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The postimpressionism in Tivadar Csontvry Kosztkas oeuvre

written by

Johanna Fldesi

2011

Preface

Before I would let you go on reading the whole paper that


you hold in your hands, dear reader, let me introduce this
piece of work to you. Everything began with a task for the
last semester of Cultural History
The task was, to choose a modern fine art artist and in
relation with style we had to write a workpiece about the
chosen artist. I chose Tivadar Csontvry Kosztka as a subject
matter for several reasons. The crucial reason was that i
wanted to pick a fine art artist with whom I share the same
nationality, therefore I would be able to understand his art
and intentions better if it comes to analyse an artwork in my
workpiece. So I looked up the Hungarian artists, who could
come to question. In my parents house there is replica of
a painting by Csontvry, namely the Springtime in Mostar
(1903), which I have always admired. After reading about his
life and his whole Autobiography I decided to choose him as
the subject of my workpice. I was also a bit familiar with his
oevre, The Solitary Cedar is one of my favorite paintings,
and for me that is the most beautiful artwork ever in the art
history of mankind.
I have send my idea to my Cultural History teacher, Tijn
Vaes and after we discussed the possibilities, I came to the
conclusion that I would write about his Postimpressionist
side Csontvrys oeuvre can be devided to two styles: the
Expressionist and the Postimpressionist. I visited the Janus
Pannonius Museum at Pcs during the Summer Holiday and
spent hours with his works. While I was working on this
workpiece it slowly became rather a research than a simple
workpiece.
Though I am a student in the Conservatory of Tilburg in the
Early Music department and my major is not Cultural History,
I enjoyed working on this research. I am glad to present you
my final exam-piece for Cultural History, Postimpressionism
in Tivadar Csontvry Kosztkas oeuvre.

Springtime in Mostar, 1903, Oil on canvas, 69 91 cm


Janus Pannonius Museum, Pcs
3

Self-Portrait, c. 1900, Oil on canvas, 67 39,5 cm (Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest)


This painting is connected to the Munich (the Art school of Simon Hollsy) studies in colours, and recalls Gcs (Hali) where he
used to work as a pharmacist. However, we do not know when and where the picture was painted. The style of painting proves that
Csontvry had a good training, the purplish green shading is reminescent to his masters, Hollsys. The face looks strict and firm,
in his eyes determination takes place which is completely matches the personality we get to know by reading his Autobiography.
4

Prologue
Mihly Tivadar KOSZTKA, known as Csontvry as a painter, was born in 1853 and died in 1919. Van
Gogh and Csontvry were born in the same year, still they cannot be considered as contemporaries. Van
Gogh was already dead in 1890, when Csontvry had begun to express himself as an artist (Csontvry began
his drawing studies in 1894 in the school of Simon Hollsy, and stayed there as a student for six months).
But not only their date of birth is the only coincidence which makes one to link Csontvry to Van Gogh,
neither the similarities in their path of life this is the only reason why Hungarian art-scholars compare him
to the great European painter triumvirate Czanne, Gaguin, Van Gogh. Earlier they linked his art and his
style to Rousseau, when from an academic point of view Csontvry was pronounced as an autodidact and
his art was classified as nave. Obvious that the comparison with the Western postimpressionist masters is
bold and staggering, knowing that Csontvry was almost completely unknown in Western Europe he had
an exhibition is Paris in 1907 and after his death there were successful exhibitions of his works in Western
Europe, for example in Brussels (Worlds fair, 1958) or in Belgrade (1963). But Csontvrys obscurity is
just a fact, which can be explained through obvious reasons.
The fact cannot be neglected that his oeuvre is exceptionally slight considering the number of the works
his monographer, Lajos Nmeth counted 122 works by him, but Csontvrys oeuvre contains slightly
more: 125. Csontvry did not sell his paintings. If he was not satisfied with a particular painting, he banished it to the attic or destroyed it. He kept his works always together, just like Gedeon Gerlczy, who
saved to paintings to the posterity. But Gerlczys careful tenderness was also a quarantine to Csontvrys
paintings, that is why these works could not get to galleries, museums and into Hungarian and international
private collections.
He broke with conventions and he was a real specimen. Critics were standing in front of Csontvrys
works just as uncomprehendingly as the other artists of his time. They did not understand anything of his
art, neither his philosophy behind his works. Conservatives considered him too modern, Modern artists
considered him too conservative. Anyway, it is difficult to classify him anywhere. Nowadays, this misunderstanding is incomprehensible, because since the exhibition of 1963 in Szkesfehrvr, Csontvrys
popularity is being unbreakable not only among scholars, but among the wide publicity.
The truth is that his works can be classified to the expressionism and postimpressionism. In this work
piece I would like to introduce his postimpressionist side, though his point in painting was not to follow
any of the new styles of his time. Csontvry purely followed his instincts and had no intention to create
something new; he just wanted to express himself through his art and paint the artwork which he had a vision about.
One cannot understand his works in separate pieces, because all his paintings gather around one central
piece, the Baalbek. And I would like to introduce those important motifs which drove him to paint
Baalbek. In this paper I would like to show his works between 1904 and 1907, which is his most important artistic period. I would like to confute the current hypothesis that he would have been a naive and
unqualified painter, someone who created the complex composition of his paintings without all conscious
reasons. Looking at his ouvre, I am convinced, that the fact that he did not do the usual education for painters of his age, does not have an effect on his brilliance. Also it is obvious that his art is unique and outstanding among the Postimpressionists.

