Mihály Munkácsy, the great Hungarian painter was born in February. Lili Hektor (6/a) wrote about his life and works in detail.

Mihály Munkácsy

Self portrait

His life in short:

·         Born: 20th of February, 1844, Munkács

·         Original name: Michael von Lieb

·         Itinerant of painter Elek Szamossy

·         With the help of Antal Ligeti he received a huge amount of money  from the state so he could study abroad.

·         1865 – Academy of Vienna under Karl Rahl

·         1866 – Munich, Academy

·         1867 – Universal Exposition, Paris – after this, his style became much lighter

·         1868 – Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf (he learned from Ludwig Knaus)

·         Died: 1 May, 1900

At the beginning of his career Munkácsy painted mainly scenes from the daily lives of everyday people. First he painted in a colourful style, for example in The Cauldron (1864) or Easter Merrymaking (1865). After that he started to pay more attention to the background into which he placed his figures (Storm in the Puszta, 1867). Later he learnt to show different emotions in his figures and to treat them as a group (The Last Day of a Condemned Man, 1869).

In 1869, Munkácsy painted his much loved work The Last Day of a Condemned Man (below). This is considered his first masterpiece. He got the Gold Medal of the Paris Salon for it in 1870. It made Munkácsy a popular painter. Ironically enough this work shows the image of torture caused by suppression, internal uncertainty and reactions to a coming tragic end. However, it inventively captures the abilities of the Hungarian master in painting.

The Last Day of a Condemned Man 

Munkácsy, together with his friend, the landscapist László Paál, moved to Paris. He continued painting everyday pictures like Making Lint (1871) and Woman Gathering Brushwood (1873). The best part of Munkácsy's career was between 1873 and 1875, when he painted Midnight Ramblers, Farewell, Churning Woman, and Pawnshop. He married the widow of Baron de Marches in 1874, and his style changed from that time on. After that, he painted colourful salon paintings and still lives.

At the end of the 1870s he also worked in Barbizon, together with Paál, and painted fresh, richly coloured landscapes, such as Dusty Road, Corn Field, and Walking in the Woods. The similarity of László Paál's style also appears in the landscapes painted during the 1880s, such as Avenue and The Colpach Park. His realist portraits—e.g. of Franz Liszt and Cardinal Haynald—were also made around this time.

Dusty Road

In 1878, he painted a historical tipe of picture, The Blind Milton Dictating Paradise Lost to his Daughters, which was a new milestone in his work. This scene is set in the past and in a richly furnished room. The picture was bought (and sold) by art dealer Charles Sedelmeyer, who offered Munkácsy a ten-year contract. Munkácsy became a rich man and an established member of the Paris art world.

Sedelmeyer wanted him to paint large pictures which could be exhibited on their own. They decided that a subject taken from the Bible would be the best. In 1882 Munkácsy painted Christ in front of Pilate, which was followed by Golgotha in 1884. The trilogy was completed by Ecce Homo in 1896. All three were bought by American millionaire John Wanamaker who exhibited them in his department store in Philadelphia every Easter. In 2009 all three were put in a special wing of the Déri Museum in Debrecen, Hungary.

Ecce Homo

Munkácsy did not give up genre painting, but his settings changed. In the 1880s he painted many salon pictures: scenes set in richly furnished rooms in the homes of rich people. His most often painted subjects were motherhood (Baby's Visitors, 1879), the happy moments of domestic life (The Father's Birthday, 1882), children and animals (Two Families in the Salon, 1880). His elegantly dressed, nice young women also appear in landscape settings (Three Ladies in the Park, 1886). Beside these main subjects Munkácsy also continued to paint scenes in the country and dramatic, internally emotional landscapes.

Towards the end of his career he painted two colossal works: Hungarian Conquest for the House of Parliament and a fresco entitled Apotheosis of Renaissance (below), for the ceiling of Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Although Munkácsy, who was very considered about earthly comfort and social concideration and he became a celebrity, he was always unsure and always questioning his own talent. By the 1890s, his depression grew into a severe mental illness. His last pictures are troubled and sometimes even bizarre (Victim of Flowers, 1896).

Towards the end of his life when a disease was taking more and more of his energy and finally darkness came on his mind, he accomplished two pictures containing several figures, one is Strike (1896) where he illustrated the subject of the picture, rather unusual at his time, in a new style of character representation with the old passionate approach only superficially present.