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The Life and Work of Mihály Munkácsy

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The Life and Work of Mihály Munkácsy
Hardships of youth
Attractions of the past
A change of style
Period of Christ paintings
Trip to America and the final drama
All Pages


Mihály Munkácsy is one of the most significant painters of the 19th century. Even today he is regarded as the greatest Hungarian painter by admirers, art historians and collectors of his paintings. Some of his paintings became world sensations as soon as he finished them; he was celebrated by art connoisseurs and the art-loving public of Europe, America and Hungary.

His first significant painting, The Condemned Cell (picture no. 28) (1869-1870) received the gold medal of the Paris Salon. Another, Milton (picture no. 82) (1878), won the gold medal of the World Expo in Paris. His Christ Trilogy was admired by hundreds of thousands of people during its exhibition in Europe and in America. The press at the time followed the artist and reported regularly about his work and success. His works were often purchased immediately from the atelier by wealthy American and European collectors.

Munkácsy’s success continues even today, as his paintings are the most frequently visited works in Hungarian public collections, and are sold at high prices at international art auctions. His good friend, Mihály Zichy, compared Munkácsy’s impact on Hungarian culture to that of the musician Ferenc Liszt, and characterized them as follows: “Both of them [...] acquired great reputation -  The Condemned Cell (picture no. 28), the Christ before Pilate (picture no. 128) and Milton (picture no. 82) remain works of art of imperishable value". From the perspective of posterity, we can say that this and other such predictions proved true.

The outstanding recognition, extraordinary popularity and lasting success of Munkácsy and his works can be partly attributed to the extremes of his life: the depths of struggle and dizzying heights of success; misery and dazzling pomp; depressing solitude and glittering, noisy social life. The joinery apprentice broke out of nameless poverty to become a famous painter, receiving notables of Europe and America in his home. That journey for the artist, however, included much pain and required great effort. He prevailed because of his talent, strength, courage, and his singular focus: creation, with all of its joys and sufferings. He was willing to make any sacrifice to achieve it.

The artist, living only 56 years, nonetheless long captured and fascinated his public. The strength of his early paintings, the simplicity of his vision, the tragic drama of his Christ paintings, the bright colours, airiness of his genre paintings, the elegance of his monumental works won over the connoisseurs and art collectors spoiled by other sensations. The richness of emotions was perhaps their most unique quality of his paintings, from compositions about simple stories to those analyzing great questions of human life.

Munkácsy established the Munkácsy Prize (1883) -- an award of six thousand francs per year -- to help ensure the continued development of artists studying in Paris who had previously acquired basic training. Personally participating in the decision-making process, Munkácsy regarded as most important the development of drawing skill. His only condition was that only finished paintings could be entered, since an artist’s drawing skill cannot be fully determined from sketches. The notice for the prize was announced by the Hungarian National Fine Arts Association in spring every year, and two or three young artists awarded the prize. The Munkácsy Award, established in 1950, is a continuation of this tradition and is given every year to a meritorious artist or an individual working in the field of art.

Munkácsy trained many students, partly at his own cost and partly through their mentors. The most famous among them is József Rippl-Rónai (1861-1927) who, however, turned against the school of his master in 1889.  Also, László Mednyánszky (1852-1919) spent weeks training with Munkácsy, but also chose another artistic approach. Among the followers of Munkácsy’s style are László Pataky (1857-1912), Imre Révész (1859-1945) and Sándor Bihari (1855-1906), who deeply respected him and regarded him as their master. Though not his direct students, Gyula Rudnay (1878-1957) and János Tornyai (1869-1936) are considered proponents of Munkácsy’s approach, emerging in the 20th century.

Hardships of youth


Mihály Munkácsy was born as Mihály Lieb on February 20, 1844 in the town of Munkács, which was in, at that time, the Hungarian Kingdom. The family was of Bavarian origin; his father, Leó Mihály Lieb, was a governmental salt officer, and his mother, Cecília Reök, came from a gentry’s family. The artist began to use the Munkácsy name in 1863, but did not adopt it officially until 1868.

The young Miska was four years old when the storm of the European revolutions arrived in Hungary and later to Munkács. The family first went to Miskolc and later to his mother’s relatives in Cserépváralja to escape from the invading Russians. In his memoirs the painter recalls how dangerous the route was. They were stopped by the kozaks who had found only the mother and five children in the cart, and so let them go.

In Cserépváralja he spent happy times with his four siblings, and later wrote with nostalgia about the playing, childish fun and beautiful countryside. This idyllic life, however, quickly came to an end at age six, when his mother died. His father’s new wife did not want raise children, so Munkácsy and his siblings were given to various relatives in different parts of the country.

Little Mihály was taken in 1851 by his mother’s uncle, István Reök, a lawyer living in Békéscsaba who had left the capital to escape the reprisals after the fight for freedom. It was difficult for him to find work but he nonetheless agreed to raise his nephew. Despite his efforts, however, he could not give the parental love the small boy needed. He rigorously disciplined the child, who did not learn very well. The following year, Munkácsy’s father died.

During the years in Békéscsaba, the child received consolation and affection from his aunt, Jakabné Steiner, who had taken care of Giza, the boy’s younger sister. He spent many happy hours with a family who lived near the Steiners, the Vidovszkys. The Vidovszky boys became his playmates and, later, his friends. But once again, this relatively happy period soon came to an end: the Steiners were attacked by robbers, who beat his aunt so severely that she died of the injuries. Not long after this horrible event Jakab Steiner left Békéscsaba.

This event was a turning point in the life and career of the young Munkácsy, who later wrote of it: “Once [my Uncle] told me: - ‘My son, I cannot afford to provide for your education any more. Anyhow, nowadays it is much better if somebody is an independent, diligent craftsman... Don’t you want to be a joiner?’"

As a 10-year-old child, Munkácsy did not fully understand what this meant for him, so at first he happily accepted the recommendation and, in 1854, István sent him to learn the joinery craft. Although his uncle paid more than usual to the joiner Mihály Langi to ensure better care and training for the child, the master did not meet his oblgations and the boy endured difficult years ahead. He worked fourteen hours a day, yet got almost nothing to eat. His greatest pain, however, was that he could not learn the joinery craft. We know from his recollections that, despite these difficult times, the boy was not angry with his uncle; indeed, they maintained good relations for the rest of Munkácsy’s life.

In 1858, Munkácsy received the master document in joinery and went to work in Arad, where again he fell into very difficult circumstances. He was employed by a joiner, Albrecht, but he earned only enough for his accommodations, and nothing was left for food.  The youth became seriously ill due to inadequate nourishment. In 1860, he returned to his uncle who, at that time, lived in Gyula.