About postimpressionism1
Before we would go on with the biography of Csontvry I would like to give a short description about
Postimpressionism. The paintings that I would like to discuss later in my paper are considered Postimpressionist, and also I would like to introduce Postimpressionism through his works.
The word postimpressionism (post, Latin preposition, its meaning: subsequent to, after) indicates the
art historical period after the Impressionism. Postimpressionism does not refer to a single style, technique
or even approach to painting. We can say that the freedom in painting came with this art historical period,
when painters were not bound to rules or the academic way of representation, but they had the freedom to
express themselves for the first time since art became an educative subject. This self-expression was free
from conventions, and expectations, but at the same time they had to fight with the critics and the public,
which were too much used to the way, how art was interpreted at that time and before.
The most famous postimpressionists all developed their styles independently, yet all were united in their
rejection of impressionism. The term postimpressionist was coined by English artist and art critic Roger
Fry in 1910 after many of the artists had died; none of them ever heard the term or used it themselves.
There were two ways of differing from the Impressionism:
1. constructive, more rational, like in the oeuvre of Czanne, or
2. gives priority to the Expressionist idiom, like in the paintings of Van Gogh.
Beside these two, we have to mention:
Synthetism: derived from the French verb synthtiser, to synthesize or to combine so as to
form a new, complex product. Synthetist artists aimed to synthesize three features: the outward
appearance of natural forms; the artists feelings about their subject; the purity of the aesthetic
considerations of line, colour and form.
Symbolism: a continuation of some mystical tendencies in the Romantic tradition; the symbols
used by symbolism are not the familiar emblems of mainstream iconography but intensely personal, private, obscure and ambiguous references. More a philosophy than an actual style of art
Cloisonnism: painting with bold and flat forms separated by dark contours. The cloisonnist separation of colors reflects an appreciation for discontinuity that is characteristic of Modernism.
But just like at the other styles after the Romanticism, this term does not give a clear description of the
art historical period after the Impressionism, since every postimpressionist painter developed their own
technique and mode of expression. Also John Rewald2 wrote that the term Post-Impressionism is not a
very precise one, though a very convenient one. It is convenient, when the term is by definition limited to
French visual arts derived from Impressionism since 1886. Rewalds approach to historical data was narrative rather than analytic, and beyond this point he believed it would be sufficient to let the sources speak
for themselves.

Used sources:
- http://www.reproductionartgallery.com/art-painting/post-impressionism.html
- Wikipedia entries: Postimpressionism, Synthetism, Symbolism, Cloisonnism
2
John Rewald (May 12, 1912-February 2, 1994) was an American academic, author, and art historian. He was known as a
scholar of Impressionism, Postimpressionism, Czanne, Renoir, Pissarro, Seurat, and other French painters of the late 19th
century. His History of Impressionism is a standard work.
6
1

Short biography3

A photograph of Csontvry4

Csontvry was born on 5 July 1853 in Kisszeben, Sros County,


Kingdom of Hungary (today Sabinov, Slovakia), and died 20 June
1919 in Budapest. His ancestors were Poles who settled down in
Hungary. He was a pharmacist until his twenties. On a hot sunny
afternoon, 13 October 1880, when he was 27 years old he experienced a mystic vision. He heard a voice saying you will be the
greatest sunway painter, greater than Raphael! He took journeys
around Europe, visited the galleries of the Vatican, then went home to
collect money for his journeys working as an apothecary. From 1890
onwards he traveled around the world.
In 1895 he travelled to Dalmatia and Italy to paint landscape studies. His individual style best illustrated by Trees in Electric Light
at Jajce and Storm over the Great Hortobgy was fully developed by 1903. In the beginning of the same year, he travelled to the
Middle East in search of the great motif. The dramatic, expressive
representation of The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra is a conclusion of this search. He worked on his other monumental, singularly
expressive painting The Ruins of the Greek Theatre at Taormina
between 1904 and 1905. Balbeck is the last piece of this period,
which was characterized chiefly by his pantheism and by his expressive use of colours.
Csontvry first showed his works in Paris in 1907, then travelled
to Lebanon. His symbolic paintings of mysterious atmosphere were
painted there: Lonely Cedar, Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon and Mary's Journey in Nazareth. His next exhibitions were
in 1908 and in 1910, but they did not bring him the recognition he
had so earnestly hoped for. The last major canvas Riding along the
Beach was painted in Naples in 1909. After this year he hardly painted, loneliness and the lack of understanding caused in him such a
severe mental condition, that he was able to create nothing else, but
sketches of surrealistic visions.

Chronology5
1853.
1856.
1859.
1862.
1863.
1865.

was born on 5 July 1853 in Kisszeben, Sros County, Kingdom of Hungary (today Sabinov, Slovakia)
saw a comet and the sight imprinted into his memories for a life-long time
began his studies in the elementary school and his parents sent him to relatives to the Alfld to learn Hungarian
attended to the Piarist grammar school of Kisszeben
Kisszeben burnt down, and while Csontvrys father helps at the fire, his sister, Bella became the victim of the fire
The Kosztka family had to leave Kisszeben, because Csontvrys father participated int he Liberty War on the
side of the Emperor. They move to Szerednye and the Kosztka boys were attending to the piarists grammar
school in Ungvr.

