Młoda Słowacja. O meandrach sztuki nowoczesnej między Żyliną i Koszycami

Słowacja - Slovensko - Slovakia

Young Slovakia. About the Meanders of Modern Art Between Žilina and Košice

Publication: 14 October 2021

NO. 9 2012



Slovaks, the willy-nilly function under a multicultural reality, albeit amicable in principle, aimed at a dialectics of openly Slovak elements and Czech, Hungarian, German and Ruthenian elements, which have been coexisting in the Republic, although not always smoothly, for centuries. Such conclusions and differences in methodology among people writing about art gave rise to the current revision of the comprehensive picture of visual arts in the Slovak lands.

The iconosphere of Slovakia, its synthetic description recently undertaken by a team of researchers[1], only overlaps with Slovak iconosphere to a limited extent. As a mental and actual space of several nationalities inhabiting the same area, it is very extensive and multidimensional, with wide-spread linguistic, religious and cultural foundations. Its essence is best reflected in the popular term križovatka kultúr, summing up the entanglement, conflict and potential mutual supplementing by heterogenic creative expressions, separate signs of identity activated between the Tatras and the Danube[2].

Key regions of this space are occupied by Slovak iconosphere, which flourished in Romantic times thanks to the “sons of the Word”, mythologising the history of the Great Moravian Kingdom, and Cyril and Methodius, as well as exploring motives connected with the Tatras and Jánošík as national themes[3]. It was in this era that Peter Michal Bohúň and Jozef Božetech Klemens, who owed their patriotic awareness to the Štúrovcy, created the foundations of the “National Pantheon in paintings”, featuring the representative and intimate portraits of Ľudovít Štúr, Michal Miloslav Hodža, Ján Kučera and in particular, Jan Francisci, painted several times. In the most telling painting of Slovak Romanticism, Bohúň presents Francisci – during the Springtime of Nations – against the backdrop of the lofty Tatras, with the sanctified Krywan, and a fiery and stormy sky above them (in line with Janek Matúška’s poem Nad Tatrou sa blýska), with Francisci standing proudly on a summit, in a hat with a luscious feather, a shotgun, sabre and two percussion cap guns behind the belt – as the commander of a detachment of Slovak voluntaries preparing for the fight for independence. A kind of pendant to this image of the “most beautiful young man in Slovakia” (as the contemporary German press wrote)[4] is a later painting, from 1864-1865, this time as the manager of a mine in Liptov. The passionate poet and activist is immortalised by Bohúň en face, in an official costume, again with the characteristic ridge of Krywan and other Tatra crests behind him, and brings out his “sense of rationality, a prudent look, distinction and the importance of his actions.”[5] The painter equips him with three telling props: a copy of the political newspaper Pešťbudínske vedomosti, the first editor of which, in 1861-1863, was Francisci himself; an impressive banner with a symbol of the Slovak Motherland, of which he was a co-founder in 1863, and later proposed and supported its cultural and publishing initiatives; and a page of the Memorandum národa slovenského, written down by Štefan Mark Daxner at the National Assembly in Martin in 1861, and addressed to the Hungarian authorities asking for permission to teach schoolchildren in Slovak, and to publish economic journals in this language, etc. The last item in the labyrinth of the symbolism of national independence is a small copy of Francisci’s image from the period of the uprising, framed and presented as a memento of the generation, and a sign of a sacrifice for the “sweetest” homeland.

Alongside the works described above, one should also mention an important although small and unfinished genre scene in oil by Bohúň, which is a record of the watershed first congress of representatives of Spiš, Orava, Turiec and other regions of Slovakia, held in the Spring of 1848 in Liptovský Mikuláš, and a series of modest watercolours and coloured lithographs with an ethnographic bent, where the artist immortalises young and healthy Slovak couples with all the richness of local costumes[6]. But even if a lover of Slovak art does include this work in the Pantheon, it does not protect him from the overwhelming impression that proving the formal and quantitative force of this iconography, of which Bohúň must be regarded as the founder, will most likely turn out to be impossible[7].