During his convalescence in his uncle’s home, the Munkácsy boy drew a great deal. His works were greatly appreciated by his uncle, who contacted a local professor of drawing and the painter of the Vienna Academy, Karl Fischer. Through him, Munkácsy became acquainted with Elek Szamossy (1826-1888), a wandering portrait painter with an Academic diploma who found Munkácsy talented, and so took him as a student.

During the next year and a half, Szamossy taught the boy not only the basics of drawing and painting, but also history, literature, and mythology. They travelled all over the country together, visiting Count Zselinszky in Arad, the art collector Zsigmond Ormos in Buziás, and the family of Count Karácsony in Beodra. These years proved to be very important for the intellectual development of the young Munkácsy.

In 1863, he returned to Békéscsaba. There he painted his first oil paintings, the Feather pulling woman and the Letter reading. Szamossy, his teacher and parental patron who followed his development, believed that the young assistant should continue his studies.

In 1863, with the commendation of Szamossy, Munkácsy went to Pest where he contacted Pál Harsányi (1806-1883), Secretary of the National Association of Fine Arts, and Antal Ligeti (1823-1890), Director of the Art Gallery of the National Museum. Ligeti supported him as a friend and teacher, and encouraged him to copy the illustrations in the papers, mainly the folk genre paintings of Mihály Szemlér (1833-1904) and Károly Lotz (1833-1904). Thus, young Munkácsy gained his first technical painting skills through two masters of folk genre who worked in the emotional and pictorial aspects of classic Romanticism, with Lotz as the more romantic influence, and Szemlér the more humorous. Munkácsy’s works of that time – the Fabling soldier, the Maize puffing and the Wicked of the village – represent these influences well.

In 1864, at age 20, Munkácsy went to Pécs and prepared the portraits of his still living relatives, Irén Reök (picture no. 4), Gabriella Reök (picture no. 5), and Sarolta. In 1865, with the support of his patrons and a scholarship from the Association of Fine Arts, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. His professor was Karl Rahl (1812-1865), whom he deeply respected. He was, however, most influenced by The Magician, by the German artist Ludwig Knaus (1829-1910), and by the paintings and friendship of János Jankó (1833-1896), Biedermeier folk genre painter. A half year later, after the death of Rahl, he had to leave the Vienna Academy as he was unable to pay the higher tuition fee. Nonetheless, his skills in creating composition developed a great deal during this short period of time. This is well demonstrated by Reading in the village (picture no. 15) and, even more remarkably, by Easter watering (picture no. 12), with its dynamic composition and robust humour, which were unusual in Hungarian folk genre paintings.

In 1866 he came to Pest to treat a severe eye illness. Thanks to the successful therapy of Ignác Hirschler (1823-1891), an eye specialist, the young artist recovered quickly. To express his gratitude and as a payment, he gave the doctor Kettle spilled (picture no. 22).

In November 1866 – again with the support of Antal Ligeti – he enrolled at the Academy in Munich. His teacher was the Hungarian Sándor Wágner (1838-1919), but a professor of the Academy, Wilhelm Kaulbach (1805-1874), and a landscape painter, Eduard Schleich (1812-1874), made the greatest impression on him. Of Munkácsy’s works here, the Flood (picture no. 23) was the most outstanding due to its portrayal of diverse characters. In the composition of Watering and especially Storm in the puszta (picture no. 24), we can see how Munkácsy used the contrasts of dark and light colours to express the atmosphere.

During his studies in Munich, Munkácsy travelled to Pest where he received a commission from the Editor-in-Chief of  Vasárnapi Újság, Viktor Szokoly (1835-1913), in October 1867, to prepare illustrations for Honvédalbum (Album of Soldiers), which was  intended to evoke the memory of the 1848-49 revolution and fight for freedom. Munkácsy prepared three drawings: Battlefield of Isaszeg (picture no. 20), Transport of prisoners and Recruitment of new soldiers. The latter was painted in a second version of the title, Recruitment (picture no. 75).

1867 brought a crucial changed to Munkácsy’s life: he received a scholarship which led him to Paris and the World Expo, where he got acquainted with the works of the French realistic painters, Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) and Gustave Courbet (1819-1877).  After returning to Munich, he left the Academy and became friends with the German realistic painter, Wilhelm Leibl (1844-1900) and, inspired by him, decided to go  to Düsseldorf to continue his studies.

For years, Munkácsy had been longing to go to Düsseldorf because of Ludwig Knaus, the Professor of the Academy of the city. As noted above, in Vienna, Munkácsy saw Knaus’ painting, The Magician, portraying a card sharper in the middle of a small group. According to his friends, Munkácsy he was impressed by the work, in particular most likely, the emotional diversity and technical quality.

Attractions of the past



In October 1868, at age 24, Munkácsy arrived in Düsseldorf. The natural beauty of the town attracted painters, and its colony of artists at that time was as large as that of Munich. The special style of the Academy, referred to as the “school of Düsseldorf,” also was a draw, characterized by a more natural and simple portrayal of reality compared to styles at the classic academies. In addition, a dominating feature was the portrayal of multi-colour-tinged psychological representations, best expressed by the multi-figure genre paintings.

Knaus amicably accepted the young painter and undertook his education. The first genre Munkácsy painted here was the Yawning apprentice, which shows a yawning apprentice just rising from bed and stretching himself. The work, which was unfortunately destroyed and is known only from reproductions, well demonstrates the effect of the German genre painting, telling anecdotes and jokes. The study of the head of the yawning apprentice (picture No. 34.) was prepared from the painting. The head, free of adornments and idealization, represents the haggard face of a fatigued young man, one who perhaps has emerged from the less cheerful memories of his youth. The preparation of the picture, perhaps, gave impetus to the young painter who – as is clear from his letters – was dissatisfied with himself and feverishly looked for further direction.

At this time, Munkácsy formulated the idea of Condemned cell (picture No. 28.). He prepared a sketch of the picture and showed it to his teacher.  Knaus felt, however, that his young student was not sufficiently prepared for the realization of such a task and tried to dissuade him from continuing the work.  This infuriated and exasperated Munkácsy, and – perhaps in addition to his desire to prove himself – motivated him to paint the picture.  With the burden of financial problems, due largely to the costs of models, Munkácsy asked for money from Antal Ligeti who, as so many times before, helped him.

During his period of work on Condemned cell (picture No. 28.), Munkácsy travelled to Munich, where he again saw the works of the French realist, Courbet. After returning to Düsseldorf, he finished the Condemned cell (picture No. 28.) in autumn of 1869. The picture is the elaboration of the highwayman’s theme, which was well known and popular at the time and which the painter had dealt with earlier: poor young boys escaping the military draft to the puszta and hiding, living according to their own laws and robbing wealthy men. Only the poor village people sympathized with them, though sympathy grew after the suppression of the war of independence of 1848-1849, when many young men joined the highwaymen to avoid enlistment in the Habsburg imperial army or reprisals. Thus, the painting’s theme included political references, and garnered public attention and interest.