Used sources:
- Ferenc Romvry: Csontvry Kosztka Tivadar 1853-1919, Alexandra Kiad, Pcs, 1999, page 6-9
- Magyar letrajzi Lexikon 1000-1990 (Hungarian Biographical Lexicon), the dictionary entry Csontvry
- http://www.hung-art.hu/index-en.html
4
Photograph found on the following website: http://eldorado.virtus.hu
5
Ferenc Romvry: Csontvry Kosztka Tivadar 1853-1919, Alexandra Kiad, Pcs, 1999, page 24
7
3

1868.
1871.
1873.

Salesman at Eperjes, he learned to speak German and calculate well.


Spended his pharmacist trainee time on Tiszalk in his fathers pharmacy
Collected herbs, he revives the pharmacy with this. He visits the World Exhibition in Vienna. From December
he continued his pharmacist trainee time in Levice
1874.
Wrote a general pharmacopoeia at Levice. From the summer he was a pharmacist to Spisk Nov Ves, then
he enrolled to the medical school in Budapest (microscope, chemistries, mineralogy, geology, crystallogy and
anatomy studies).
1876.
one-year volunteer service at the military as a certified pharmacist, meanwhile he visited the universitys law
faculty, and in order to study the public administration he works at the capital as a clerk.
1877.
sends a memorandum to the minister in the interest of the development of the silk breeding
1880.
At Spisk Nov Ves he heard a voice saying you will be the greatest sunway painter, greater than Raphael!
1881.
Confronts with Raphael works in Vatican, and he resigned to his fate, because he could not find the living
nature, the energy, the divine spark int he art of Raphael
1883.
He was looking for Munkcsy, but they could not meet.
1884.
He opens his own pharmacy at Hali.
1894.
At the age of 41 he began his art studies as a painter in Munich (Simon Hollsys art school), Karlsruhe, Dsseldorf
and Paris. After leaving Paris he broke with the academics. He spends the summer in Dubrovnik, and then he travels to
Switzerland, Genoa, Rome, Naples and Pompeii.
1895.
He spent the winter in Pompeii.
1896.
He travelled a lot: Switzerland, Genoa, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Dalmatia, Split and Trogir
1897.
He paints in Italy, Dalmatia and at the Felvidk. At this point, it is difficult almost impossible to trace back his
biography, we do not have too much information from this period of his life.
1899-1900 He returned to Dalmatia, and works in Trogir.
1900.
He can be found in the catalogue of the Nemzeti Szalon (Nationalsalon Budapest) as an exhibitor artist called
Csontvry.
1901.
He paints in Castellammare and Pompeii, in Capri he visits the Blue Grotto, the he goes to Vico, Sorrento,
Amalfi and Posilio. He spends the winter in Castellammare.
1902.
He paints sun motifs in Dalmatia, Spalato, Balome and Trogir. He spends the summer in the High Ttra, there
he observes the great motif again. In the end of the autumn he paints in Selmecbnya and on the way to Italy
he paints in Budapest. He goes from Castellammare to Taormina and he spends the winter in Castellammare.
1903.
Scardone, Jajce, Mostar. He stays in the High Ttra during the summer, then he leaves for Taormina. After
painting Szigetvr and the Hortobgy he travels around in Europe: Schaffhausen, Basel; Amsterdam, Haarlem,
The Hague, Rotterdam; Antwerp, Brussels; London; Paris; Madrid, Toledo, Seville, Granada, Cordova, Malaga.
He sails from Gibraltar to Bethlehem, shipwreck at Malta. He visits Alexandria, Cairo, Suez, Port Said, and he
studies the sunset in the Sahara (Jaffa, Jerusalem, Jericho, and the Dead Sea). He gets to Bethlehem at Christmas Eve.
1904.
In Jerusalem he paints At the Entrance of the Wailing-Wall in Jerusalem. Afterwards he leaves for Athens,
from there to Taormina and in the end he goes back to the High Ttra and begins to paint The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra.
1905.
He finishes Ruins of the Greek Theatre in Taormina and The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra. On his
exhibition is Budapest his paintings are presented without frame. He paints in Jerusalem, and then he looks for
the great motif in Damascus.
1906.
He paints his largest sized plein air painting, Baalbek in Lebanon.
1907.
In Lebanon he paints the cedars. He arranges an exhibition in Paris at exhibition hall of Grande Serre de la ville
de Paris in the Crystal Palace.
1908.
He paints Marys Well at Nazareth. In the autumn he has an exhibition again in Budapest. He paints the
portrait, Teacher in Morocco in Palestine.
1909.
He paints his last work, the Riding at the Beach in Naples.
1910.
He organizes his fourth exhibition in Budapest. He plans two other exhibitions in Salzburg and Vienna. His
planned exhibition in Berlin is ceased because of the contractors infidelity, though the catalogue is ready. His
mental balance becomes uncertain, his psychosis is aggravated, but his public activity is constant.
1912.
He publishes and works on philosophical writings, pamphlets, lectures, and brochures.
1915-1918. He writes his handwritten journals at this period of time. He works on half-way done sketches.
1919.
He creates his own deification on a giant sized cardboard. He dies in Budapest at the new Hospital of Saint John
because of artery inflammation. They bury him in buda.
8