A fact of both ontological and ontic importance in this context is the very unfavourable – up to the 1920s – historical and social circumstances in which Slovaks lived: their complicated relations with Hungarians and their far from unambiguous ties with the Czechs. No wonder that a nation deprived of royal and aristocratic structures and their patronage which played an identity-building and motivating function (an example of which is the court of the Polish King Stanislaus Augustus and his Malarnia [Royal School of Art] or Puławy and Hôtel Lambert), and the later lack of major centres of academic and artistic life (comparable to Prague, Krakow and Warsaw), establishes and expands its iconosphere with a much smaller momentum than its neighbours. The 19th-century absence of such distinct personalities of historicism, generating national memory, as Piotr Michałowski, Josef Vojtěch Hellich, Antonín Lhota amd Karel Javůrek, or afterwards Artur Grottger and Jan Matejko[8], had to be compensated for by the achievements of neo-Romantic literature headed by Hviezdoslav, and characterised by an original and ample polyphony of thought and aesthetics.

The geo-cultural situation of the Slovaks defined above meant that their collective iconosphere was long ridden with inner hesitancies, ideological and mental contradictions as well as a constant need for self-identification and moving from the abstract to the concrete[9]. Only the 1970s introduced to the Slovak historiography of art a fundamental transformation of Slovak awareness and a rejection of the nationalist tactics, employed in order to create simplified medallions for artists born and/or active in Slovak lands. It was only then that the controversial clash between the contours of the iconosphere of Slovakia and Slovak iconosphere faded: we saw the disappearance of the practices of ostentatious poslovenčenie (Slovakisation – editor’s note) by artists of complex, unclear, to no small degree Hungarian identity (perceived as a natural revenge for the previous Magyarisation), and vice versa, the repugnant practices of excluding them from the narrative spoken in an “ethnically pure” spirit[10].

An outside observer is especially predestined to see the real parameters of both iconospheres and ultimately concludes that both options – turning a “half-alien” into “exclusively ours” and making a nationalist cut-off – falsify the real state of things. For Slovaks, the willy-nilly function under a multicultural reality, albeit amicable in principle, aimed at a dialectics of openly Slovak elements and Czech, Hungarian, German and Ruthenian elements, which have been coexisting in the Republic, although not always smoothly, for centuries. Such conclusions and differences in methodology among people writing about art gave rise to the current revision of the comprehensive picture of visual arts in the Slovak lands. Equally numerous monographs and specialist catalogues, published years ago on both sides of the Danube in a zone of international disruption, teach how to give this culture a new face, in new relations with its surroundings, and ultimately to establish its dual status: both Slovak and Central European.

But we have to stress that neither adopting a wider look, based on the contextual interplay of various motives in the art of Slovakia and “around it”[11], nor the peculiar history of the Slovak nation, highlighted by the probable myth of millennial enslavement[12], should result in imprecise claims, devaluating the artistic life of the Slovaks themselves. For example, we should stop repeating the interwar opinion of Mikuláš Galanda, a zealous advocate of Western surrealist traditions, that “Slovak art really began after the revolution”[13], that is after the First World War. As I recalled in the introduction, the first mature manifestations of Slovak art go back to a slightly delayed Romanticism and are not very remote from other “national symptoms” in painting. Nevertheless, in the case of works created in the Slovak zone at the turn of the 20th century and received by a not very numerous audience, the category of quality must push aside the category of quantity; only the former does not disdain the constitutive – although modest in size and outreach – manifestations of presence and formation of artists representing Slovak society and their exhibition space, in circumstances much different – much more difficult politically and financially – than those in which the Modernist communities in Krakow and Prague flourished.

Slovak fin de siècle in visual arts and literature, just as the fin de siècle of entire Slovakia, is above all a story of individual creators rather than formal and informal groups, specialist periodicals and manifestos announced collectively. The fates and achievements of these individuals, usually living in different places and separately taking their education and exploring the world, are only connected with each other to a limited extent. And this was a model relatively alien to Polish and Czech art, based on constant interaction during that period: generational, polysemiotic, organisational and social, between authors identified with such integrating and comprehensive terms and names as Młoda Polska (Young Poland), Česká moderna, Praha secesní, the Fine Arts Society, the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts, the Polish Artists Society “Art”, Krakow Workshops, Spolek výtvarných umělců Mánes, Sdružení výtvarných umělců moravských and Jednota umělců výtvarných. Against such a backdrop a model of artistic life with poorly developed community structures seems much less rich in events – and this is why going beyond the discourse of power, conceived as a reflection gravitating towards “aggregated”, “larger” artefacts, constitutes the strategy of a researcher studying Central European cultures. The lost phenomena, as we may definitely call the first Slovak Modernists, are not subjected by him to traditional value judgements – instead he tries to focus his story on impressing the beholder.