The painting’s greatest success, however, was the method of the theme’s elaboration. The highwayman, condemned to death and sitting in the dark prison, is surrounded by village people who are surprised and shocked, their emotions expressed by their miens, gestures, movements. The variety of the psychological representation, the contrast of the dark and light colours, and the graphic representation of the spiritual struggle of the highwayman had great effect, both on the professional art community and the general public.  This method of representation, rich in emotion, was unusual in paintings of that period; it, along with Munkácsy’s skillful use of realism, brought him success. In his letters he proudly wrote that the behaviour of the art dealers changed and everyone, even the most critical professors, became much more pleasant to him.

íHe HeBüszkén The final picture also received the approval of Knaus: he encouraged the painter to send it to the gallery of the most dignified exhibition in Europe, the Salon of Paris, which Munkácsy did in 1870. He happily wrote to his main supporter, Antal Ligeti: “I just received a telegram from Paris, informing me that the jury awarded one of the gold medals to my painting…” The professional success was accompanied by a financial one, too, when the Condemned cell (picture No. 28.) was purchased directly from the atelier by an American billionaire collector, William P. Wilstack. Later the picture went from his widow to the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, and then, via purchase a hundred years later, to Hungary.

As a result of the attention and award for the Condemned Cell (Picture No. 28.), Mukacsy, at age 26, became the most recognized painter in Paris.  The art dealer of Paris, Goupil, immediately visited him in Düsseldorf, where he purchased a number of Munkácsy’s paintings and ordered more. He was the first to encourage Munkácsy to move to Paris. However, the Prussian-French war broke out in the summer of 1870, and the city became full of German soldiers, French prisoners of war, and Belgian and German refugees.  Under the influence of the war-time atmosphere, Munkácsy painted Linen shredders (Picture No. 44.), the central figure of which is a tired soldier who tells his experiences to the girls and women making lint and knitting for the wounded men.

After completing the picture, Munkácsy was approached by a French aristocrat, Baron De Marches and his wife. Through a good friend of the couple, László Paál, they got acquainted with each other at a dinner organized by a French colonel. The pleasant evening was followed by many meetings also in Düsseldorf, and Munkácsy promised to visit them.

In January, 1871, Munkácsy arrived in Paris and, as he had promised, contacted the De Marches couple. They found an atelier for Munkácsy, helped him in everyday matters, and invited him – with the war still underway – to their castle near Luxemburg, in Colpach. Although Munkácsy did not have financial troubles, as his contract with the art dealer Goupil was still in place, he nevertheless anguished about other’s expectations of him, and whether he could repeat the success of the Condemned cell (Picture No. 28.). His state of mind is well reflected by the lines he wrote to his patron: “Oh, I think much it is much more difficult to maintain the grounded reputation, than to gain it [...] to prolong the accidental luck for a whole life [...] I have to devote all my energies to that. Thus, I will do that, because the terrible thoughts of decline are standing in front of me as a gigantic monster really disturbing sometimes even my dreams." His lack of self-assurance and skepticism of his own talent were exacerbated by Goupil’s criticizism of Returning home of the drunkard husband (Picture No. 41.), which Munkácsy painted for him but then, largely because of his criticism, destroyed.

With Munkácsy in his catastrophic state of mind, Baron De Marches tried to help the artist by inviting him to his estate in Colpach. Here, however, his condition became so much worse that he attempted suicide by jumping from one of the upstairs windows. However, his wounds were not serious, so he quickly recovered. The quiet environment and the affectionate solicitude slowly rekindled his passion for life and creative instinct and, in the course of 1872-73, he painted more pictures. At that time he finished the Farewell and the Churning woman (Picture No. 48.). Both of them are intimate genre paintings of two figures, lyrical in tone, painted with somber colours of realism. The force of character painting, the real strength of his art, are the best expressed by the main figure of the Churning woman (Picture No. 48.)  The face of the woman, her look and tired bearing, and the wretched environment, rouse the feeling of hopelessness and despair.

In 1873, five of Munkácsy’s works were exhibited at the World Expo of Vienna. In the fall of that year, at the invitation of his friend László Paál, Munkácsy travelled to Barbizon, famous for its colony of artists. Here he painted the Woman carrying faggots (Picture No. 60) which reflects, in its lyrical realism and intimate view of nature, the influence of the great master and greatest artist of the colony, Jean-François Millet.

In Colpach, Munkácsy began to paint his multi-figured pictures. In the Nightly vagabonds (Picture No. 92.), the characters – big-city vagabonds appearing at early dawn and the city’s poor watching them – could have been based on those from his very difficult youth. He finished the picture that year and, in 1874, was working on the Pawn office, also a genre of many figures.  The hopeless situation of impoverished city have-nots is well represented by the multi-colour-tinged character painting. The final version went to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, but was later sold. Its completion was preceded by a number of excellent studies which can be treated as independent pictures, for instance, Mother with child (Picture No. 51.), Man in gown (Picture No. 56.), and Before the Alms-box (Picture No. 55.). The model of a number of his paintings, such as the Girl at the well (Picture No. 62.), was one of the maid servants of the house of De Marches.

The year 1873 also brought an important change for Munkácsy: his patron, Baron De Marches, died. His widow, Cecile Papier, continued to support the painter, especially in difficult times. Since first becoming acquainted in 1871, she and Munkácsy were bound by warm friendship. In the second half of 1873, he wrote intimate letters to Cecile and, after the mourning time, he married her on August 5, 1874. The young married couple went on a long honeymoon.  They spent some weeks in Switzerland, and later in Northern Italy. From Venice through Vienna, they travelled to Budapest, where they were received with great celebration. They received numerous invitations for visits, but hurried to Békéscsaba, because Munkácsy missed painting. His uncle and tutor, István Reök, offered him a small studio.

Upon their arrival, Munkácsy immediately went to work. His wife remembered this as follows: ”The first two weeks in  Csaba served for us for a good relaxation. [...] But Miska began to work feverishly. He almost finished two landscapes, these were enough to pay the costs of our journey. After that he began to paint studies to his next great painting." These pictures are mentioned in the literature as Maizefield (Picture No. 61.), the Hero of the village (Picture No. 70.), and the Dusty Road.

The Dusty Road is known in two versions; we do not know which was completed in 1874 versus later. The basic motive of both is the spectacle of the dust-cloud whirled up by a cart and of the sunlight filtering through it. On the DustyRoad I.(Picture No. 161.), the cart, horses and their drivers are more concretely delineated, and can be seen more prominently. In Dusty Road II. (Picture No. 162.), the whole picture becomes a pink-and-yellow vision, an atmospheric wonder that recalls the memory of pictures of the English artist, William Turner (1775-1851). The two paintings occupy a unique and special place in the lifework of the artist, since Munkácsy never painted other pictures similar to them. Their existence proves that the painter was thinking about the problems of light. With the two paintings, he approached plain air solutions and impressionism, expressing air and light effects, but from which he separated himself both in writing and in words.