His autobiography between 1904 and 19076


It is important to understand his drive of this period, which took an effect on his whole artistic expression. After he painted his great work Baalbek he began to work on his autobiography7. He met many misunderstandings and had struggles in his life according to his art and paintings, so most possibly he wrote his
memoir for the next generation to help them understand his drive and the meaning of his works.
As we could see in the Chronology8, after painting Baalbek he started to concentrate more on writing:
he published works on philosophical writings, pamphlets, lectures, and brochures (1912). His autobiography seems sketchy, but the style is rather emotional. Maybe that is why, for a long time they thought he
might have lost his mind. In the autobiography we cannot find many indications of the year or reference
to political or social events even if we do find him mentioning political or social events, he just mentions them as a disturbing element.
[] But for now, let me return to Cairo to study the sunset there. While I was studying the sunset I
discovered the luminous colours of the sunway which I had been looking for.
As soon as I was ready with the painting, by using the newly discovered luminous colours, I informed
the Ministry of Culture and I sent a telegram to Hollsy in Munich. I went to Jerusalem I painted the religion dispute, the prayer around the Wailing-Wall, 67 full-length figures on it. When I finished that, I was
already on my way to the Ttra, but when I get to the Valley of the Tarpatak I do not think about how I am
going to paint the scenery of the Ttra with the waterfall. I did not make any sketches, I had just ordered
the huge canvas via telegram. The canvas was already prepared to work on it and it was stored in Vek9
for the winter.
I had to leave the Carpathian Mountains in September, and I went to Athens. I was in Athens when I
got the obituary of my father, he lived 88 years and he became a professor at the university when he was
65-years-old.
In Athens I found real sculpture work, and real human emotions. There, I found out that the beautiful
Galatea is not a fairytale, but reality; that the cold stones becomes alive in the hands of the Greek sculptors, and those torsos without hands and legs began to talk; although at the Romans Moses is still mute,
and its masters incitement parla! is a vain effort.
That is why Rome is short of breath in anger, because he feels that Gods true wholeness is approaching. And when I was ready with the painting of the Jupiter Temple, the critics of Athens under this impression, said: at least there is a foreigner, who is able to paint Athens plein air, and his way is open.
I rushed to Taormina from Athens, where such a sunset was awaiting for me, from which, I was sure,
would be the Worlds most colourful sunway-painting. I did not have to think about the implementation
for a long time either there was not anything left than to order the canvas immediately. I have to note
here, that when I opened the doors of my atelier for the public, the painting of 20 m2 had the effect on the
public that its surprise was raging with them: il maestro, ungherese trovasto, nostro antico, theatro greco.
They wanted me to lett he painting stay there for a bigger amount of money.
I said farewell to Taormina after staying there for a while, then I went back to the Ttra to continue
the stored artwork, and when I finished that one as well, I realized, that with these two paintings I could
surprise the world.
In order to do that, I planned to invite the directors for luncheon and bring them on a private train to
my place, and I would showed my paintings to them as a surprise.
But what I planned assent by Destiny, became impossible because of the political situation.
In September I travelled to Damascus, crossed Budapest and exhibited my large canvases without
frame in the City Parks Iparcsarnok. Aside from the local attendance, I have to mention two events: one
of them is what a Caucasian artist said, that Europe learned a lot from the Japanese, but from You, sir, will
Csontvry Kosztka Tivadar: nletrajz, Magvet Kiad, Bp., 1982, page 22-26 (my own translation)
There are at least 3 versions of his autobiography remained. The autobiography I used is the most detailed, most known one.
8
See above
9
Quarter of Poprad.
9
6
7

learn more. The other event was: two teachers from Berlin asked me to allow them to invite dr. Wilhelm
Oswald, the famous professor to my exhibition. He did a reading recently for the emperor, which was
about that we should stop oil painting, because we cannot imitate the technique of the old masters, we
cannot paint white or produce luminous colours and we are unable to paint lasting colours, because our
paintings turn into brown sauce, which cause damage for art. Since on this exhibition the contrary is being proved, the colour white is flaunting, the luminous colours are beaming here and the canvases which
were painted on years ago are like they were painted yesterday.
Therefore with this result, if it is transferable bertragbar, the whole painter technique could be immuned from the downfall, which the professor warned the World about.
The letter was sent to Berlin, but it came back with the response, that the professor lives in Leipzig, so
the letter was sent there. Meanwhile I had to travel to Damascus and I got the response as far as I know
in Bayreuth, which replaced his visit until January.
As I was wandering on the streets of Damascus, and I was looking for the great motif in the neighbourhood as well, a man (seems Greek) shows up and he told me in Italian: You, sir, arent you looking for the
motif for a great painting, but you will not find it in Damascus; I have just arrived from Baalbek, where I
saw the temple in the most beautiful exposition, hurry there, now is the time to find the great motif there,
that you were looking for.
On the other day at dawn I woke up in Hotel Victoria (opposite with the Sun Temple) for a light, which
was descending from the high Lebanon in flaming red, it was flaming the pillars of Helios with golden
breath and embraced the Temples of Bacchus, Antonio and Vesta in luminous colours. Finally it was the
matter of my vision in 1880, the Worlds greatest sunway plein air motif.
The motif, better to say the landscape was 350 meter wide; added to this the sacrificial stone of 21 meter in the quarry made the painting complete. That is how it got to Paris to the great Crystal Palace to the
public, and the critic in few words was this: this artwork surpassed the World.
This is the meaning of that tiny seed I was given: the World is developed by one spiritual will and being revived ot of the nothing.
The spirit of the World-developing divine revelation does not repeat himself, therefore as in nature just
as in the educations history, we can meet with permanent and monumental pictures by accident: these are
the three points in nature: one of them in the High Ttra, another one in Sicily and the last one in Syria.
The three enormous motif was kept for the education of the 20th century, and at the same time they were
meant to prove the world-developing grand master.
After finishing these artworks I spent the summer at the cedars of Lebanon, I painted the cedars there.
Afterwards I stayed longer in Aleppo; after two months two snakes chased me away from there.
I sacrificed my life to get to know the reality, to know how the world was formed and how it is developed farther, because everything that exist have been formed by the will of the Advantage, and everything that is going to be will be exist because of the Advantages divine revelation. []

