Ármin Hegedűs, Ödon Lechner, Budapest Zoo, József Vágó, Miksa Róth, RANN, Réseau Art Nouveau Network, Secesija, Secession, Szecesszió
Those who have been following me for a few years already know that I love the annual General Assembly meetings of the Réseau Art Nouveau Network. They are excellent for networking, meeting new people with the same interests, and catching-up with old friends! The official meetings usually last 2 days. And there is always an extensive program with excellent activities – organised by the receiving institution – around those meetings. Like expert guided walks, meals at Art Nouveau restaurants, visits to places that are normally closed to the public, and curator-guided exhibition tours.
Since I joined the RANN, I visited Glasgow, Brussels (twice), Szeged and Nancy. Unfortunately I missed the GA in Oradea, Romania, because Ryanair pilots went on strike and Ryanair closed its base at Eindhoven Airport.
This year the General Assembly took place in beautiful Budapest. In 2018, on my way to the GA in Szeged, I spent a few hours in Budapest and wrote about that here. Now, I stayed a week in Budapest and I still haven’t seen everything! Some buildings were hidden behind scaffolding, others were closed for visitors due to restoration works or simply too far away. So I’ll keep an eye on the progress and go back as soon as possible to see the rest of my ‘Must See’ list.
After a week of wandering around in Budapest, I have compiled my Top 15 of the most inspiring Art Nouveau locations you don’t want to miss. Here we go…
My Top 15 of Must See Art Nouveau Locations in Budapest
1. György Ráth Villa (Museum)
Since the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest closed for a major reconstruction, the György Ráth Villa houses the permanent exhibition Art Nouveau – a Hungarian Perspective, displaying the finest selection of the Museum of Applied Arts’ Art Nouveau collection. Three regional variations of the Art Nouveau movement, the British, the Austrian and the French are presented in the interiors. At the same time, the Art Nouveau dining room and sitting room allow the visitors a glimpse into Hungarian homes of the turn of the century. In display cases Zsolnay ceramics, glass works by Tiffany and Gallé, as well as jewellery by Lalique can be admired. Bugatti’s exclusive pieces of furniture reveal the influence of Oriental art whereas the inspiring role of the Transylvanian roots can be seen in the gallery with Hungarian Szecesszió art. (Városligeti Fasor 12)
2. Liszt Academy of Music (Concert Hall)
In 2013, the Liszt Academy concert hall was restored to the original splendor of when it was built in 1907 by Flóris Korb (1860-1930) and Kálmán Giergl (1863-1954). To fully enjoy the concert hall, I had previously booked tickets for an actual violin concert. And on sunday evening we marvelled at the splendour of the Grand Hall, (unfortunatly we missed the Small Hall, now known as the György Solti Chamber Hall). During the break we had plenty of time to admire the beautiful fresco Fountain of Art, from painter Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch (1863-1920), in the upstairs foyer. This painting is considered one of the most significant works of the Hungarian Art Nouveau. (Liszt Ferenc tér 8)
3. Miksa Roth Memorial House (Museum)
Miksa Róth (1865-1944) was the star of glasspainting and mosaic art in Hungary; a key person of Szecesszió. He was a pioneer of the applied arts, not only famous and celebrated in Austria-Hungary, but all over the world at the turn of the 19-20th century. You can find his works not only in many famous public buildings in Hungary, but in other countries like Mexico, The Netherlands, Norway as well. He also won gold and silver medals at the World’s Fairs. The museum is located in Róth’s own house. (Nefelejcs utca 26)
4. Schiffer Villa (Customs & Tax Museum)
The villa was built by Miksa Schiffer (1867-1944), a wealthy entrepreneur, railway engineer and patron. It was designed by József Vágó (1877-1947), who was one of the most important architects of his time (e.g. Gresham Palace, Árkád Bazaar), between 1910-1912 in the late Art Nouveau style. Vágó commissioned the finest artists of the Hungarian avant-garde (e.g. Kernstok, Iványi Grünwald, Rippl-Rónai) to design and decorate the interior spaces, resulting in a real Gesamtkunstwerk. I doubt whether any visitor actually enters to see the exhibition about the history of customs & tax. Most likely 99% of the visitors come to marvel over the architecture. This museum is not very well known, not even by locals, and entrance is free. And while you are there, you can admire Villa Sonnenberg, two doors down the road, by architect A.K. Kőrössy and sculptures by Géza Maróti. (Munkácsy Mihály utca 19/b)
5. Postal Savings Bank (under reconstruction)