A change of style



In the winter of 1874, Munkácsy and his wife returned to Paris and rented a luxurious palace under Rue Legendre no. 6, in Parc Monceau. From the cordial letters of the painter to his wife it is apparent that he stayed alternately in Paris and Colpach.  He used the provincial castle with its beautiful park for relaxation, and the palace in Paris for work and social life. The splendor and elegance of receptions every Thursday regularly engaged the press and notables of Paris and Europe.

The marriage undoubtedly brought great changes to his life and influenced his art as well. He tried to support the costly new life in the palace by selling his painting and former pictures and reproductions of his works. In 1877, he wrote to his childhood friend János Vidovszky that furnishing their new home involved so much time and trouble that he could not deal with painting. Sometimes there were difficulties in selling the former pictures. This saddened him and exacerbated his anguish. “I relapse into my nightmares and I frankly say that I am not happy at all," he wrote in 1877 to his wife.

The reason for anguish was, however, not only the fear from existential backsliding. Munkácsy instinctively felt he arrived at a turning point in his art; the new way of life also produced a need for change in the artistic style and theme. This transformation, however, did happen immediately. Among his works from 1875 to 1877, we still see numerous folk genres prepared with the well-known elements of realism – in dark basic tones, albeit perhaps more lyrical. In 1875, he finished the Hero of the village (Picture No. 70) – which he began in Békéscsaba – and completed his genre painting, the Two families (1876). Later he finished the Maiden with tray (Picture No. 89.) (1876), a portrait based on contrasting dark and light colours. The multi-figured genre continued as well. In 1875, he painted the School of Colpach (Picture No. 67.), and in 1877, his lyrical work with a somewhat melancholic tone, Recruiting (Picture No. 75.). Thus, it was not easy to escape the past, though these works also demonstrate that the dramatic power characterizing the Churning woman (Picture No. 48.), the Condemned cell (Picture No. 28.) and even the Nightly vagabonds (Picture No. 92.) considerably weakened.

Munkácsy felt this and took the first steps towards change. In 1875, he painted portraits of his wife. TheIn Hat (Picture No. 76.) and Woman with muff directly preceded the sketches made for In the Atelier  (Picture No. 98.). In the Atelier (Picture No. 98.) was finished in 1876 after some studies, and was the overture of the new style and period. The painting represents his studio, the furniture of which was often admired by his friends and guests. An easel is standing in front of the splendid fireplace, and the artist is standing before it, looking with concern at the painting. Next to him is his wife who views the work as well. Both of them are elegantly dressed, fitting better with the trappings of their environment than with the work.  The interesting part of the picture is the little girl sitting behind the easel and who may be a memory from the past or, according to other interpretations, a pipe-dream of the family. In any case, she has symbolic meaning, as does the composition, representing the end of a period of about 10 years and the beginning of a new one. He presented the painting in 1876 at.

Munkácsy did not paint any other folk genre works after 1878. The most remarkable sign of the change was that his palette became more coloured. He changed the former sombre colour world into one filled with light -- the blues, reds, whites and their shades were in full radiance on the canvases. Beginning in 1877, a new artistic form appeared in his life-work: the civil genre picture, which is referred to in the artistic literature as “salon-pictures.” He painted these for orders, making no secret of their purpose: to cover the maintenance costs of his palace and life filled with receptions and evening parties. Munkácsy’s practical wife, also blessed with very good organizing abilities, presumably was pleased with and attached financial hopes to the new style. However materialistic Cecile was, it likely was not she who hastened the speed and immensity of work required of the artist’s new way of life. Rather, based on correspondence and other sources, it appears Munkácsy, with his permanent fear of impecunity, drove himself.

A 10-year contract beginning in 1878 with Charles (Karl) Sedelmeyer, an art dealer of Paris and of Austrian origin (he had contacted American art collectors the year before) helped solve money problems. Though financially very beneficial, the contract impeded Munkácsy’s artistic development, since it required he adjust the theme and style of his pictures to the demands of the public and art dealers. A number of famous European and American art collectors bought 17 Munkácsy pictures between 1879 and 1882. Most were salon pictures and still lifes; they went immediately after preparation to Sedelmeyer, who resold them at considerable prices.  That is why a significant part of the life-work of the painter – approximately half – can be found in various public and private collections of the world.

The salon pictures show us a colourful and bright world – especially in works between 1877 and 1880.  They represent indoor scenes with the background, in many cases, the elegant studio of Munkácsy. In general, the scenes depict elegantly dressed young women and children, social and family events, piano-playing, the dalliance of young married couples, and children playing with animals.

Munkácsy’s first salon picture is the Paris Interior (Picture No. 91.), made in 1877. This was followed by Before the piano, then The baby’s visitors (Picture No. 95.) and the Afternoon visit.  He painted these in different versions. At that time, another version of the genre picture appeared, one that incorporated landscape. One of the most representative pieces of this is Peacocks, on which the genre element is evident. However, in the Washwomen (Picture No. 173.), and the Walk in the forest (Picture No. 78.), the landscape is even more dominant.

In addition to genre and landscape pictures, Munkácsy also worked on portraits. In addition to excellent ones of his wife, he completed the characteristic Portrait of Charles Sedelmeyer (Picture No. 116.) and the portrait of his friend, László Paál (Picture No. 77.) which, with its particular view -- a rear view half profile – represents with amazing accuracy the friend painter’s sensitive and deeply depressed frame of mind over his serious illness and slow but inexorable departure from this earthly world. 

The landscapes and portraits provided some variety for Munkácsy, but did not fill the emptiness left by the termination of the folk genre. A suitable thematic for the expression of higher feelings, thoughts and symbols was missing.

Munkácsy turned to the writings of the great poets for fertile inspiration. Initially he read Faust of Goethe, for which he made also a sketch. This remained, however, only an idea for a picture, after he saw the Milton study of Thomas B. Maculay (1800-1859). The struggle of the great English poet of the 17th century with blindness, loneliness and death inspired the painter’s creative energies, and his own poor health condition contributed to him finding the theme.

The syphilis he contracted in his youth broke out again, and he became consumed by headaches and nightmares. Even his wife, however, did not recognize his critical condition. In her misunderstanding and his desperate insistence on work, she anguished him with jealousy. It seems from his letters to friends and to his wife that Munkácsy felt ill and lonesome. It is therefore understandable that he turned with interest to the destiny and personal tragedy of Milton. The theme was popular among painters, since E. D. Delacroix (1798-1863, French), François Cautaerts (1810-1881, Belgian), and Soma Orlai Petrich (1822-1880, Hungarian) had already painted it, however, we do not know whether Munkácsy had seen any of these paintings. It was rather his spiritual and emotional state that led him to the theme.