10

The first big motif: The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra

To Csontvry, the Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra (1904-05; Oil on canvas, 236 x 400 cm) was not only
a pleasant scene from nature. Since he was young he had carried a vision of it within him and considered
its representation as a criterion of his own artistic knowledge. Monumental composition, expressionist fever and the symbolism are all characteristic of his works, and they are condensed in this powerful picture,
The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra.
He recorded in his diary, I spent the summer in the Ttra, amongst the scent of pine-trees, wild strawberries, raspberries, and bilberries. I listened to the singing of the lark in the cornfields, the nightingale
in the thicket and I saw eagles shrieking high in the sky. At dawn, day after day, I watched the flaming
Carpathians and settled on Tarajka Hill at Dezs Szilgyis monument. From here I enjoyed the NagyTarpatak waterfall and the proud Lomnic peak and others. The vivid lighting and inexpressible remoteness of the rocks on the peak made a deep impression on me. I did not draw, I did not paint, I just watched
and admired the monumental beauty of nature, the quiet deep rhythm of the atmosphere, the most beautiful nature-music of joy...10
The following year, without any preparatory sketches or studies, he painted the large canvas. It is not
the vast surface of the picture but the inner tension of the representation that produces the monumental
effect.11
In the Museum of Csontvry at Pcs, Csontvrys works are organized in 5 rooms. As we step in the 2nd
room, the first painting that we can see is The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra. The monumental canvas
dominates the wall and the whole room. Each single square centimetre was worked out in detail despite
the sizes of the painting. It seems that the mountains are waving in the background. Csontvrys presentation and expression hides in playing with the proportions: if he wanted to emphasize something on the
scenery, he made it bigger, and if he found a detail less important, he painted it smaller than it is in reality.
That is how it is possible, that the size of building on the painting (the building of the bath), compared to
the size of the mountains seems to be doll-house.
Another characteristic of the composition is, that we could divide the whole painting into small independent paintings. The mosaic-likeness does not break the complete composition, this feature rather
makes one feel like having a vision.
10
11

Csontvry Kosztka Tivadar: nletrajz (Autobiography), Magvet Kiad, Bp., 1982, page 22
http://www.hung-art.hu/english/c/csontvar/muvek/4/csont410.html
11

It is interesting to compare the painting with the postcards of that time. Surprisingly, there are not too
many differences between the two. The only main difference: the painting gives back the emotional and
representational impression, which the landscape provides, perfectly.

Postcard, 1906

Postcard
12

The Valley of Tarpatak in Ttra detail


13

The Valley of Tarpatak in Ttra detail


14

His masterpiece: Baalbek

Story
According to Csontvrys autobiographical records, and the date of the exhibited paintings by him, he
visited the East for the first time on the winter of 1903. He did not visit the Eastern culture for the same
reason, why the other artists did at the time of the Romanticism for the mythological and cultural experience. At that time he focused only on the realization of the big plein air motif, and in order to do that,
the monumental painting of the scenery in the Valley of Tarpatak in the High Tatra was a crucial one. His
journey to the Middle East in the very beginning was dependent from this research.
Beside the Great Ttra-motif, the other motif was the Greek theatre in Taormina12, but he did not succeed by painting it: I was longing to go back to Taormina, but I was sure, that a painting of 2 meter wide
sunrise will not help me to reach my goal, and I will not be able to show to the World.13 He destroyed the
painting himself.
In the autumn of 1905 he traveled the Middle East for the second time: he visited Damascus and Beirut. He went to Jerusalem as well, proved by two paintings of 1905. According to his autobiography, after
Jerusalem he continue his research in Damascus, there he met someone who drove his attention to the
beauty of Baalbek: As I was wandering on the streets of Damascus, and I was looking for the great motif
in the neighbourhood as well, a man (seems Greek) shows up and he told me in Italian: You, sir, arent
you looking for the motif for a great painting, but you will not find it in Damascus; I have just arrived
from Baalbek, where I saw the temple in the most beautiful exposition, hurry there, now is the time to
find the great motif there, that you were looking for.
On the other day at dawn I woke up in Hotel Victoria (opposite with the Sun Temple) for a light, which
was descending from the high Lebanon in flaming red, it was flaming the pillars of Helios with golden
breath and embraced the Temples of Bacchus, Antonio and Vesta in luminous colours. It was the essence
of my vision in 1880, so the Worlds greatest sunway plein air motif.
The motif, better to say the landscape was 350 meter wide; added to this the sacrificial stone of 21 meter in the quarry made the painting complete. That is how it got to Paris to the great Crystal Palace to the
public, and the critic in few words was this: this artwork surpassed the World.14 15
Before painting Baalbek, he painted again the ruins of the Greek theatre in Taormina (1904-05). See painting in Appendix on
page 30
13
Csontvry Kosztka Tivadar: nletrajz (Autobiography), Magvet Kiad, Bp., 1982, page 23
14
Used source: Lajos Nmeth: Baalbek, Kpzmvszeti Alap Kiadvllalata, Bp., 1980, page 9-15
15
Csontvry Kosztka Tivadar: nletrajz (Autobiography), Magvet Kiad, Bp., 1982, page 25
15
12