As I suggested above, the history of Slovak art before 1918 records only one official artistic grouping: Grupa uhorsko-slovenský maliary, established right after the industrial exhibition organised in August 1903 in Žilina[14]. Emil Pacovský, Jaroslav Augusta and Gustáv Mallý, in fact the first and last “full members”[15] of the group, collectively displayed their works in a small private building, together with a Hungarian professor of drawing and several less committed Slovaks. From the point of view of Slovak consolidation and aspirations to declare artistic independence, both the exhibition and the group itself brought major symbolic benefits, as Milan Hodža and Svetozár Hurban Vajanský wrote enthusiastically in the Slovenský týždenník and Národné noviny newspapers after visiting the exhibition[16]. The August event crowned previous summer plein-airs organised by Pacovský and Augusta in Detva, a small town in Central Slovakia with particularly rich folk traditions. The idea was inspired by two sizeable ethnographic exhibitions – in Prague (1895), where a small display of Slovak artefacts was mounted, and in Hodonín (1902), as well as by the work of the Muzeálna slovenská spoločnosť (based in Martin and founded in 1893) acting for the preservation of national heritage[17].

The profile of the art represented quite unanimously by the three painters until a rapid disintegration of the group in early 1908, was shaped both by these pro-ethnographic impulses and contacts of Pacovský and Augusta (both of Czech origin) with a colony of folklorists in nearby Slovácko. The Moravian artists – hungry for rural vitality and “primeval” nature, advocating the idea of ad fontes through drawing on sources of human condition uncorrupted by urbanism – were gathered around Joža Uprka, who won the Mention honourable medal at a Paris Salon for his canvas, The Pilgrimage of St. Anthony (1893), and who in 1902 received Auguste Rodin, accompanied by Alfons Mucha and Zdenka Braunerova, in his house in the village of Hroznová Lhota[18]. The practices and key themes of the folklorists, initially supporting the Group financially and helping to organise exhibitions, confirmed the members’ belief that in the actual situation the primary goal of art should be to capture and preserve the ephemeral, daily, unconscionable beauty of the rustic world around them. It was a world of multicoloured, vivid female costumes, passionate collective prayers, annual sowing, harvests and haymaking, as well as mountainous or hilly landscapes with faraway glimpses of houses, and brown-and-yellow haystacks drying in the noon sun in the foreground.

Mallý, educated in Prague and Dresden, stands out amongst the Group’s members not only as an artist, but also as a teacher and cultural operator (after settling in Bratislava in 1911 he founded a private school there and took his students, among them Ľudovít Fulla, to plein-airs in Važec at the footsteps of the Tatras). For while the work of the other two members is characterised by often heavy and belaboured brushstrokes and awkward light-and-shade modelling, depriving the paintings of air and gracefulness, Mallý’s visions are born of natural movements, more and more liberated and expressive, endowing these visions with truth and plasticity.

In the final analysis, the author of Harrowing (1906) is not aiming “unlike Augusta, at an ethnographically faithful documentary or at a sentimental Romanticism, unlike Pacovský”[19]. The compositionally dominant element in Harrowing, just as in the famous painting by Ferdynand Ruszczyc from 1898, is the “outcrop of leaden clouds hanging over a heavy, severe, hard soil”[20]. In both cases the restless, turbulent layers of clouds bursting or shot through with light evoke a strongly symbolic mood, to some extent in the spirit of Millet’s realism, and even if Mallý employs the contrast between deep browns and whitened greys much more delicately than Ruszczyc, he supplements the silhouette of the protagonist with leafless trees, lingering vaguely on the horizon. Both artists remain rather unambiguous, contemplative in the framing and reserved in their verism: they express a tension between the mythical bucolism and the reality of living in the countryside and farmland, between a lonely man by the plough and the mysterious and untameable sky, between “good and beautiful work” and the superhuman toil of the oppressed peasant farmer.

