Csontváry – My Favourite Expressionist Hungarian Painter

Csontváry - The Entrance at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem
Csontváry – The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (1905)

About twenty years ago, while I was doing my theological studies at London School of theology in Northwood, UK, I found in a little charity shop a little reproduction (see above) of a well known painting of Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry, one of my favourite expressionist painters, which I have until today. I am surprised I have never shared about him on my blog. So, here it is.

Csontváry was a strange man; even a little bit crazy – some say he was a schizophrenic, which may have been true – but aren’t all true artists a little bit crazy?. Yet, he was a genius artist, I believe. His spirit, I would suggest, is very well represented by the painting below. Please take a minute a look at this painting, before reading the rest of this post.

Csontvary - Lonely Cedar
Csontvary – Lonely Cedar

Here are just a few details of his life as described in Wikipedia, where you can find reproductions of some of him best paintings:

On the hot sunny afternoon of 13 October 1880, when he was 27 years old, he had 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, and returned to Hungary to earn money for his journeys by working as an apothecary. From 1890, he traveled around the world. He visited Paris, the Mediterraneum (Dalmatia, Italy, Greece), North Africa and the Middle East (Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Syria) and painted pictures. Often his pictures are very large, several metres wide and height is not unusual.

He painted his major works between 1903 and 1909. He had some exhibitions in Paris (1907) and Western Europe. Most of the critics in Western Europe recognized his abilities, art and congeniality, but in the Kingdom of Hungary during his life, he was considered to be an eccentric crank for several reasons, e. g. for his vegetarianism, anti-alcoholism, anti-smoking, pacifism, and his cloudy, prophetic writings and pamphlets about his life (Curriculum), genius (The Authority, The Genius) and religious philosophy (The Positivum). Some of his biographists considered this as a latent, but increasingly disruptive schizophrenia. Although he was later acclaimed, during his lifetime Csontváry found little understanding for his visionary, expressionistic style. A loner by nature, his “failure” impaired his creative power.

He painted more than one hundred pictures, the most famous and emblematic of which is probably The Lonely Cedar (Magányos cédrus) . His art connects with post-impressionism and expressionism, but he was an autodidact and cannot be classified into one style. He identified as a “sunway”-painter, a term which he created.




Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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