Baalbek on a photograph from 1890

Composition and analysis:


In general, the composition of Baalbek (1906; Oil on canvas, 385 x 714,5 cm) is more complex than
the ones that we can observe in his earlier and later works, and also less mosaic-like. The colours are
still luminous, but the proportions seem more balanced than at The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra. The
brushstrokes he used is horizontal, which makes the painting even wider than it is though it is monumental already. The waving of the The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra is not present on the painting, and
the outlines are sharp, just as the contrast between the colours and shades.16
If we observe the real scenery17, we can discover that he did several corrections on the overall view.
The most visible difference is that he put the houses of Baalbek closer to the acropolis; the proportions of
the vertical and horizontal relations were modified in favour of somewhat raising the acropolis. By doing
that, the relation between the Mountains of Lebanon and the acropolis changed, and made the acropolis
rule among the valley, and equally important with the mountains. Beside the sacrificial stone18 he composed other motifs of Baalbek, which belong to the places culture and the townscape.
He did similar corrections at composing the lights. Both his records and the German brochure says that
Csontvry painted Baalbek at sunrise. But the direction of the shadows go against the records and the
brochure, because on the painting the lights come from the west, southwest, so this makes one think of
sunset. At the same time, at other parts of the painting there is no shadow cast, but diffused light especially on the front.
Csontvry divided into 3 horizontal stages. The first is the Arabian city (the stage of everyday life);
in the middle we can find the acropolis, temple ruins and the remained pillars of the Temple of Jupiter,
which are like jewels with its bright yellow colour. The third stage above is built up from three horizontal
element: the Valley of Biqa, the Mountains of Lebanon and the blue sky.

Used source: Ferenc Romvry: Csontvry, Alexandra Kiad, Pcs, 1999, page 130 and page 128
See the photograph on page 14-15.
18
Sacrificial Stone in Baalbek, 1906-07, oil on canvas, 110 x 130,5 cm (in private collection).
16
16
17

Baalbek today

Csontvry used the curved, hyperbolic19 composition scheme, what he saw in the Vatican City on
Raffaellos La Disputa20. The figures with the camels in the corners in the foreground of the painting are
driving the eyes to the centre. Though he writes the following in his autobiography, he clearly learned a
lot about composition technique by studying the art treasures of the Vatican City: After this introduction
I left for Vatican City, the Realm of Art Treasures, in order to study and to figure out the nature of the task
awaiting for me. I started with the sculptures, but I did not felt the warmness, not because of the cool air
of the hall, but because I did not sense any life-energy out of the works. At that time, I did not know, that
there is a sort of artistic-energy as well, but since I knew Nature very well, and I had always been sensing
life-energy, first of all I was looking for that in these sculptures.
I went to the Raphael Loggiai21 22, but either this could not give me goose bumps. I visited the mural of
the great battle and all the other artworks, but I could not find the living Nature in them. Knowing this I had
more confidence in myself and thought that I posses more than the recent masters of the Vatican City. The
only thing I envied from them that they created a lot of beautiful works; but they did not serve the Nature
(which was created by God) they were messengers of another spirit and that spirit was not from God.
Hyperbolic: ~ refers to something related to or in shape of a hyperbola (a type of a curve; in mathematics a hyperbola is a
curve, specifically a smooth curve that lies in a plane, which can be defined either by its geometric properties or by the kinds of
equations for which it is the solution set), or to something employing the literary device of hyperbole.
20
See comparison in the Appendix.
21
Raphael Loggiai, Transfiguration Csontvry mixes up 3 artworks here. The famous work by Raphael Santi (1483-1520)
the La Trasfigurazione can be found in the Gallery of Vatican City; the mural of the great battle is one of the so called Stanza;
and the Logge di Raffaelo (Raffaello Loggiai) is an arcade corridor, which was decorated with paintings (illustrations of
Biblical scenes) by Raffaello (that is why it is also called the Raffael-Bible). source: http://mek.niif.hu/05800/05889/html/ftn/
ftn0002ftn48.html
22
According to another source: After I studied each of his works, I ended up at the Transfiguration, which convinced me, that
I see Nature better and I see its lines sharper, but I still could not find the life-energy [I was looking for at that time]. Among
these results, I discovered the mistake that everybody did in the 15th century, except Raffael in his background solutions.
Rubens and his company could not handle the background, because they did not get any information from God.
17
19