The first sketches were prepared in 1877, but a year went by until the completion of the final version. In the meantime several figure studies were made of the work. Among them, the most successful are Eva (picture No. 86.) and the standing figure of a girl,  Judit (picture No. 85.). However, the most expressive is the Study head of Milton (Picture No. 84.). It shows most perceptively the power and human dignity of a creative man struggling with illness and the fear of death, and the ability to defeat them. The final version of Miltonthe Real (Picture No. 82.) was completed in April, 1878. Hearkening to the multi-figured genre, the painting utilizes shaded and sensitive character-painting, especially in representing characters’ relationships to each other. Eva writes the words of her father, her face showing attention and respect; Judith listens to her father with affection. Rachel plies her needle, however the beauty of the poem – The lost Paradise – has an influence also on her because she, setting aside the sewing and with a gesture, reacts to what she hears. All these are linked to the fine representation of the central character of the poet.

The combination of a serendipitous choice of subject, compositional elegance, shaded character and bright colours encased in a dark base tone brought world success to Munkácsy.  He wanted to give the picture after its completion in April, 1878, to Goupil, with whom he still had a valid contract, but the art dealer did not accept it due to financial difficulties. Sedelmeyer, who had made an offer for the painting during the work phase, accepted it with pleasure and immediately exhibited it at the World Exhibition in Paris. The work achieved tremendous success, winning the gold medal of the exhibition and receiving positive reviews from art critics. Sedelmeyer sold Milton in New York, to Robert Lenox Kennedy, who took the work first to a European tour and later placed it in the library founded by his brother, James Lenox (1800-1880), and is now the New York Public Library, where the painting remains today. In the course of a series of celebrations, Munkácsy received the Vaskorona (Iron Crown) Order and nobility document from the ruler of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy, Ferenc József I. 



Period of Christ paintings



During the European tour of  Milton (Picture No. 82.), Munkácsy took the opportunity to visit several great museums in London, Vienna and Munich. At that time he was already occupied by another subject, the selection of which Sedelmeyer was of great help. He had given Munkácsy the book, Life of Jesus, published in 1863 by the French author Ernest Renan (1823-1892). The main feature of the book is that Renan describes Jesus – depriving him of his divine power – as a struggling, suffering man, capable of dying for the truth. The theme was extremely popular at that time; thanks to the book of Renan, we can find among painters who pursued the subject the Russian A. A. Ivanov (1806-1858), the French Gustav Doré (1832-1883) and the Hungarian Mihály Zichy (1827-1906). It is also possible, however that Munkácsy’s idea for the Christ picture originated from the novel, Anna Karenina of Lev Tolstoi (1828-1910), particularly from the scene where Anna and her lover, count Vronszkij, admire the “realistic” Christ picture of a new interpretation of the painter, Mihajlov. The episode from the Tolstoi novel could have come to Sedelmeyer through the Russian artist, M. M. Antokolszkij (1843-1902), who appeared in the environment of Munkácsy and who himself produced a Christ-sculpture of similar interpretation.

Munkácsy made the first sketches in summer 1880, and followed them with numerous figure studies. In his atelier in Paris he worked feverishly on the picture and regularly wrote to Cecile relaxing in Colpach; he reported about the progress of his work, and about his feelings and health condition. His feverish, self-abandon is well described by one of his students and painter-companion, the German Fritz von Uhde (1848-1911): “[…] he run into the work infuriated, with fire. - […] with rolled up shirt-sleeve, he was running to and fro, till finally […] bare-handed he grasped into the paint and formed the picture in more and more wide spots." Munkácsy hired models for the composition; among them, we know of Cesare Leonardi (Jesus) and Nikole Demario (standing Jew). One of his good friends, De Suse, photographed the composed scene in September, 1880.

Notwithstanding Munkácsy’s feverish enthusiasm for working on the painting, he did not complete in time for the opening of the Salon of Paris in spring 1881. He was hindered by sadness and tragic events. His newly-born child died, and fire broke out in their palace in the last phase of the work. The leaders of the Salon were strict, and did not accept the delayed submission of the picture. Sedelmeyer, however, came to the aid of Munkácsy and exhibited the work in his own palace. It was a tremendous success, visited by several thousand people every day. By comparison, the Salon Exhibition was an insignificant event.

In Christ before Pilate (Picture No. 128.), Munkácsy presents a tripartite conflict: the conflict of Christ, Pilate and the accusing Pharisees. The figure of Christ symbolizes the man taking the cross and death for the truth; and Pilate represents the hesitating and influencable power. The moral message manifests in the characterization of the two and of the crowd; the tension and drama between the opponents takes place here. The essence of the scene is interpreted by the figures – accusing, shouting, rejoicing or just watching with sympathy. In contrast to those expressing these various and volatile emotions, the figures of Christ and Pilate appear as a counterpoint – their placement, white clothing, and quiet pose accentuate contrast from the crowd, emphasizing the two main characters on the intellectual battlefield.

The papers published in Paris in May and June featured many appraisals of the painting. Journalists, historians, and clergymen expressed very positive opinions. Even Renan himself expressed his appreciation: “That is my Christ,” he declared. Munkácsy explained that he “wanted to portray God appearing as a human figure”. The picture achieved success among the public and art experts alike. Munkácsy was described as the greatest living artist, a master ranking with Michelangelo and Rembrandt. On June 22, 1881 a banquette was organized in the honour of Munkácsy in the Hotel Continental of Paris; many painters, sculptors and the notables of the musical world appeared. The picture was viewed by three thousand people through October that year.

Toward the end of 1881, Sedelmeyer prepared for a European tour, and from 1882 to 1885, the work was exhibited in Vienna, Budapest, various cities in England and Germany, Warsaw, Brussels and Amsterdam. It achieved enormous success everywhere it appeared. Franz Josef ennobled Munkácsy in Budapest with the Stephan small cross. In February 1882 a series of celebrations began in his honour in Budapest. The picture was exhibited in the former Art Gallery of Pest, which was transformed into a real church. At the dinner organized in the ceremonial hall of Hotel Hungaria, the painter received an ovation together with Ferenc Liszt.  Munkácsy, who often and with pleasure whistled in friendly society, here performed it with well known Hungarian songs – for which he was praised also by Liszt. The evening party was in the banquet hall of the Art Gallery, where participants appeared in elegant dress. Munkácsy wore a copy of the costume of the famous painter, Peter Paul Rubens. In the course of the celebrations, the artist was awarded honorary citizenship of Budapest; he received this later from the city of Munkács, too.

