Inspired by the art of Csontváry


Today I’d like to write about one of my favourite painters. I must have been 12 when I first saw his large sized paintings.  They made quite an impact on me.

Csontváry (1853-1919), was born in Hungary the same year as Van Gogh, had a similar life, and as a painter was his equal (in my opinion). Unfortunately his contemporaries did not understand the symbolism of his vision. He was a loner and a schizophrenic.

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

At the age of 27 Csontváry had a vision. A voice told him he was going to become the biggest sunway painter (in his words), bigger than Raffaello. Nobody knows what he meant by “sunway”. He worked for more than 10 years as a pharmacist to make enough money to support himself as a painter. He was 41 when he set out for Paris, but like Van Gogh, didn’t stay long at the Academy. Like Gauguin, he yearned for something pure and simple, but he found the exotic in the people and nature of  the Middle East.

Old Fisherman
1902
Oil on canvas, 59,5 x 45 cm
Herman Ottó Museum, Miskolc

 

 

Csontváry painted thousand year old cedars in Lebanon, this one here is one of the best, titled “The Solitary Cedar”. The tree personifies him, the lonely artist, misunderstood and ridiculed by many.  The sheer size of this canvas, and the incredibly vibrant colours left me breathless and speechless. I felt small and insignificant, overpowered by his art.

The Solitary Cedar
1907
Oil on canvas, 194 x 248 cm
Janus Pannonius Museum, Pécs

He held about three exhibits in his lifetime, largely ignored by the public and the press. He probably never sold a painting. Because of lack of success and loneliness he slowly descended into mental illness and was unable to paint another painting.

 

Baalbek
1906
Oil on canvas, 385 x 714,5 cm
Janus Pannonius Museum, Pécs (loan)

After his death he remained unknown for a very long time due to most of his work being owned by a private collector. Today his collection is exhibited in national galleries in Hungary.

Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon
1907
Oil on canvas, 200 x 205 cm
Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest