Horror: Fourteen pictures to accompany the new Hungarian Basic Laws

The Orbán government’s first dabbling in art ended in ridicule. That was during the first “reign” of Viktor Orbán. His much admired “historian,” István Nemeskürty, apparently ordered a very large canvas depicting the members of the Orbán-Torgyán government together with important symbols of that period. At the end the government refused to pay for it. One ought to take a second look at this “masterpiece” to appreciate the second attempt of Viktor Orbán and his friends to make themselves immortal. Well, one laughing stock wasn’t enough. Ten years later, the second Orbán government ordered fifteen new “masterpieces” to the tune of 1.6 million forints apiece to illustrate the history of Hungary between 1867, the date of the Compromise, and today. At present they are being kept in the National Széchenyi Library protected by armed guards. I don’t think that anyone would like to steal them. Maybe the government is afraid of defacement. I am reproducing fourteen of the pictures, the ones already available. I put them in chronological order and added the names of the artists and the subject of the canvases. I am refraining from commenting on the artistic merits of the pictures. After all, I’m no art historian but I will say a few words about their historical background.

Gábor Szine: The Age of Dualism

Four politicians are having a get-together in the pub in Óbuda. Why these four? I guess because their birth and death dates made it possible for them to be found together in 1906.

Győző Somogyi: World War I

What a happy little war with all those hussars and prancing horses.

Sándor Filep: The Hungarian Soviet Republic

Tibor Kiss: Trianon

 This needs a little explanation. Albert Apponyi is certainly a favorite since he already appeared in the painting depicting the age of dualism. In addition we can see Mihály Károlyi, George Clemenceau, King Charles IV, and, I guess, Edvard Beneš, prime minister of Czechoslovakia.

Mózes Incze: Age of Miklós Horthy

  The white horse made it after all.

Gábor Bráda: World War II

This is appropriately tragic looking, whatever else you think of it.

László Gyémant: The Holocaust

 At least this painting  has some artistic merit.

Dániel László: The Age of Mátyás Rákosi

 Here the most important person seems to be József Mindszenty. An interesting choice.

Imre Kocsis: Revolution and War of Independence (1956)

The Kádár regime didn’t make it. Considering that it lasted for thirty-four years, longer than the Horthy regime, the omission is interesting.

Tamás Galambos: The reburial of Imre Nagy

 According to some eagle-eyed person Viktor Orbán is there in spite of the fact that Anikó Lévai, Orbán’s wife, apparently told Imre Kerényi, a theater director and the man who came up with the idea of commissioning the fifteen paintings, that she would kill him if her husband’s picture appears on any of the paintings. At least there is one person in this bunch who has some sense.

Gábor Atlasz: The National Theater

 At first I was somewhat baffled because Hungary’s National Theater has been in existence ever since the 1840s but then I caught on. It seems that the greatest achievement of the first Orbán government was that hideous new building that opened its doors in 2001.

Gábor Atlasz: The National Theater

 The most controversial picture. An interesting twist. The policeman is killing an angel in October 2006. Sure, all those angels who set fire to cars and garbage cans and who were throwing rocks at the policemen.

József Szentgyörgy, The Red Sludge

 Surely, a critical event of the century.

Iván Szkok: New Constitution is Born

 Saint Stephen is looking on approvingly.

The granddaughter of Imre Nagy called the whole series “the absurd of the absurd.” And she is an artist herself.

Those of you who know Hungarian mustn’t miss this interview with Imre Kerényi who commissioned the pictures. I don’t think that one can encounter a less sympathetic character too often. http://atv.hu/videotar/20111108_tizenot_rendelt_festmeny


  1. Éva, I have read somwhere (probably in an interview with Kerényi) that the guy with the grenade intends to be Béla Kun (somewhat similar and his tie is red), although it can be a young Benes too. Don’t ask why anyone would put Kun there, the whole setting is confusing and it is impossible to decipher the picture. It is rather a set of gentlemen from a Jules Verne novel preparing their expedition to a distant continent and listening to the advice of the most renowned fellow of the Society of Geography.

  2. Off-topic: Tamás Eszes, leader of “Véderő” is dead, but not by suicide.
    He has been killed.
    I guess “nazis” deserve to die, right?

