The Art and
The Art and Life of István Farkas (1887-1944)
Lecture by Éva Forgács, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena
A modernist of the École de Paris, whose elusive landscapes fascinated writers and painters alike, in 1932 Farkas returned to his native Hungary where his mysterious works ultimately presaged his own death at Auschwitz.
The art and personality of István Farkas have captured the imagination of critics such as André Salmon, who wrote the first monographic book on his work, and Nobel Laureate Imre Kertész who homaged the artists in his poetic prose The Farkas Villa.
Presented in collaboration with the Yeshiva University Museum and the American Friends of the Farkas Foundation in conjunction with the exhibition Great Paintings and Small Masterpieces: Selection of Early Twentieth Century Hungarian Art from the Nancy G. Brinker Collection, Forbes Galleries in New York, January 23 – March 28.
István Farkas. Hungarian Modernist was held at the Art Gallery of the Graduate Center, CUNY in 2005
Jonathan Goodman on Istvan Farkas (Art in America, 2000)
The painter Istvan Farkas was born in Budapest in 1887 as Istvan Wolfner, the son of Jozsef Wolfner, one of the most prominent figures in Hungarian publishing. After studying briefly at Budapest’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1909, Farkas made his way to Paris to further his education; his circle there included the painter Jean Metzinger and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. He returned to Budapest during the general mobilization for the First World War, took part in fighting the Germans and ended the war as a prisoner in Italy. In 1925 he went back to Paris to paint, returning to Hungary seven years later to take over his father’s publishing company; around this time he was recognized as one of Hungary’s best artists. After a decade of keeping a low profile, he was reported to the authorities in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz, where he died in July of that year.
This is too short an account of a man whose art deserves to be more widely known. The exhibition underscored Farkas’s gift of color, expressed in commonplace but lyrical and meaningful scenes; as the French critic and poet Andre Salmon wrote in 1935, “Farkas transports us without forcing us to interrupt our daily routine.” In the brief essay reprinted In the exhibition catalogue, Salmon likens Farkas to “the Matisse of The Dance and Joie de Vivre.” But to this writer, the tragic circumstances of Farkas’s death cast a shadow on his work.
Farkas’s sad gift of prescience is evident in View (Beautiful View), a tempera-on-wood painting from 1930. It is a powerful work in which the paint is drawn horizontally across the wood grain. We see in the foreground, on the left, a black figure wearing a hat and holding a cane. Before him are a tree, a table and two chairs, beyond which is a house and, in the background, a dark green field and a sun setting in a brown sky. The painting communicates a strong sense both of isolation and of imminent apocalypse.