As part of the RANN-meeting program, we made a bus-tour along the most important Art Nouveau buildings by Ödon Lechner (1845-1914). The tour was guided by the knowledgeable Professor József Sisa. Ödon Lechner is famous for decorating his buildings with Zsolnay ceramics, inspired by old Hungarian folk art, in combination with modern materials such as iron and reinforced concrete. One of the main attractions along our tour was – without a doubt – the Postal Savings Bank. This emblematic Hungarian Art Nouveau building opened in 1901 and currently houses the Hungarian State Treasury. As the building is currently under reconstruction, we were not allowed to enter. We enjoyed the architecture only from the outside. From street level though, it is very hard to see the beautiful roof of the Lechner building, but from the roof terrace of Hotel President (across the street) we had an excellent view! (The roof terrace opens after 16:00 and you need to kindly ask a key for the elevator at the front desk of the hotel.) (Hold utca 4)
6. Zoo – Elephant House (under reconstruction)
One of the highlights of my trip is the Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden. It is the oldest zoo in Hungary and one of the oldest in the world. The zoo opened its doors on 9 August 1866 and includes some valuable Art Nouveau buildings. The main gate and the Elephant House are some of the better-known works of Kornél Neuschloss-Knüsli, a Hungarian architect and art historian of Jewish origin. Kornél was the architectural director of the 1910-1912 reconstruction of the Zoo and at his suggestion, Károly Kós and Dezső Zrumeczky were entrusted with the design of the new buildings. At the moment, the Elephant House is under reconstruction, and you cannot get inside. (Állatkerti krt. 6-12)
7. Reformed Church
The Fasor Reformed Church (Fasori Református Templom) is a Protestant Art Nouveau Church designed by Aladár Árkay in 1910–1912. The church has a façade covered in Zsolnay majolica tiles bearing designs that echo Hungarian folk art. It also reminded me of Finnish Art Nouveau architecture. Apparently, these folk art motifs are repeated throughout the church, though I can’t tell from my own experience as I have not managed to get inside. To see the inside, you can check out more pictures on Art Nouveau World. The stained glass windows were – of course – designed by Miksa Róth. (Városligeti fasor 7)
8. Geological Institute (under reconstruction)
This beautiful building was also included in our Lechner-tour. And because it was also under reconstruction, we couldn’t go inside here either. Commissioned in 1896 and officially opened in 1899, the building was commissioned by the Hungarian Geological Society (now the Hungarian Geological Institute) and designed by Ödön Lechner (1845-1914). The turquoise and blue Zsolnay tiles on the roof represent the ancient Tethys Ocean. Other details of the building similarly merge architectural and geological themes, such as cave-like mosaics on the flooring at the entrance and details of fossils decorating the exterior. Engraved windows throughout the building bear typical Hungarian flower motifs, and the rooftop is crowned with a statue of human figures holding up a globe. (Stefánia utca 14)
9. Gellért Hotel & Thermal Spa
The hotel was closed for renovations. A film crew was filming in front of the hotel and after watching I don’t know how many takes, we decided to walk around the building and visit the Gellért Spa. We had hoped to have enough time to actually do a bit of relaxing in the thermal spa during our week in Budapest. But that turned out to be idle hope. Our schedule was way too busy and we didn’t make it into the actual baths. Yet we did end up spending some time admiring the entrance hall and all the beautiful Zsolnay ceramic decorations, mosaics and stained glass windows. The Gellért Thermal Bath and Hotel, built in the secession style by Hungarian architects Ármin Hegedűs (1869-1945), Artúr Sebestyén (1868-1945) and Izidor Sterk (1860-1935), opened its gates in 1918. (Szent Gellért tér 2)
10. Spitzer House
Time and again I saw the stunning entrance of this private appartment building on social media and I really wanted to see it for myself. The location is a bit off the beaten path, so we decided to take a bus. Once on location, the door was locked. So we waited for a tenant to arrive and allow us in. The building was built in 1911-1912 by the relatively unknown architect József Klinger for Salamon Spitzer and his wife. The entrance is decorated with sculpted female figures, colourful glass and lots of stucco and marble. It makes you wonder how the rest of the building was decorated! (Visegrádi utca 29)
11. Török Bank (Mosaic)
The Török Bankház (Turkish Bank House) was one of the capital’s financial institutions that became known for organizing the class lottery. The building was built in 1906 based on plans of architects Henrik Böhm and Ármin Hegedűs (1869-1945) to house the offices. On its upper gable, Miksa Róth’s huge mosaic composition entitled Glory to Hungary emphasizes the facade. Among the angels and shepherds who surround the Virgin, Róth had represented great figures of national history such as Ferenc Rákóczi, the Count István Széchenyi and Lajos Kossuth. Nowadays, there are apartments on the former office floors, and a restaurant opened on the ground floor. (Szervita tér 3)