The Slovak painter, unlike the Polish one, does not rest at critical genre painting in a “Young Polish” version, with echoes of the Barbizon School and Gustave Courbet, as well as of domestic representatives on naturalism – Jaroslav Věšín and Stanisław Witkiewicz respectively. Mallý supplements the iconosphere of his homeland with accidental and picturesque motives, such as a snow-covered road and a row of simple cottages with impressive roofs, captured at sunset in harmonies of subdued purples and greys against a golden sky, with pleasant pinks in some places. The author of Harrowing is presented as “diametrically different from artistic Bohemia”[21], as a painterly counterpart of realist writers: Timrava and Jozef Gregor Tajovský[22]. But even two of the few extant visions from the first stage of his career – the road in Pezinek near Bratislava, and an amused pair of lovers on a quiet mountain-slope with a small church and a large cross on the summit, which an elderly woman is heavily climbing – prove that both in terms of content and form, Mallý was a spiritual participant of the metamorphoses of “art around 1900”, stretched between a Stimmung-impression luminism and a symbolism Böcklin-Klimt style.

In the few years of its existence Grupa uhorsko-slovenských maliarov organised more than a dozen exhibitions (in Ostrava, Opava, Kroměříž, Olomouc, Luhačovice and other places), and invited Jozef Hanula to work with them; this graduate of the Budapest and Munich academies returned to his native Spiš in 1896 and received numerous commissions for murals in local churches, as well as portraits of officials and clergymen. Hanula, born in a poor rural family, is a remarkable example of an artist supported financially first by his father, a farmer and amateur sculptor and later – in the form of grants – by the bishop of the Spiš Chapter, Juraj Částek, and the Hungarian government. But the commissions which brought him tangible material rewards and allowed him to provide for his family, took him away from attempts at crystallising the native iconography from the times of the Grupa, where a prominent place is occupied by After the sweetheart (1902), a replica of the version presented in 1902 at the memorable exhibition in Hodonín[23]. A reflexive, saddened girl holding a white booklet and a wild flower is shown by the architect en pied, against a backdrop of dark, academic greens emphasising the rank of the protagonist wearing her Sunday best – with an elaborate headband decorated with many-coloured threads and ribbons, and a striped vest in strongly contrasting yellows and reds, enriched with embroidered panels at her neckline. In the eyes of a viewer familiar with the buoyant peasant orientation (not to be confused with the affected peasant worship), slightly overshadowed by the decadent and aesthetic aspect of Krakow and Prague, the painting becomes a guiding light in the history of the Slovak portrait and Slovak culture as a whole. Hanula thus joins such artists as Józef Chełmoński, Józef Rapacki, Włodzimierz Tetmajer, Kazimierz Sichulski, Władysław Jarocki, Fryderyk Pautsch, Wincenty Wodzinowski and Juliusz Makarewicz, who in the rural vicinity of Krakow and in Masovia, as well as in the world of the Podhale people and the Hutsuls, find independent lands, like Gauguin and his friends in Brittany.

Grupa uhorsko-slovenských maliarov fell apart definitively when Pacovský resigned his position of chairman and left Slovakia never to return there again, while Augusta and Mallý were increasingly at odds with each other – the former was jealous of the latter’s talent and greater demand for his work. As a cultural entity this constellation had no continuation before the war. Although in 1911 Vajanský tried to organise a large-scale exhibition gathering all Slovak artists in Martin, and three years later, on the eve of the global upheaval, Tajovský made a similar attempt in the same city, their efforts ended in failure[24]. So stimulating the development of native art was unsuccessful both in the case of the fundamentalists connected with the Slovak Motherland, and advocates of Czechoslovakism headed by Pavel Blaha and Vavro Šrobár, publishing the periodical Hlas in Skalica and undertaking numerous initiatives in many areas of social life.

Among the alienated and still largely unknown personalities who did not take part in the activities of Grupa, did not draw inspiration from the surrounding landscapes and did not contribute to the image of folkloristic Slovakia, Milan Thomka Mitrovský has a separate place. In the epoch of dandies, neurotics and somnambulists, black cats and red mills, he is the most distinct and perhaps only Slovak artist liberated from the manacles of the mundane through his eccentricity and escapism. Creating his own kind of les paradis artificiels in the pictorial and also literary domain means – definitely “not the Paris style” – a return to an absolute simplicity and brevity for him in terms of composition and colour combined with a reflection on biblical, Franciscan, Quixotic and Faustian motives. His studies at the Prague Academy under the symbolist Maximilián Pirner, although disappointing for him, seemed to have enlivened his imagination and generated a tendency to use literary motives; and his period at the Munich Academy under Gabriel von Hackel taught him to gradate the saturation of colour and to evoke an aura of immutability. These experiences were crowned by a stay in Florence between 1898-1901 and access to grand collections of old art, frequently copied later in Vienna and Martin. Reflections on Titian and other Italian masters appear even in his late notes, among such ideas as potential pankalia, intellectual and artistic quietude, and complete moral renewal.

In his aesthetic status, Mitrovský somewhat recalls the Frenchmen Jean-Jacques Henner and Eugène Carrière, if we look at their work from the perspective of saturations and describe it as a peculiar mixture of Classical, Romantic and Symbolist elements. After such invoking of the Western legacy, it would be in order to add that the Slovak painter is still waiting for a serious comparative monograph, which would cover both his unfinished small-size canvases and the intriguing series of self-portraits, consistently kept in the tonalities of noble browns and silvery greys, as well as the micro-novels with loose notes, confronted with works of Charles Baudelaire, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Guillaume Apollinaire and other contemporary native writers. Portrait of Svetozár Hurban Vajanský (1926), very successful in terms of tonality and mood, confirms the close relations of Mitrovský with the literary community, which means that despite his legendary isolation and “offended dignity of a grand seigneur[25] he co-authored the “National Pantheon in painting” founded by Bohúň and Klemens.

At this juncture of the narrative the borders between Slovak art and the art of Slovakia, analysed from whichever angle, are blurred and finally vanish. They no longer make sense, as specific messages of ideological or ethnographic nature are replaced with universal ones, marked with the colouristic sensitivity of the authors and their brilliance in finding new, original and attractive solutions in the area of composition and texture. For example, Želmíra Duchajová-Švehlová, the only familiar Slovak female artist from the “end of the century”, excellently educated in artistic schools for women in Berlin and Munich, represents a similar profile in terms of biography and experience as Maximilián Schurmann, the Nitra-based son of an Austrian painter and a German bourgeois, and Dominik Skutezky, who was born into a family with Jewish roots and settled in Banská Bystrica in 1889. They belong to a group of ambitious globetrotters, who see travelling as an opportunity for the constant evaluation of creative forces. Before domestic and professional duties forced her to “become a typical Sunday painter”[26] and relinquish the dreams of independence, Švehlová visited France, Italy, England, Holland, Scandinavia and Germany. After his studies in Vienna, Schurmann left for France, where he made friends with Claude Monet and painted small oil sketches of the garden in his Giverny summer estate – they show evident inspiration (which in Schurmann’s case proved ephemeral) with the “receptive”, “sparkling” manner of the impressionists and the style of Water Lilies painted by the host of this colony near Paris, who was already losing his sight. Skutezky travelled regularly to Italy – he stayed there for the first time between 1867-1870 within a study visit to the school of historical painting in Venice, and for the last time in 1903; later, he unexpectedly focused on scenes with employees of a copper works near Banská Bystrica, implementing the postulates of Adolph Menzel and Constantin Meunier from three decades earlier.

All three artists view the captured object in the spirit of l’art pour l’art, they undertake a verification of Western solutions based on an intensely brightened palette of pure colours, impasto gestures, a divisionist and pointillist seeing of railway stations, river surfaces, human crowds at the Tuileries or on the Île de la Jatte. Many of their canvases originate in an “enchantment” with the mutability and decorativeness of light in a summer garden, a park fountain, a tree alley and luminous foliage, a crowded market square in a small town, a face and silhouette of a female, male and infantile model. But in the “architecture of the painting” they even differ from the impressions by Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas and Max Slevogt (not quite spontaneous or momentary, as focused on the “below-skin skeleton” of shapes), a telling example of which is The Market in Banská Bystrica (1889) by Skutezky. Juxtaposing it with Flower Market in front of the Madeleine Church in Paris (1890) by Józef Pankiewicz, reinforces the claim about similar mechanisms governing the painting in the style of “vibrism” in the entire Mitteleuropa: despite “intense colour and minute patches of paint”[27] experiments by both authors do not eliminate preliminary sketches and work in the atelier, and direct or indirect contact with French progressivism does not divorce them from traditional practices, where the work is maturing in a number of stages. Skutezky’s painting, much more indebted to realist techniques than the oeuvre by Pankiewicz, is a good embodiment of multi-path transformations and phenomenological fluctuations both in Western and Ugro-Slav art.

Much greater formal innovations and a remarkable courage in building perspective exclusively through paint spots – flat and synthetic Gauguin style, or bold and impasto van Gogh style – characterise the work of Konštantín Kővári-Kačmarik, pioneer and spiritual patron of the interwar achievements of the Košice Modernists[28]. The artist died in a psychiatric clinic in 1916 aged 34, but his canvases, full of saturated purples, yellows and greens, as well as watercolours, ink drawings, linoleum prints and original pastels, painted on rough cardboard with a soaked and removed top surface, must be included among the best achievements of the fin de siècle in Slovakia. The painter’s legacy is enriched with views of Košice and Kežmarok in Spiš, ladies in elaborate hats and umbrellas against the backdrop of a hilly, rolling landscape, as well as contours of women and children surrounded by sun-bathed walls of rural architecture. Kačmarik presents them in a form developed on the basis of post-Impressionism and Art Nouveau, discovered in 1907 in Paris, and Hungarian plein-airism, experienced in the Szolnok artistic colony thanks to a grant from its patron, Baron Adolf Kohner, and the Baron Frigyes Harkány Prize awarded to him by the Hungarian National Society of Fine Arts for works exhibited in the Budapest Műcsarnok[29]. Especially the scenes from rural life, captured in the “restlessness of all-pervading light”[30] and in vivid pastel colours by Adolf Fényes, one of the Szolnok regulars, highlight the profound relations of Kačmarik with Károly Ferenczy’s generation, as well as the uniqueness of his “sensitive colourism”[31].

Not only in his native city but also in the Hungarian colony, Kačmarik had an opportunity to meet Elemír Halász-Hradil, born in Miskolc of a Czech father and a German mother, a student of Simon Hollósy in Munich since 1897, and participant of his famous plein-airs in the Marmara town of Nagybánya (today Baia Mare), as well as holder of a Graf Dénes Andrássy grant at the Paris Académie Julian in 1902-1903. Together with a friend, Hradil planned to open a professional private school of drawing and painting in Košice, but this undertaking failed for unknown reasons. In 1909 the municipality offered him the interiors of an extant defensive tower, later known as the House of Artists and furbished as an atelier and exhibition hall. Also working and displaying his paintings there was Ľudovít Csordák, son of a man from Košice and a Polish woman (Zuzanna née Kosińska[32]), student of the Romantic Realist Július Mařák between 1889-1895 in the landscape atelier of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, and a friend of Hradil since 1908. But their acquaintance, which culminated in a joint study trip to the Adriatic Coast in 1912, did not blur the original differences between tempers and idiolects. Like Pierre Bonnard, Hradil repeatedly painted the Košice atelier in the intimist palette of warm browns, ochres, subdued greens and pinks; like Henri Fantin-Latour, he immortalises still lifes with an almost religious piety, in a subtle and refined way; like Wilhelm Bernatzik he portrays musing girls, mature men and old people as well as members of the Gypsy minority in a luminous-nostalgic aura[33]. Fishing Boats (1910-1912) with unusual, charming shapes, painted with distinct, resolute brushstrokes, is an isolated example in his work, visually very valuable. And they supplement the preoccupations of Csordák the landscape painter, who drops the gloomy visions of wastelands and Zadielska Valley, with its steep and stony slopes, for the open spaces of the Košice uplands, gentle hills and hazy hollows, felt only as an interplay of light and shade, a mosaic of vivid, glowing yellows, oranges, blues and purples. If we except the Masovia and Świętokrzyskie sceneries by Władysław Podkowiński, these are the most cheerful experiences of a true impressionist.

Similar supranational references, reminiscences and connotations regard other individualities of prewar art in Slovakia, omitted in this essay for obvious reasons and awaiting a revaluation and re-edition in the Central European perspective. Two of them in particular deserve an ample study, unquestionably the greatest, present in the specialist literature on both sides of the Danube: Ladislav Mednyánszky – a romantic, mystical heir of the Barbizonians, painter of inner landscapes with unique overtones[34], and Ferdinand Katona – a rebellious, impulsive student of Mednyánsky, immersed in realist poetics with strongly lyrical or symbolic colouring. Their achievements in landscape painting, much akin in essence, although quite different in the use of the means of artistic expression, remain an open page in the process of constructing or reconstructing Young Slovakia, has began hic et nunc[35]. This as yet uncharted area in the history of our macro-region may prove to be a genuine treasure trove.