In 1881, Munkácsy began to continuously work on his second Christ picture, Golgotha (Picture No. 151.).  In all likelihood, Arnold Ipolyi (1823-1886) and Lajos Haynald (1816-1891), archbishop of Kalocsa, persuaded him to continue the theme. He prepared sixteen studies for the picture, among them one about the dead Christ and the Pharisees, which he titled Shocked. Some of the studies can be accepted as individual pictures.

Golgotha (Picture No. 151)continues the basic concept of Christ before Pilate (Picture No. 128.). Christ is the martyr of passionately seeking truth, and accuses also in his death. The stirred up sentiments are represented expressively by the mourners and the crowd. The faces, gestures and the movements demonstrate real drama and true tragedy. The crowd offered the painter the opportunity to show a variety of characters. For the scene, which takes place in the open, he created an emotional element in painting the sky. The figures are connected to each other with movement and gestures, strengthening the dramatic total effect. One of the greatest virtues of the picture is the multitude of expressive emotions and sentiments. A. Wurzbach wrote in the paper, Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung, ”[...] since the Nightly patrol of Rembrandt the Crucifixion, or rather Golgotha it is the most exceptional artistic work and for 222 years art has never produced such a third picture, which could be compared to these two ones, maybe just with the exception of Christ before Pilate of Munkácsy."

In working on the painting, Munkácsy hired models for the characters, and had them dressed up and photographed. Since he could not find a model for the figure of the crucified Christ, he had himself bound up onto a crucifix and photographed.  He gathered weapons, dresses, and even obtained a stuffed horse for painting the mounted figure. As one of his biographers, Dezső Malonyai  (1866-1916), wrote: “He got down to work with glorious preparations [...] he gathered a whole stock for the painting of the suits [...]. the press of Europe and America followed what he was doing. His models were interrogated hastily."

The show organized in Sedelmeyer’s palace in April 1884 was not less spectacular. All this was such a great sensation that even Maupassant (1850-1893) immortalized the event in his novel Beau (Szépfiú), using a pseudonym.  “At that time the whole city streamed towards the great painting of a Hungarian painter Károly Markovics, which was exhibited at the art expert Jaques Lenoble and which showed Christ walking on the waves. The most enthusiastic critics recognized this canvas as the most magnificent masterwork of the century." The display of the picture in the Art Gallery of Budapest was a great success as well.

Between 1882 and 1885, Sedelmeyer exhibited the two Christ pictures in various European cities, and was especially well received in England. The papers wrote particularly about the exhibition in Manchester, where a parish also preached. The profit was so great – although both the Austrian and French governments offered $100-150,000 for the pictures – that Sedelmeyer did not sell them, hoping for further profits. Of course, Munkácsy also benefited from the income, both from the purchase price and a percentage of the entrance fees.

For Munkácsy, the Biblical theme not only represented a new approach, but also a production that dazzled his public. Sedelmeyer – his manager and art dealer – also promoted both the preparation and presentation of Munkácsy’s work as events. Based on discussions and assessments, another new theme was born, the Death of Mozart, which was finished in 1886.  In finding the theme, Munkácsy was inspired by the enchanting music of Mozart. He wanted to perpetuate the well-known Mozart legend, according to which the composer breathed his last during the rehearsal of Requiem. The idea also came from the composition of an American painter, Thomas W. Shiedels (1849-1920). In the figure of the composer, Munkácsy wanted again to portray the figure of the suffering man, struggling with illnesses and death, being full of creative energy but no longer capable to develop his talent. All these can well be seen in the composer’s figure, faint posture and the tragic expression of his face. The interior and especially the bright colours remind us of the colourful world of the salon pictures.

The work, like all of Munkácsy’s greater compositions, was preceded by numerous smaller pencil and colour studies, as well as thorough preparations. Munkácsy bought furniture specifically for this purpose, with which he furnished one of the corners of his atelier. A small orchestra and singers were hidden behind the painting and were singing Motzar’s Requiem. The critics however, condemned the idea and thus the picture as well. But the real reason for the poor reception was the breakthrough of modern painting trends. The public began to turn away from artists of the romantic-historical approach. After its completion, the painting went to America and can be found there today.

The extraordinary work capacity and activity of Munkácsy is evidenced not only the exceptional painting productions – which sometimes engaged him for almost a complete year – but also by his work in other artistic fields. His landscapes at this time can even be regarded as relaxations, bright evidence of his realistic way of seeing things mixed sometimes with romanticism, and of his talent.  His wife’s estate in Colpach served as a theme for his numerous landscapes. The pictures Moonrise (Picture No. 143), Homewards (Picture No. 142), and Landscape at twilight (Picture No. 107.) were made there. The most spectacular and having the greatest variety of colour is Grazing cattle (Picture No. 141.), which was made for the Golgotha as a study. Also, his two landscapes considered as main works, the Park of Colpach (Picture No. 183.) and the Alley (Picture No. 190), were made during his work on the Death of Mozart, in 1886.

Both are wonderful expressions of impressionism – with all the beauties of the realistic, naturalistic vision and also the portrayal of plain air.  Munkácsy achieved all this by presenting light glimmering through the dense foliage, then glittering on the trunk of the trees. While he painted the landscapes mainly for his own pleasure or as studies, the salon pictures served invariably as a source of income. The Small sugar thief, Small pianist, Honeymoons, Toilette of Venus, Sleeping Grandpa (Picture No. 179.) and Greyhound (Picture No. 147.) are considered as the most spectacular scenes in the usual interior, while the Three ladies in the park (Picture No. 182) and Chat in the forest are examples of the social pictures placed into the landscape.

As a “by product” to the salon pictures, numerous still lifes were made as independent works. Among them, Still life with flower  (Picture No. 121.) and Flower piece with jug (Picture No. 200.), were painted in Colpach in 1881. These paintings excel with their spontaneous picturesque and natural scenes. In addition to these, he continuously made autographed copies of his former pictures to meet market demands. Reproductions were made of the Hero of the village (Picture No. 72.), Pawn office and the two Christ pictures.

Trip to America and the final drama



1886 marks a number of important events in the life of Munkácsy. Although criticism became stronger with the presentation of the Death of Mozart, the painter became increasingly occupied with social life.

One of the most important events was the evening party on March 23rd, in honour of Ferenc Liszt (1811-1886). Cecile wrote about the splendid celebration in one of her letters sent to her parents: “How wonderful it was to see this great very old man, with his long white hair at the piano, through which he enchanted the whole world. The whole hall stood up, the enthusiasm was indescribable. Miska and Liszt embraced each other with deep  affection [...] This was the triumphant celebration of two great Hungarian artists."