12. Kőrössy Villa
One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Kőrössy Villa. Architect Albert Kálmán Kőrössy (1869-1955) originally built this villa as a holiday home for his own family in 1899. During WWII, the villa got damaged and after the nationalization of private property under communist rule it deacyed even further. But in 1998, the villa was restored to it’s former glory by a new owner who is planning to open the villa in the near future as a museum. Once inside you can enjoy the beautiful interior and stained glass windows. The villa also houses a monumental collection of Szolnay ceramics. For the moment, you can only visit the museum during a tour organised by Museum of Decorative Arts. Keep a eye out on their facebook planner to know when the next event takes place. (Városligeti Fasor 47)
13. Elementary School (Mosaic)
Built in 1906 in the Jewish Quarter by architect Ármin Hegedűs (1869-1945), with mosaics by Vajda Zsigmond and Róth Miksa. Hegedüs is the same architect who built the Török Bank at nr. 11 and the Gellért Hotel and Spa at nr. 9. The school was recently restored and is still in use as a school today. It must be very inspiring to go to a school as beautiful as this one. (Dob Utca 85)
14. Arkad Bazar
The Árkád-bazár was built as a large toy store in 1909, according to the plans of architects József (1877-1947) & László Vágó (1875-1933). The building was commissioned by Késmárky & Illés, one of Budapest’s leading toy companies. In 1907 the company decided on the construction of a new building to house their toy trade branch. Above the ground floor and the mezzanine floor, where the premises of the toy store were created, the building had four residential floors. The sharp lines, prismatic forms and geometric stylization of the Árkád bazár were without a doubt a novelty in the architecture of the Hungarian capital. (Dohány utca 22)
For the record, I am not crazy about the Vágó borthers’ geometric architecture. But it intrigues me. From all the different variations in the ‘New Art’, I find the Vágó brothers’ architecture to stand on its own. There is a floral French Art Nouveau and there is the geometric Wiener Secession. And then there are dozens of regional variations in between. But these tiled Vágó buildings do not fit in any of the boxes. Sure, the designs are geometric. But there is no equivalent in any other architect’s work. A couple of years ago I found out about a new museum in Oradea, Romania. It is called Casa Darvas-La Roche. It has the same rectangular tiles that form a mesh, emphasized by ceramic buttons to connect the tiles. And I could immediately see that this museum was drawn by the same hands!
15. Szenes House
There is not very much I can tell you about this building. I had seen many pictures on social media over the years and I really wanted to enjoy the beautiful courtyard with my own eyes. From a plaque on the façade I learned that architect István Nagy (1875-1950) built the property for Mór Szenes, chief inspector of an insurance company, and his wife Regina Stern. Nagy was a follower of Ödön Lechner, and the influence of Lechner’s Postal Savings Bank is recognizable, though the Hungarian folk art motifs appears in plaster here, instead of Zsolnay ceramics. As this is also an apartment building, I had to wait for a tenant to kindly allow me in for pictures. (Thököly út 46)
There is – of course – so much more Art Nouveau to discover in Budapest. Enough buildings that didn’t make my Top15, like the Gresham Palace, Parisi Udvar, Bedo Haz and the Sipeki and Zala villas. We also visited the Hungarian National Gallery where I particularly enjoyed the impressionists, as well as the neo- and the post-impressionists. And then there are the buildings we missed, and the thermal baths… We could have easily filled two or three weeks with Art Nouveau. But we were tired. So we’ll have to come back some other time to do the things we couldn’t do this time.
Our week in Budapest has been wonderful! We utterly enjoyed the cultural activities organised by the RANN and the company of other participants. I have said it a zillion times and I will keep repeating it: if you love Art Nouveau, do yourself a favour and join the Réseau Art Nouveau Network (RANN). Since the RANN is welcoming individual members next to their institutional members, you really have no excuse for nót joining!
Art Nouveau Architecture in Hungary – Digital Repository
Budapest’s Gellért closes its doors
Budapest in 8 Art Nouveau Buildings
Discover the lavish Kőrössy Villa neglected for decades
Franz Liszt Academy of Music
Hajós utca 32, a Szedő-ház – a hidden gem
The men who made Budapest: Miksa Róth
Top10 Art Nouveau Gems of Budapest
Zsolnay Factory – The History
This trip has been made possible with the generous support of DutchCulture