Of art and uprisings

Some years ago, seeing off an Irish friend on her return flight to Dublin, we sat in Budapest Airport having a coffee in the company of an American friend. A bunch of lads was sitting way out of hearing distance. Much to the amusement of my American friend, we pegged them immediately as being Irish. We then went around the room pointing out the other Irish to him. Not believing us, he took a walk to check for himself. We, of course, were right. There’s something about the Irish that makes it easy to pick us out in a crowd.

But I never thought this would apply to artists and paintings.

There’s a lovely little exhibition in two parts currently running in the Pintér Gallery at Falk Miksa utca 10. The first, Parallel Uprisings 1916/1956, features photographs of  the Irish Uprising of 1916 alongside photos from the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, both of which had high costs in terms of civilian deaths and widespread destruction. Both would change the tenor of political and public opinion at home and abroad.

Alongside the photos from Ireland is a bilingual extract from the W.B. Yeats poem Easter 1916, in which he talks of a terrible beauty being born. Alongside the Hungarian photos is a bilingual extract from the Sándor Márai poem Mennyből az Angyal (Angel from Heaven), in which he reminds us that: ‘People born free in their native land falter because they cannot understand the fact that we will always recall: freedom is the greatest gift of all.’

Poignant words indeed. It’s a telling snapshot of two important times in the histories of the two countries.

But it was the paintings of one Ferenc Martyn (born Kaposvár, 1899; died Pécs, 1986) that really wowed me, in particular the five that screamed IRISH! And no wonder. Peter Martyn, his great-great-grandfather, was born in 1772 in Castlebar, County Mayo. He emigrated from Ireland in 1790 to join the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army. When he retired, he settled in Hungary.

Among his Irish kinsmen, Martyn gets credit for novelist, playwright and first president of Sinn Féin Edward Martyn, and one of the founders of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Richard Martin.

As Ferenc Martyn painted his way into the annals of Hungarian art history, others also picked up on the influence of his Irish heritage on his work. In 1946, Hungarian art critic Ernő Kállai had this to say: ‘The origin of memories and associations poured into abstract forms of painting […] is not difficult to determine, knowing that Ferenc Martyn descended on his father’s side, from Irish mariners.’

I’ve said before that I’m no art critic but I know what I like and what I don’t like. And I didn’t need Kállai to point this out.

Ulysses by Ferenc Martyn
Ulysses by Ferenc Martyn

The angular shapes and lines of his 1955 painting Ulysses form a rather iconic representation of the famous book that Martyn illustrated [24 of his 27 Ulysses illustrations are in the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin].  The browns and greens of his 1943 triptych Brown Crusaders are reminiscent of a wet shoreline after a storm when the seaweed lies stodgy in the sand.

And the muted colours of Celtic imagery in his 1954 Two Ewers took me back to the Round Towers and the High Crosses. Together, they line one wall of the exhibition and, seen as a collection within a collection, they are particularly stunning.

The exhibition was opened by His Excellency Pat Kelly, Ambassador of Ireland to Hungary, and Mr Lorand Horvathy, vice-mayor of Tata, where the paintings are on permanent exhibition. Both exhibitions run for two weeks. If you’re in the vicinity, pop by.

First published in the Budapest Times 15 April 2015

Subscribe to get notified when I publish something new.

One Response

  1. It’s not only the Irish that stick out a mile – we English do too. I was once sitting on a park bench in Budapest one morning, minding my own business and doing precisely nothing – just waiting for something to open – when a gentleman came up and said in excellent English ‘Could he help me?’ There is no escape . . . Egérút nincs!

Talk to me...

%d bloggers like this:

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information on cookies and GDPR

Cookies and GDPR Compliance

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

General Data Protection Regulation

If you have voluntarily submitted your email address so that you can receive notifications of new posts, please be assured that I don't use your address for anything other than to do just that - and that's done automatically. I might use your address, if I knew how to, but I don't.

This blog does not make money, it does not carry sponsored content, it has no ads for which I receive any form of payment. If I review a place or a restaurant or a book, I don't receive any compensation from anyone. I wish I did, but that would require marketing myself and life is too short. If something changes, I will be sure to let you know.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the unsubscribe or manage subscription links at the bottom of every email you receive. When you comment on a blog post, Google Analytics tracks where you're posting from. This is stored and I can check my stats to see how many clicks I had today, where people clicked from, and what they clicked on. That's it. Nothing more.

I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, particularly to other commenters. If you want to have one of your comments deleted, the please get in touch with me at: mary@irjjol.com. I'm all for the right to be forgotten so will happily oblige.

So, in a nutshell, if you give me your email address voluntarily to subscribe to new posts or if you opt to subscribe to new comments, then you email is just used for this. Nothing else. Promise.