Károly Markó Sr. | PIXELUTIONER – A Show by Zsolt Gyarmati | Deflection – A Show by Gábor Erdélyi and Hans Kotter | What do you want to be? – Photographs by Évi Fábián
Gábor Rieder: Károly Markó Sr.
After national pet Munkácsy, the National Gallery has now opted for another Hungarian painter classic whose name also begins in an M. Károly Markó Sr. was a bucolic painter whose idyllic Classicism was never glaring. His orange sunsets lighting up ancient ruins and tiny mythological figures biding their time under leaf-canopies betrayed an Arcadian kind of refined but repetitive Classicism.
Nor can we refer to standing ovations from the international public; still, his paintings are preserved in places like Mexico City and Moscow, signalling more than anything else the fact that back in the 19th century there still were cultural centres hanging on to the noble tradition of conservative Italian landscape painting.
An innovator Markó certainly was not. He was one of the last protagonists of an idyllic tradition of landscapes strewn with ancient ruins that had started some time in the 17th century with Claude Lorrain. The earlier tradition is not represented in the National Gallery’s present exhibition and so we cannot really measure Markó’s achievement to his predecessors but we can be certain that he was a skilful and able late disciple of the great European masters rather than their mere school-bookish imitator.
Markó’s professional career started in the Hungarian Highlands (presently Slovakia) where he had worked as an estate engineer with brief spells of art training first in Pest, then in Vienna. Meanwhile, he had learnt quite a bit from such local, second-rate painters as e.g. János Jakab Müller. His watercolours executed from the 1820s onwards show not only his gift for exact copying (from Müller’s landscapes to German copperplate engravings) but also a measure of creativity as witnessed e.g. by his kooky sketches of visitors to the nearby stalactite cave. (Both his watercolours and his sketches will be put on show separately at Esztergom’s Christian Museum.)
However brief his spells of art training had been, they had supplied just enough skill for his later academic career as a painter. Because painters of Pest were starving at this time, Markó moved in 1834 to Rome, one of the principal sites of the Classical style of international painting. There was a perfect match between his own style and that currently in vogue in Rome.
His paintings executed in quick succession resembled each other rather heavily. The main props were supplied by giant trees painted with extraordinary care and precision. The other inevitable motif was the Sun just rising or setting, throwing warm, orange wreaths around the spinach coloured foliage. To the left, there was the inevitable ancient ruin with pillars holding a pediment. Perspective was borne out by distant mountain-ridges fading into the air. Here, among the props radiating noble simplicity and quiet greatness (pace Winckelmann) we can discover some tiny figures wobbling among the foliage. It it weren’t for the titles, we would be hard pressed to guess whether they are nymphs capturing Hylas, a favourite of Heracles, or indeed Deacon Philip baptising the treasurer of the Queen of Egypt.
Of course, Markó was simple only at first sight. He could certainly match his props to the action at hand. He could place e.g. cacti around his Egyptian scene, in other pictures by him we find a dark cave, an undulating wheat field, or a kooky full moon buttressing what he wanted to express.
For all the tragedies implied by the mythological or biblical stories coming to life in his pictures, they tell us about eternal happiness more than anything else. His pictures represent Arcadia as it fills the human soul and an earthly Paradise as it was depicted first by ancient pastoral poets, then by their Renaissance descendants. In short: a world completely sidelined by Modernity.
His sons had less ingenuity. By the second half of the 19th century, in a period of industrial boom and nationalist war-mongering, Classicism had become hopelessly outdated. Not that this could stop Károly Markó Jr. from faithfully copying his father’s pictures. His brother Ferenc returned to Hungary, but remained a painter stuck in provincial mediocrity. András was the most imaginative of the three brothers, trying as he did to move his father’s Classicism towards Realism. But none of the three could rival Markó Sr’s delightful Classicism giving rise to ever so many versions of an earthly Paradise.
Hungarian National Gallery
6 May – 2 November
PIXELUTIONER – A Show by Zsolt Gyarmati
6 May – 19 May
Inspiration for young contemporary artist Zsolt Gyarmati comes from early computer graphic art („pixel-constructivism”) and street art. In his latest works his figures are hardly recognisable. The most we can say that they resemble whole human figures or just mask-like heads. Rather irregularly, the show has been put on in an apartment gallery.
Deflection – A Show by Gábor Erdélyi and Hans Kotter
4 May – 18 June
Paint colours used by Gábor Erdélyi tend to remain within the limits of his pictures as they define themselves and their role in Art. Presently, exploring an un-investigated area, he is pre-occupied by the thin patch between a picture’s frame and the main field of vision of a spectator viewing the picture. Hans Kotter, who lives in Berlin, employs colour in his lightings whose clean pulsation extends into space. His lighting objects ordered into installations overstep their own physical boundaries as they fill surrounding spatial structures recalling the rising of the Sun.
What do you want to be? – Photographs by Évi Fábián
8 May – 20 May
Makett Lab – Pelvis Group
Hungary is as exciting as a pregnant woman experiencing something new every day, discovering as she does the limits of her own body containing a minuscule human being. Between the foetus and the world it is the mother who is mediating until birth. The photographs investigate the ways in which mothers affect the lives of their children. Évi Fábian makes her comments on Hungary’s present social situation with the help of her nine mother models.