[1] See especially: Zuzana Bartošová et al., Umenie na Slovensku. Stručné dejiny obrazov, Bratislava 2007; Architektúra na Slovensku. Stručné dejiny, ed. Henrieta Moravčíková, Bratislava 2006.

[2] See Laima Laučkaitė, Art in Vilnius 1900–1915, Vilnius 2008; Jurij Biriulow, Secesja we Lwowie, translated by Janusz Derwojed, Warszawa 1996.

[3] For more about them in Polish, see Joanna Goszczyńska, Synowie Słowa. Myśl mesjanistyczna w słowackiej literaturze romantycznej, Warszawa 2008; eadem, Mit Janosika w folklorze i literaturze słowackiej XIX wieku, Warszawa 2001; Jacek Kolbuszewski, Na południe od Tatr. Studia o literaturze słowackiej, Wrocław 2003; idem, Modele estetyczne liryki słowackiej romantycznego przełomu, Wrocław 1975, and others.

[4] Danica Zmetaková, Umenie 19. storočia, in: Umenie Slovenska. Stále expozície Slovenskej národnej galérie, Bratislava 1994, p. 164.

[5] Elena Dubnická, Peter M. Bohúň, Bratislava 1975, p. 20.

[6] For more about him in Polish, see Teresa Dudek-Bujarek, Kinga Krawczak, Peter Michal Bohúň w kolekcji Muzeum w Bielsku-Białej, Bielsko-Biała 2004.

[7] See Anna Petrová-Pleskotová, Slovenské výtvarné umenie obdobia národného obrodenia, Bratislava 1966.

[8] See Marta Herucová, Die Divergenz der slowakischen Historienmalerei des 19. Jahrhunderts, in: European History Painting in the 19th Century. Mutual Connections – Common Themes – Differences, ed. Rafał Ochęduszko, Wojciech Bałus, Kraków 2010, pp. 95–109.

[9] For more see Slovenský mýtus, exhibition catalogue, ed. Aurel Hrabušický, Bratislava 2005.

[10] For more about the nature of older critical and scholarly publications, see Dana Bořutová, K problémom interpretácie umenia 19. storočia na Slovensku, in: Osobnosti a súvislosti umenia 19. storočia na Slovensku. K problematike výskumu dejín umenia 19. storočia, ed. Dana Bořutová, Katarína Beňová, Bratislava 2007, pp. 9–22.

[11] Such practices were expected years ago by László Beke and others. See Aspekty: slovenské, maďarské, (východo)európske, globalne, translated from the Hungarian by T. Archlebová, in: Na križovatke kultúr? Stredná Európa a umenie 20. storočia. ed. Ľuba Mrenicová, Zora Rusinová, Bratislava 2002, p. 169.

[12] For more see Andrej Findor, Tisícročná poroba?, in: Eduard Krekovič, Elena Mannová, Eva Krekovičová, Mýty naše slovenské, Bratislava 2005, pp. 71–76.

[13] This quote opens the doctoral thesis of Marta Ipczyńska-Budziak, rather schematic in parts, but still much needed in Poland. See eadem, Między swojskością a nowoczesnością. Grafika słowacka XX wieku, Warszawa 2008, p. 7.

[14] See Zuzana Francová, Želmíra Grajciarová, Marta Herucová, Bratislavský umelecký spolok 1885–1945, Bratislava 2006.

[15] Marian Váross, Grupa uhorsko-slovenských maliarov, in: Z novších výtvarných dejín Slovenska. Súbor štúdií a materiálov, Bratislava 1962, p. 210.

[16] Ibidem, p. 206; Ján Abelovský, Katarína Bajcurová, Výtvarná moderna Slovenska. Maliarstvo a sochárstvo 1890–1949, Bratislava 1997, p. 66.

[17] M. Váross, Grupa uhorsko-slovenských maliarov, op.cit., p. 200.

[18] Jaroslav Pelikán, Průvodce historií a stálou expozicí, Hodonín 1985, pp. 18–19.

[19] Katarína Bajcurová, Gustáv Mallý, Trenčin 2009, p. 24.

[20] Stefania Krzysztofowicz-Kozakowska, Malarz żywiołów, in: Ferdynand Ruszczyc 1870–1936. Życie i dzieło, exhibition catalogue, ed. Stefania Krzysztofowicz-Kozakowska, Anna Kroplewska-Gajewska, Kraków 2002, p. 60.