The couple spent every evening with the composer. The papers reported on the evening party and published photos in which, next to Liszt, notables of the French music life can be seen, e.g., Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) and Charles François Gounod (1818-1893). The Mass of Esztergom of Liszt was presented in the church Saint Eustache on the 25th March. Later, 7000 people celebrated the performance of the Legend of Saint Elisabeth and its composer. The last great concert of Liszt was in Brussels on the 19th July. Two weeks later the composer died in Weimar.

The Munkácsy couple spent the summer in Colpach where, in addition to Liszt, they also invited Lajos Haynald, archbishop of  Kalocsa. Munkácsy had previously painted his portrait (Picture No. 176.) in 1884. In her letters, Cecile mentioned that her husband was working on the Portrait of  Ferenc Liszt (Picture No. 175.), which he made in two copies. These two portraits are outstanding examples of the character-painting skill of the artist and his sense for monumentality and representation.

1886 held one more important event for Munkácsy, one that changed his life and greatly influenced his work.  In the summer of that year, Sedelmeyer visited his atelier with American art dealers in connection with the American tour of the Christ pictures and of other works made later. About this he reported to the press, “... an obligatory gratitude is due to America, the patrons of art of which country recognized the first the genius of the artist. If we consider Hungary his native land, and France his artistic home, America be will more and more the permanent home of his works."

The expectations in connection with America were clearly realized, as Munkácsy’s name was already well-known by patrons of art and the art-collecting public, though his pictures also played a role. As noted above, the Condemned cell (Picture No. 28.) had been in America since 1870, and the Milton the Real (Picture No. 82.) since 1878. Beginning in 1877, with the help of Sedelmeyer, his paintings have continuously been acquired by such famous American art-collectors as A. J. Antelo, William Astor, Henry G. Marquand, Jay Gould, August Belmont, Henry G. Gibson (Philadelphia), H. B. Hurblut (Cleveland), Russel A. Alger (Detroit), and Potter Palmer (Chicago). The study of John R. Tait published in The American Art Review in April, 1881 played an important role in making Munkácsy known in America. In the study, he described the life of Munkácsy and published the list of his works to be found in America. Articles were published about him in the columns of Baltimore Sun, The New York Herald and among others in The American Register.

Munkácsy arrived in America on November 15th, 1886 and was welcomed as a prince. He was received on the French ocean liner by a welcoming committee, who went by chartered steamship to greet him and avoid the artist’s entry into the crowded harbour.  Two days later, in the Old Tabernacle Auditorium, Munkácsy opened the exhibition of Christ before Pilate (Picture No. 128.). On the evening of November 23rd, the city gave a banquette in Munkácsy’s honour in New York’s best restaurant, Delmonico’s. In attendance was Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911); the Hungarian owner of New York World; and next to him, Abraham S. Hewitt, the Mayor of the New York City. In his congratulatory speech, Pulitzer said, ”You are heartily welcome, Dear Sir, since we, as true Americans, where aristocracy does not exist, are ready to respect in you the aristocracy of the virtue and the dignity of spirit". Other notable speakers included the most famous preacher in the United States at that time, Henry Ward Beecher; Senator Chauncey M. Depew; and the plutocrat Cyrus Field.

After two weeks in New York, Munkácsy travelled to Washington, where the President of the United States, Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), received him in the White House, and a banquette was organized in honour of the artist.

Munkácsy also worked during his stay in America, painting portraits of Pastor, Dr. James McCosh (1811-1894), the President of Princeton University (picture No. 214.), the financial expert, Henry G. Marquand (1819-1894), and the wife of Pulitzer, Kate Davis. On New Year’s Eve, a farewell party was organized in Munkácsy’s honour and then, in a spectacular ceremony, he was sent off by a Munkácsy-march composed by a Hungarian Gypsy band as he embarked in the harbour. In January, 1887, he returned to France.

The other Christ picture, Golgotha (Picture No. 151.), as well as the Death of Mozart, were enthusiastically received by the press and the public in America that same year. Sedelmeyer’s judgement in connection of the value of the Christ pictures proved astute, as both were purchased by John Wanamaker (1838-1922), the pioneer of the modern trade and advertising and, as a multi-millionaire, one of the richest men in America at the time. His career, like Munkácsy’s, started with difficulties and hardships; as a child he had to work in his father’s brick-works in Philadelphia. The Christ pictures sincerely touched the deeply religious businessman. In 1887, he bought Christ before Pilate (Picture No. 128.) for $160,000, then Golgotha (Picture No. 151.) in 1888 for $175,000, making Munkácsy the highest paid painter of Europe. These large-sized works were exhibited in Wanamaker’s house near Philadelphia, in Lindenhurst, and he kept them there until 1907. When fire broke out in the house, first the two Munkácsy paintings were rescued. Later, in 1911, the billionaire installed the pictures in a new department store bearing his name in Philadelphia.

A number of Munkácsy’s major, spectacular productions can still be found in America today, in various public institutions and private collections: Milton the Real (Picture No. 82.), Death of Mozart, Pawn office, as well as an unknown number of landscapes, still lifes and salon pictures. Christ before Pilate (Picture No. 128.) is in the Hamilton Gallery, and Golgotha (Picture No. 151.) was for some time in the Pannonia Gallery; today, however, it is owned by the American Hungarian art collector, Imre Pákh. Since 1995, both paintings can be seen as temporary exhibits in the Déri Museum of Debrecen, Hungary.

The last creative decade brought many orders for Munkácsy. Hans Makart, the Austrian painter and prince, died in 1884.  In 1886, Munkácsy received an official order to paint the ceiling picture for the stairway of the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna. In all probability this order was issued by Franz Joseph, the ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, who gave an award to the artist after the exhibition of each of his major paintings. Munkácsy was to paint based on the theme of the apotheosis of the Renaissance. The work was not a small task for Munkácsy, since he had never painted a wall picture, and he had to create numerous pre-studies. For the first one, in 1884, two years before the official order, he later planned more colour sketches. Finally, in 1889, he completed the great 4x4 meter composition sketch. The grandiose composition, depicting the great artists of the Italian Renaissance -- among others, the architect Bramante and the painter-sculptor Michelangelo – was installed in September, 1890, in the stairway of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where it can be seen today. With this painting, Munkácsy had created an eclectic work of academic spirit in tune with the demands and tastes of that time, and of the Austrian capital, which assimilated elements of the Renaissance and Baroque.  The quality of the painting ranked with similar, monumental works of art of the end of the century.