So I came to terms with my fate, because I understood theoretically what was going on, why I have to
become greater than Raphael. After the moment, I acknowledged this I did not have any doubt anymore: I
was like a triumphant general who just won a battle []23
By dividing the structure horizontally and creating a tiered dissection, he did not only separate the different elements like the city, the acropolis and the elements of the nature but the different time zones
too. The stage in the foreground is the present worlds daily life, with its own simplicity. The stage in the
middle to which our eyes are driven by the hyperbolic structure of the foreground is the Great Past,
the History of Mankind, the ancient and mythical Syria. The third stage is a twin of the middle one, where
we can find the valley and the mountains. At the same time, the soft lines of the mountains and the valley
widen the view, and by that the third stage represents the Eternity of Nature.24
The afterlife of the painting25
Some other paintings of his oeuvre can be originated from Baalbek26:
Sacrificial Stone in Baalbek
The cedar-paintings:
- The solitary cedar (1907, oil on canvas 194 x 248 cm; Janus Pannonius Museum at Pcs)
- Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon (1907, oil on canvas 200 x 205 cm; Hungarian National Gallery at Budapest)
Ruins of the Jupiter Temple in Athens (1904, oil on canvas 67,5 x 137,5 cm; Janus Pannonius
Museum at Pcs)

A photograph of the sacrificial stone in Baalbek

Csontvry Kosztka Tivadar: nletrajz (Autobiography), Magvet Kiad, Bp., 1982, page 16
Used source: Lajos Nmeth: Baalbek, Kpzmvszeti Alap Kiadvllalata, Budapest., 1980, page 40-57
25
Used source: Ferenc Lehel: Csontvry (Edited, collected and introduction written by Tibor Miltnyi), Szellemkp BT, Budapest, 1998, page 111-112
26
See illustration in the Appendix.
18
23
24

Baalbek detail
19

Baalbek detail
20

Epilogue
In Csontvrys art, we can find postimpressionist elements and characteristics, all the ones I mentioned
earlier except Cloisonnism. First of all, his art and style is very much alike Van Goghs, if our judgement is based on the expressionist fever. Synthetism is present in his style as we could observe in The
Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra. On the other hand his most characteristic feature is symbolism. For
example all his trees are lonely, malformed and standing oblique, but there is prestige in them he is the
brilliant hybrid. Csontvry has his own system of symbols:
Cedar tree: solitude, honour; he is alone, but he is strong, mighty, precious
Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon: he wanted to be loved
Straddled cedar on the mountain: Pagan gods were worshipped on high places
Bird of paradise: arrogance, pride
Well: stands for the great, long and majestic solitude; the water is an inspiring example. He
is proud of his isolation.
Beach: empty solitude; like the dawn; there is solitude in standstill, but the ship on the sea is
not alone, because there is a storm on the sea.
Mosque: rising with dignity.27
After Csontvry painted his masterpiece, the Baalbek, his mental health weakened. It is clear, that he
lost his motivation, if we take a look on his works in his last years. Some of sketches can be seen in the
Janus Pannonius Museum at Pcs, but their composition and the conception is chaotic and pointless. He
did not have the vision which drove him to become a painter you will be the greatest sunway painter,
greater than Raphael!
Shortly after he reached his goal by his masterpiece, he started to decay slowly. It seems for me, that
when he lost his drive and he reached the promised28 goal, he still wanted to continue to paint, because he
undoubtedly enjoyed to paint, something or someone barred him to go on. He did not have the power and
the drive anymore, which he had before Baalbek, and the more he tried to start again, the more he got
insane, because he could not understand why he is being barred from work.
Some scholars say, he had schizophrenia, but in my opinion he was just obsessed with his vision, and
kept up with this vision, that he got his mission directly from God, to be greater than Raffael. On the
other hand he was the subject of continuous misunderstanding from everywhere (public, critics and contemporaries), and the constant fight wore out his strength mentally and physically as well.
Only few people recognized his genius and one of them was the founder of the Janus Pannonius Museum at Pcs, Gedeon Gerlczy. We can read the following on the memorial plaque in the museum next to
his portrait.
Gerlczy Gedeon (1895-1975)
sztnsen rrezvn rtkre 1919-ben megvsrolta a
kortrsak ltal flreismert, semmire nem becslt Csontvry
letmvt, a megsemmistsre tlt kpeket. Egsz letben
kitartan munklkodott azon, hogy elismerst szerezzen
Csontvrynak.
Tevkenyen kzremkdtt az 1973-ban megnylt Csontvry Mzeum ltrehozsban.
Halla utn gyjtemnye vglegesen a Magyar llam
tulajdonba kerlt.29

Gedeon Gerlczy (1895-1975)


He recognized instinctively the oeuvres value, and bought
the whole oeuvre of Csontvry misjudged by contemporaries , which was sentenced to annihilation. In his whole
life he worked continuously to get acknowledgement to
Csontvry.
He had a major part of founding and forming the Museum
of Csontvry (opened in 1973).
His collection got into the possession of the Hungarian
State after his death.