[21] M. Váross, Gustáv Mallý, Bratislava 1988, p. 100.

[22] Ibidem, p. 38.

[23] Jitka Haaková, Jozef Hanula 1863–1944, Spišská Nová Ves 2002, p. 5.

[24] M. Váross, Grupa uhorsko-slovenských maliarov, op.cit., pp. 252–253.

[25] Vojtech Tilkovský, Mitrovský, Bratislava 1944, p. 5.

[26] J. Abelovský, K. Bajcurová, Výtvarná moderna Slovenska…, op.cit., p. 52.

[27] Phrases by Maria Gołąb taken from her description of Pankiewcz’s work, in: Galeria Malarstwa i Rzeźby Muzeum Narodowego w Poznaniu, ed. Maria Gołąb, Adam Soćko, Poznań 2008, p. 192.

[28] Tomáš Štraus, Anton Jasusch a zrod východoslovenskej avantgardy, Bratislava 1966, pp. 18–22.

[29] Publications on Kačmarik sometimes mention the “Nadányi Prize”, but a note on awards and donations in 1907, published by a prestigious periodical from that epoch, explicitly names Harkányi: “A Képzőművészeti Társulat igazgatósága a Harkányi-féle díjat Kővári Szilárd festőművésznek adományozta”; and the final fragment of the article, hitherto omitted by scholars, says that the artist also received a government grant: “Tíz állami ösztöndíjat a következő művészek nyertek: Pentelei Molnár János, Conrád Gyula, Gémes Gindert Péter, Frecskay Endre, Egry József, Stróbl Zsigmond, Siklódy Lőrincz, Vidovszky Béla, Kővári Szilárd, Körmendi Frimm Jenő” (Művészet 1907, no 4, p. 268).

[30] Anna Szinyei Merse, Az impresszionizmus sodrában. Magyar festészet 1830–1920 / In the Current of Impressionism. Hungarian Painting 1830–1920, Budapest 2009, p. 39.

[31] Helena Němcová, Konštantín Kővári-Kačmarik 1882–1916, exhibition catalogue, Košice 1996, p. 3.

[32] František Gedra, Ľudovít Čordák (Csordák) 1864–1937 – o básnikovi štetca a farieb, Bidovce 2011, p. 11.

[33] See also the time-honoured interpretations of Ladislav Saučin in the monograph Elemír Halász-Hradil a umenie jeho doby, Bratislava 1962, especially the chapter Luminizmus a impresionizmus, pp. 52–64.

[34] For more about him in Polish, see Michał Burdziński, Głosy o zmierzchu. Ladislava Mednyánskiego wizje śmierci w kontekstach ogólnoeuropejskich, in: Czarny romantyzm – przypadek słowacki, ed. Joanna Goszczyńska, Anna Kobylińska, Warszawa 2011, pp. 200–225.

[35] It should be noted that art historians do not use the term Mladé Slovensko, although it is employed – in reference to the formation of Slovak writers – both by František Votruba, a literary critic active in the first half of the 20th century, and Michal Gáfrik, author of the essay Poézia Slovenskej moderny from 1965. So it is unprecedented to understand it as a virtual collection of artists living in the same period on a specific territory, and as such are part of the panorama of contemporary European art. For more about the semantic fields of the juxtaposition Mladé Slovensko and Slovenská moderna see Ján Gbúr, Realizmus w slovenskej literatúre, in: Dejiny slovenskej literatúry, ed. Imrich Sedlák, v. I, Martin–Bratislava 2009, pp. 418–427, 519 and ff.; Maria Bobrownicka, Młoda Polska a Slovenská Moderna, in: Vzťahy slovenskej a polskej literatúry od klasicizmu po súčasnosť, Bratislava 1972, pp. 177–184, and others.

About authors

Michał Burdziński

An employee of the Slovak Institute in Warsaw, a PhD candidate at Warsaw University, a graduate of comparative studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow (2005-2010), a Stanisław Lam Scholar at the Historical and Literary Society in Paris (2012), and a participant of the Socrates-Erasmus programmes (Masaryk University in Brno, 2008-2009) and Erasmus Practices (Vojtech Löffler Museum in Košice, 2011). He has been long fascinated with Mitteleuropa, especially the literary and artistic legacy of Modernism in Slovakia and Hungary. He is a lover of the Tatras, Lviv and other “lost places”.


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