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Loránd Bereczky

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Mihály Munkácsy is a well-known and important figure in the history of international art. His personal fate and creative life-course epitomize 20th century modern careers: from manual labour in his youth he soared to the heights of world fame as a painter highly appreciated and much sought after by both professionals and prominent personages of public life. He had to undergo personal and artistic trials, to overcome the personality distorting factors of success and to cope with the burden of fulfilling expectations implying much drudgery. But then, he was highly esteemed and respected by professionals and pupils and he could experience the real joy of success. He did not become a painter by chance. His talent was realized at an early age, and fate drifted him towards an artistic career so unambiguously that even in retrospect his choice of this life-course was self-evident. As a prince of painters, he had a role in the culture political arena and as a Hungarian by choice, he always represented the culture of his native country abroad.

Mihály Munkácsy was an artist who had acquired the mastery of the trade based on its professional legacy and who worked with a conceptual rigour. After the youthful works remarkable for the tackling of technical problems in the first place, the first phase of his lifework is predominated by the dramatic rendering of genre scenes from the life of the Hungarian peasantry. These works are not illustrations or epic narratives, but the visualizations of typical human and social situations. They are perpetuations of emblematic moments of that-time Hungarian society elicted by a thorough knowledge of the reality lived through at home with an authenticity that generated the applause and respect of the art-loving public in Paris, and even in whole Europe, who came to applaud him as the powerful master of realism.

The artist who always worked with strict discipline knew that he had to modify his living conditions to live up to the rank he had achieved within the contemporaneous adjustments of society. Now it is taken for granted that this adaptability did promote the public recognition of his works and his becoming a respected and celebrated master: in a period boiling with exciting artistic movements he was not "outdated" among the "up-to-date" artists due to his professional expertise, the quality of his elaboration of the cultural legacy and his personal charm.

It is an extremely intriguing art historical fact that apart from a monograph written in Hungary in the latter half of the 1950s, no album has been published before about Munkácsy's works, although many essays have been written about him. It is perhaps not exaggerating to say that the lifework as such is not widely known, and that is why the undertaking of Szemimpex publishing office has extraordinary significance. It has ventured to publish a selection from the entire accessible oeuvre in an album for the public to draw on the strength and beauty of the works. It is a special pleasure that the publication was supported by the collector Imre Pákh, and in this way the art works in America could also become public treasure. The Hungarian National Gallery felt naturally obliged to support this initiative.

We sincerely hope that the album will be a source of delight to all those who love and respect Mihály Munkácsy's art and it will attract lots of new fans to the internationally acclaimed oeuvre of this great Hungarian painter.

Loránd Bereczky

Hungarian National Gallery

General Director

 

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