The Hungarian National Gallery is the largest public collection for documenting and presenting the emergence and evolution of fine arts in Hungary. Its permanent exhibitions provide a comprehensive survey of the history of Hungarian art, beginning with the foundation of the Kingdom of Hungary, and ranging from the earliest monuments to contemporary works.
HISTORY OF THE ROYAL PALACE IN BUDA CASTLE
The Royal Palace in Buda Castle, which hosts the Hungarian National Gallery, underwent ongoing construction during the reign of kings Louis the Great, Sigismund, and Matthias, developing into a magnificent royal residence. Its state of repair, however, steadily deteriorated during the Turkish occupation beginning in 1541. Once the Turks had been driven out of the country, work began on restoring the remaining Gothic and Renaissance buildings in the then fashionable Baroque style. The history of the existing buildings of the Hungarian National Gallery dates back to the reign of Maria Theresa. Erection of a castle much smaller than the original commenced in 1750 under the leadership of Ignác Oracsek, according to plans by imperial chief architect Jean Nicolas Jadot. The late Baroque edifice was completed by Franz Anton Hillebrandt. At the end of the 19th century, another wing was added to the palace. Architects Miklós Ybl and Alajos Hauszmann employed neo-Baroque ornamentation to decorate the building. In the Second World War the palace was severely damaged; reconstruction started in the 1950s. Established in 1957 and first housed in the former Palace of Justice in Kossuth Square, the Hungarian National Gallery occupied its current premises in 1975, moving into Buildings B, C and D of Buda Palace, refurbished for the purpose of housing an art museum. The premises were extended in 2005 with the addition of Building A.
MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STONE CARVINGS
This collection contains fragments of sculptures, carved architectural elements of artistic value, and fragments of tombstones from the period stretching from the 11th to the 16th centuries. Besides major assemblages from the abbey church at Ják, the medieval cathedral at Kalocsa, and the Cistercian abbey at Pilisszentkereszt, it features emblematic pieces of medieval art in Hungary such as the Fragment of the lid of a tomb from Aracs, a King’s Head from Kalocsa, a Stone slab with the figure of Jacob carved in relief from Pécs, and fragments of Queen Gertrude’s tomb from Pilisszentkereszt. The collection also includes valuable Renaissance fragments such as that of a Madonna-altarpiece from Diósgyôr attributed to Giovanni Dalmata, and a relief from Nyitra (presently Nitra, Slovakia) with a carved figure of Christ Taking Leave of His Mother.
PANEL PAINTINGS AND WOOD CARVINGS FROM THE GOTHIC PERIOD
Medieval winged altarpieces and fragments are displayed on the ground floor and on the first floor. On the ground floor can be seen the earliest pieces in the collection, works dating from the 14th century. Of these works, two sculptures of the Virgin and the Child, from Toporc (presently Toporec, Slovakia) and Szlatvin (presently Slatvina, Slovakia) respectively, deserve special attention.
LATE GOTHIC WINGED ALTARPIECES
The ground floor exhibition of wood carvings and panel paintings from the Late Middle Ages continues on the first floor, in the former throne room of the palace, and in two rooms connecting to it. Amongst the exhibits are the most splendid works of late medieval altarpiece painting, including The Visitation by Master MS, from the high altar at Selmecbánya (presently Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia; see on the cover). Here a total of fifteen largely intact winged altarpieces and a number of additional fragments are on display. Most of the works exhibited here date from the early 16th century.
LATE RENAISSANCE AND BAROQUE ART
The permanent exhibition of Late Renaissance and Baroque art (1550–1800) starts with Mannerist works made in Vienna and Prague in the years around 1600. Contained in the exhibition space are 17th-century Hungarian ecclesiastical treasures, wooden epitaphs, tomb sculptures, depictions of saints of the Árpád dynasty dressed in Hungarian attire. Next, an assortment consisting mainly of portraits and still lifes evokes the culture of aristocratic residences in the Age of the Baroque. Besides monumental works, altarpieces and fresco sketches help recall the richness of Baroque ecclesiastical art. Outstanding among them are works representing scenes from the legends of Hungarian royal saints. Besides portraits and landscapes, late 18th-century art from the Age of Enlightenment is represented by early rural genre pictures and historical genre paintings.
ART IN THE 19TH CENTURY
Our permanent exhibitions of 19th-century art present a survey of the output of about 100 years beginning in the late 18th century. On show here are almost all of the most significant works of National Romanticism. The surrounding suite of rooms hosts landscapes by Károly Markó; Biedermeier genre pictures, sometimes wistful, sometimes delicately erotic; works attesting to painters’ discovery of the Hungarian landscape; and the best-known works of Hungarian portrait painting. Masterpieces by József Borsos, Miklós Barabás, Mihály Zichy, Gyula Benczúr and Bertalan Székely are especially exciting items in the exhibition. A separate room contains the works of Mihály Munkácsy and the greatest innovators in 19th-century Hungarian art.
TWENTIETH-CENTURY ART BEFORE 1945
Opened in 2002, this exhibition surveys the most important trends in the fine arts in Hungary from the generation that founded the Nagybánya artists’ colony in the 1890s (Simon Hollósy, Károly Ferenczy) to the mid-1940s. In line with a fresh approach to exhibition design, works are not arranged in strict chronological order; rather, each room is an independent unit in its own right. On show here is the work of the most important artists (József Rippl-Rónai, Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka, Ferenc Medgyessy, Róbert Berény, Gyula Derkovits) and groups of artists (the Eight, the Activists, the Rome School, the Gresham Circle). The work of the most significant Hungarian graphic artists is presented in a continually refreshed exhibition.
TWENTIETH-CENTURY ART AFTER 1945
The exhibition features works of art from the postwar period, showing a complexity of styles existing side by side and mutually influencing one another (Expressionism, Constructivism, Surrealism etc.). The new art scene, reinvigorated beginning about 1960, is represented by works of prominent masters of both the older and younger generations (Endre Bálint, Ignác Kokas, Menyhért Tóth, Béla Kondor). In subsequent rooms are works representing nonfigurative tendencies coexisting with Geometrical, Structuralist and Organic endeavours that span generations. Next to ever renewing figurative tendencies—individual variants of Pop Art and Hyperrealism—the corridor opening from the suite of rooms contains works of an Avant-Garde becoming more radical around 1980, including works based primarily on the use of photographs, and objects.