After finishing the ceiling painting of Vienna, Hungarian art policy shifted in a more serious direction. In 1890, Munkácsy was asked to paint the Conquest, the entry of the conquering Hungarians into the Carpathian Basin. The painting was planned for one of the Parliament’s Conference halls, which was under construction. The composition tells the story of the conquest described by Anonymous, the chronicler of King Bela III. Svatopluk, leader of the Slavs living in the Carpathian Basin, sends via his delegates earth, grass and water to the Hungarians as a present in exchange for the white horse, on which Arpad is sitting. With this symbolic present, the Hungarians obtained their new homeland peacefully; they could settle in the basin surrounded by mountains, where they are living still today. Munkácsy portrayed in a versatile way those in the legend: the leader Arpad, the tribal leaders, the Slavs standing in the middle and rendering homage, and the figures of the crowd on the left side. He tells the scene with movements, gestures and facial expressions. The historical theme, at that time unknown to the painter, was a challenging task for him, so he made thorough preparations for the painting. He discussed it with archaeologists and historians, and took photographs of peasants to ensure an authentic presentation. He travelled the country with his secretary, who photographed the settings of the scene.

The painting was completed by 1893 and was displayed in the Gallery of George Petit in Paris. This time, however, the reception was not as enthusiastic as before. The main reason for this could have been the general proliferation of more modern painting approaches, in the light of which Munkácsy may have seemed conservative. The critical tone was also taken by the Hungarian press although, for the 1000-year anniversary of the Conquest in 1896, numerous historical paintings were in preparation and Munkácsy’s fit well with the abundance of historical paintings at the end of the century. Finally, his critics claimed that the Conquest  (Picture No. 208.) was not placed as originally planned, in the great Conference Hall of the Parliament, but in a much smaller hall, where the grandiose painting can be viewed even today only from a significant distance.

At the beginning of the 1890s, Munkácsy embarked on a last great task. He had been planning for a long time to broaden the Christ subject into a trilogy.  As early as 1884 he had written about painting the Resurrection as the third picture. After 10 years, perhaps influenced by the changing social and political conditions or by the writer Anatole France (1844-1924), a frequent guest, the painter chose other subjects.

In his short story, The Governor of Judea, France dealt with the problems of his age, the ongoing Dreyfus lawsuit, which he along with Émile Zola (1840-1902) deeply condemned. Perhaps this made an impression on Munkácsy, who had expressed his sense of justice in his paintings of the second meeting of Christ and Pilate and the two earlier Christ pictures. The Saviour appears as a tormented God-man, still with dignity.  His fate raises emotions and angers the crowd, as expressed through the great emotional intuition of the painter.

Munkácsy’s critics spoke of his powerlessness and the exhaustion of his dramatic skill, but a completely opposite view came from the writer James Joyce (1882-1941), who saw the three Christ paintings in his homeland of Ireland in 1899. He wrote enthusiastically about the Ecce Homo (Picture No. 216.): “The whole picture is wonderful, it is filled with deep dramatic character and it can liven, can become real and can burst out in a conflict by a magic touch. The picture reveals the mean human passions being characteristic of both genders with such realism [...] that all words are not enough for its characterization [...] also through all these it is obvious, that the attitude of the artist is human, deeply shockingly human."

Joyce’s sentiments were reflected by the Hungarian public, which went on a virtual pilgrimage in 1896 to an exhibition featuring the painting in the nightclub Belle-vue, at the end of Andrássy street. That summer, an estimated 315,000 visitors viewed the painting.  Afterwards, the work went on a European tour, but not organized by Sedelmeyer – with whom Munkácsy terminated his contract in 1888 – but rather by Gábor Kadar, a businessman and former printer. The painting was also taken to America, but Wanamaker did not buy it.  Returning to Europe, it was purchased by an English-American consortium and later, to Frigyes Déri, a Hungarian silk manufacturer living in Vienna, who donated it to the Museum in Debrecen named after him, where it can be seen today. 

In his last creative decade, Munkácsy produced not only monumental works, but also salon pictures, still lifes, portraits and landscapes. Toward the end of the 1880s, his relationship was deteriorating with Sedelmeyer, who paid less and less for the artist’s pictures while demanding more and more work. In 1887 and 1888, at Sedelmeyer’s request, Munkácsy painted a number of fine-quality, Dutch-style salon pictures, including the Ballad (Pictures No. 202. and 204.), the Story of the young captain (Picture No. 205.), the Excitement of the moment, and the Embroidering girl (Picture No. 191.).  In 1888, however, Munkácsy terminated the 10-year contract, as he felt the merchant was exploiting him. Nevertheless, he continued painting salon pictures, including, among the best known in that period, the Sleeping little child (Picture No. 201.), the Musing woman (Picture No. 148.), the After lunch (Picture No. 207.), the Declaration of love,  the Herald (Lady reading a letter), thePiano lesson (Picture No. 198.), and the Puppy dogs.

Munkácsy continued to paint pictures for orders as well. Most were portraits of women, including the Princess Soutzo (Picture No. 222.), the Sisters Sedelmeyer, and the Portrait of Ms. Pulitzer.  He also painted portraits for pleasure, for example, of his wife; and of his intimate friend, Mme Chaplin, and of her husband, Robert Chaplin. He also relaxed and enjoyed making sketches of his great works and painting landscapes. He painted the “washerwomen” motive in different variations: Washing women (Picture No. 212.),the Landscape with washerwomen, and Washerwomen on the outskirt of the forest.  Colpach and the scenes where he vacationed, mainly Jouy-en-Joses, served as the subject of many landscapes, including the Alley with storied house (Picture No. 145.), the Landscape with river (Picture No. 102.), and the Sunset (Picture No. 165.). The gems of his late landscape paintings are the Winter road (Picture No. 110.), At the stream (Picture No. 174.), and the Evening variant of the Park Monceau (Picture No. 197.).

During the exhibition of Ecce Homo (Picture No. 216.), Munkácsy was splendidly celebrated once again, for the last time. The painter at that time was in a semi-conscious state, with death looming. In his letter to Ms. Chaplin, he described not only the long series of balls, receptions and evening parties, but also mentions his impaired health condition. This time, however, it was not merely a typical complaint about a temporary malady.  The damage to his nervous system from the syphilis illness he contracted in his youth worsened considerably. Because he felt so poorly, he had to leave early from the last great reception organized in his honour.  He spent a whole year in Baden-Baden, Germany, where his physicians continued to try the usual hydrotherapy treatments. However, he slowly fell into a state of dementia, and became upset by even the idea of creation. In January, 1897, he had to be transferred to the psychiatric clinic in Endenich, Germany.

Munkácsy died after a long illness and suffering in a state of unconsciousness on May 1, 1900. On May 6th, his body was delivered to Budapest where it laid in state in the Art Gallery. A cordon was set up around the building and the catafalque could be visited only with an admission ticket. The burial took place on May 9th in the Kerepesi Cemetery. The outstanding figure of the Hungarian and European painting, the painter prince, was accompanied by hundreds of thousand of people at this end of his life’s journey. The farewell speech was made by his fellow painter, Károly Telepy. 


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