1514” engravings about the Dózsa peasant revolt and in the 30s his true masterpieces “Generations”, “Along the Railway”, “Weaver” and others. Unfortunately his poverty had undermined his health which led to his early death in 1934.
“The Group of Socialist Artists” (1934)
In 1934 the Socialist Artists’ Group was founded. This group did not have a unified method or style, but tried to create a socialist type of art. Painters and visual artists in the group included:
–Endre A. Fenyő (painter who later became famous for Socialist Realism)
–Béla Ban (painter who made some Socialist Realist works but was mainly a surrealist)
–Béla Fekete Nagy (painter who made some realistic works but was mainly influenced by bourgeois styles)
–Andor Sugár (painter who was influenced by Impressionism but made beautiful Socialist Realist works. He died in a German concentration camp)
–Károly László Háy (Socialist Realist graphic artist and set-designer)
–Ernő Berda (anti-fascist and progressive graphic artist)
Socialist Realist visual artists in the Hungarian People’s Republic besides the above mentioned, include the likes of painter Iván Szilárd the famous Sándor Ék and poster artists István Czeglédi, Tibor Bánhegyi and György Konecsni.
Other established painters also took up the new style. For example, still-life painter Anni Gáspár Felekiné received a second degree Munkácsy Award for socialist realist paintings in 1946 and Jenő Benedek and Bernáth Aurél were awarded the Kossuth Prize for their works.
In pre-revolutionary Hungary sculptor Ö. Fülöp Beck followed the bourgeois Art Nouveau trend but produced some realistic works, mainly his bust of Zsigmond Móricz.
Leftist sculptor György Goldmann was the leader of the Socialist Artists’ Group. He died tragically in a Nazi concentration camp.
The important Socialist Realist sculptor László Mészáros also belonged to the Socialist Artists’ Group. Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl was perhaps the most talented Socialist Realist sculptor in Hungary. Sándor Mikus and Pál Pátzay also produced extremely skillful works.
Hungary became famous for its ceramics. The three most important artists in this field were István Gádor, Géza Gorka and Margit Kovács. They helped develop modern ceramics into an art form. Especially Gádor and Gorka were originally influenced by bourgeois styles, but became more and more interested in folk-art, the art of the people. In 1934 Gádor joined the Socialist Artists’ Group and tried to create a united anti-fascist front of artists. The realistic and folk-inspired tendency of these artists only increased over time, but they still worked under considerable economic difficulties. Only when Hungary became a People’s Democracy their art was given full freedom to blossom.
Film reached a high level in Hungary only during the Socialist government. Before that, there barely was a film industry in the country at all. Cinema going doubled from previous figures during the first Five-Year Plan (1950-54) and many collective farms built their own cinemas. Movies were originally produced in beautiful vibrant color but unfortunately the original film prints were later damaged and color degraded over time. They could be restored to their original beauty but naturally the capitalists don’t want to do that.
Socialist Realist films in Hungary were democratic in character: they depicted the lives, challenges and successes of ordinary people. For example, Civil a pályán is a film about football, one of the favorite past times in Socialist Hungary. These films (while not perfect) are both entertaining and democratic, without losing intellectual, political and artistic quality.
Many films were made about Hungarian history. Instead of advocating chauvinism, national hatred or oppression, these films demonstrated the best progressive traditions in the nation’s history. The motto of Socialist Realism is “socialist in content, national in form”. Each country has their own history of heroic class struggle against oppression and exploitation. The film Föltámadott a tenger depicts the 1848 revolution for democracy and national sovereignty of Lajos Kossuth, Rákóczi hadnagya is about Ferenc Rákóczi’s 1703–11 peasant war against the Hapsburg monarchy’s domination of Hungary.
Other Socialist Realist movies include Első fecskék, Ütközet békében, Tűzkeresztség, Teljes gőzzel, Becsület és dicsőség.
Musical and comedy elements were used to create a positive outlook on life and hope in the future. Films also utilized suspense elements to warn about the dangers which the class enemy still poses in the form of criminal sabotage and foreign intervention.
The most important bourgeois architect in Hungary is Miklós Ybl (1814-1891) who worked in the renaissance style. The Ybl Miklós Award for architects was created in 1953.
In capitalist Hungary, architect Máté Major had belonged to the Socialist Artists’ Group. However, he had received a purely bourgeois education which he could never overcome. His work was completely superseded by the newly arising Socialist Realist architects like Emil Zöldy and especially Tibor Weiner.
During socialist construction, talented architects of pre-revolutionary Hungary like Lajos Gádoros, István Janáky, Antal Károlyi, Oszkár Winkler and Gyula Rimanóczy now adopted a Socialist Realist method of work.
The new socialist industrial city of Sztálinváros was built following the principles of Socialist Realism in architecture. This means it was designed to serve the people, following a visual style rooted in the national traditions.
Buildings in Sztálinváros were inspired by largely by Hungarian classicism and decorated by beautiful ornaments. frescoes and mosaics. Particulary Jenő Percz created magnificent mosaic art for the city. Painter Endre Domanovszky designed frescoes. György Szrogh designed the Dózsa Cinema and many nice buildings were designed by István Zilahy. Tibor Weiner was the lead architect and city planner.
Unfortunately this style which represented the peak of Hungarian architecture was entirely abandoned during the revisionist period (the name of the city was also changed to Dunapentele).
Books on the topic:
Hungarian drawings and watercolours by Dénes Pataky (Good book with a lot of information, but is a bit non-political)
Modern Hungarian ceramics by Ilona Pataky Brestyánszky (Very informative, but is too soft on bourgeois art and near the end of the book tries to make excuses why sculpture and ceramics was suffering and becoming bourgeois under revisionism)
Renaissance architecture in Hungary by Feuer-Tóth, Rózsa; Kónya, Kálmán (Lots of information, very non-political)
A Thousand years of Hungarian masterpieces by Dezso Keresztury (Big collection of pictures of art works, non-political)
The art of the Hungarian furriers by Mária Kresz (Book about traditional folk clothing and textiles of Hungary, non-political)
Béla Bartók; his life in pictures and documents by Ferenc Bónis (the book has a lot of information but suffers from lack of marxism)
Old musical instruments by György Gábry (book with pictures and information about musical instruments, mostly in the collection of the Hungarian National Museum, non-political)
Old textiles by Maria Varju-Ember (book with pictures and information about textile works of art, mostly in the collection of the Hungarian National Museum, non-political)