Csontvry was a Prophet and an Artist at the same time. He was the prophet of the Postimpressionism in Hungary, and like other prophets, he was not welcome in his own country. And as a true Artist, he
chased his dreams, ideas and goals no matter what was the cost. His whole oeuvre is a unique treasure
which should be cherished not only by his native country, but the whole World.
Source: http://www.sze.hu/muvtori/belso/stilusok/posztimpr/postimpr4.htm
A goal promised by God, that what he reflects to, in his records as well.
29
See his portait and the plaque table in Appendix
21
27
28

22

Appendix

23

Sketch from 1894


24

Sketch from 1894


25

Half distance

La Disputa by Raphael illustration of composition and painting


26

Comparison of La Disputa and Baalbek

Hyperbolic horizont

Upper horizont
Reversed aerial perspective

Plain, field
Insight

General perspective

Facade views

Horizont zone

Axonometria

Axonometria*
Frontal perspective

Baalbek by Csontvry illustration of composition and painting

* Axonometria or axonometric projection is a type of parallel projection, more specifically a type of orthographic projection,
used to create a pictorial drawing of an object, where the object is rotated along one or more of its axes relative to the plane of
projection.
27

Sacrificial Stone in Baalbek


(1906-07)

The solitary cedar (1907)


28

Paintings originated from Baalbek

Ruins of the Jupiter Temple in Athens (1904)

Pilgrimage to the Cedars in


Lebanon (1907)
29

Ruins of the Greek Theatre in Taormina, 1904-05, Oil on canvas, 302 x 570 cm (Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest)
30

Statue and memorial plaque of Gedeon Gerlczy

Janus Pannonius Museum at Pcs (Hungary) photograph


31

Literature and sources


Biography
Romvry, Ferenc: Csontvry Kosztka Tivadar 1853-1919
Alexandra Kiad, Pcs, 1999
Csontvry Kosztka Tivadar: nletrajz (Autobiography)
Magvet kiad, Budapest, 1982 free translations by Johanna Fldesi
Magyar letrajzi Lexikon 1000-1900 (Hungarian Biographical Lexicon)
The first big motif: The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra
Fine Arts in Hungary
http://www.hung-art.hu/index-en.html
My own notes
Baalbek
Nmeth, Lajos: Baalbek
Kpzmvszeti Alap Kiadvllalata, Budapest, 1980
Romvry, Ferenc: Csontvry Kosztka Tivadar 1853-1919
Alexandra Kiad, Pcs, 1999
Lehel, Ferenc: Csontvry (Edited, collected and the introduction written by Tibor Miltnyi)
Szellemkp BT, Budapest, 1998
My own notes

Index of paintings
Csontvry-Kosztka, Tivadar: Springtime in Mostar,
1903, Oil on canvas, 69 91 cm; Janus Pannonius Museum at Pcs
Csontvry-Kosztka, Tivadar: Self-Portrait
c. 1900, Oil on canvas, 67 39,5 cm; Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest
Csontvry-Kosztka, Tivadar: The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra
1904-05; Oil on canvas, 236 400 cm; Janus Pannonius Museum at Pcs
Csontvry-Kosztka, Tivadar: Baalbek
1906; Oil on canvas, 385 714,5 cm; Janus Pannonius Museum at Pcs
Csontvry-Kosztka, Tivadar: Sacrificial Stone in Baalbek
1906-07, oil on canvas, 110 130,5 cm; in private collection
Csontvry-Kosztka, Tivadar: The solitary cedar
1907, oil on canvas 194 248 cm; Janus Pannonius Museum at Pcs
Csontvry-Kosztka, Tivadar: Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon
1907, oil on canvas 200 205 cm; Hungarian National Gallery at Budapest
Csontvry-Kosztka, Tivadar: Ruins of the Jupiter Temple in Athens
1904, oil on canvas 67,5 137,5 cm; Janus Pannonius Museum at Pcs
Csontvry-Kosztka, Tivadar: Ruins of the Greek Theatre in Taormina
1904-05, oil on canvas, 302 570 cm; Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (better known as Raphael): La disputa del sacramento
1509-1510, fresco 500 cm 770 cm; Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
32

Table of contents
Preface .......................................................................................................... 3
Prologue ........................................................................................................ 5
About postimpressionism .............................................................................. 6
His life ........................................................................................................... 7
Short biography ................................................................................... 7
Chronology .......................................................................................... 7
His autobiography between 1904 and 1907 ......................................... 9
The first big motif: The Valley of Tarpatak in the Ttra .............................. 11
His masterpiece: Baalbek ............................................................................. 15
Story ................................................................................................... 15
Composition and analysis .................................................................. 16
The afterlife of the painting ................................................................ 18
Epilogue ...................................................................................................... 21
Appendix ...................................................................................................... 23
Early sketches (1894) ................................................................... 24-25
Comparison of La Disputa and Baalbek ...................................... 26-27
Paintings originated from Baalbek ............................................... 28-29
Ruins of the Greek Theatre in Taormina ............................................. 30
Statue and memorial tablet of Gedeon Gerlczy ................................ 31
Csontvry Museum, Pcs (Hungary) photograph ............................. 31
Literature and sources .................................................................................. 32
Index of paintings ......................................................................................... 32
Table of contents ........................................................................................... 33

33

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