  3. Gabor: “Éva, I have read somwhere (probably in an interview with Kerényi) that the guy with the grenade intends to be Béla Kun (somewhat similar and his tie is red), although it can be a young Benes too.”
    I pondered over that one but the character in the picture doesn’t look very much like Kun. I actually went and looked at Benes’s picture and there was some resemblance. The whole thing is terrible.
    I also wonder to whom that odd leg belongs. In white stockings. The whole thing is incredible.
    I understand there are hundreds of parodies already on the Internet. For example, Orbán after a fox who suspiciously looks like Gyurcsány.

  4. The last two pictures.
    Red sludge: Where is the minister that issued a governmental prizes for this venture.
    Constitution: A sword of Damocles hanging over the constitution. Do they know something we do not?

  5. They could all have been done by Istvan Roth!
    Some are visually quite interesting. Could have been much worse. what is the sense of the chameleon looking on at the reburial of Imre Nagy?

  6. @Gretchen: I am sure the chameleon carries some profound message….. or it’s simply Orban 🙂

  7. The interview is something else. It is like reading Simon Joseph on this blog or following Johnny Boy. Kerenyi goes on with his monologue about his hurt feelings about some interview on ATV back on September, not with him, but with somebody else.
    Oh my… St George and the Dragon have been replaced with Policeman and the Hooligan Dressed Up for Halloween. The New Constitution is Born is very reflecting of current Hungary, as the single woman present on the picture is probably Orban’s wife as she is dressing up the table for the guests.
    Interesting concept…

  8. I certainly do not understand all hidden and not so hidden meaning in the pictures but there is something positive to find in them. There is a mention, and not even as in duty bound, of the holocaust as a part of Hungarian history (that is for Johnny: please remember). Trianon is difficult to decipher, but the Hungarian Soviet Republic either as that picture does not appear that much more scary than the picture with Admiral Horthy.
    The choice of the events after 2001 is a bit mysterious, and the quality of the pictures corresponds to it. There are so many important events! So many that there is no mention of joining the EU or NATO. The lovasroham is my “favourite”, 1956, Christian and Hungarian “witnesses”, and Darth Vader on a horse. Too compelling.

  9. Very good An – made me laugh!
    And Kirsten’s Darth Vador reference made me smile – that’s exactly the first thought that came into my mind.
    Is it just me, or does Horthy look like Hitler? And what on earth do those disembodied hands represent? I wonder if there’s a subtle bit of sabotage going on here?
    Over all, though, nowhere near as bad as I would have expected – excluding the childishly lunatic ‘policeman’ one, and the appalling ‘constitution’ picture (as Ron says, that does indeed look like the sword of Damocles!).
    And certainly mostly a great improvement on the 10 year old picture. Who on earth painted that? One of OV’s kids?
    Certainly no one of any great talent. Not only do the people look ridiculously wooden and the lighting ‘effects’ are weird, but the perspective is so wrong as to actually be nausea inducing! Even the most incompetent artist would have got the perspective right.

  10. JB – one Nazi less is certainly cause for celebration, but the official line is suicide. What do you know that makes you think it wasn’t?

  11. After a second thought I find it revealing that Darth Vader had to be marked “police”. Would this medieval horror show be incomprehensible without it…?

  12. And ‘Police’, not ‘Rendőrség’ – to make sure Johnny Foreigner gets the message?
    (Not that Johhny Foreigner will have the faintest idea what any of this is about!)

  13. So, where will hey exhibit this garbage?
    The World War One is like scene from the animated version of the Janos Vitez by Marcel Jankovics. I loved it (the movie).
    King Stephen is actually looking quite puzzled. He seems like he wants to say “What the fuck is this fellows”?
    The fun thing with chameleon is that if you look closer it catches birds. They look like the SzdSz freedom birds.
    There was (is?) a genre called “soc-real” (socialist realism) which was booming in Rakosi era in the 50s. Pictures like the “Whistling Conductor”. The pictures depicted well fed, happy citizens of the country, many times reading the words of the great leaders. Is this next? I can imagine a paining where Johhny Boy and Simon Jozsi are reading the new constitution to their families. Little, wild eyed, putto like children are listening enchanted .. Ahh, beautiful.

  14. The reburial of Imre Nagy has an oddly South American feel to it, especially the flowers (more obvious if you expand it).
    And the chameleon obviously is important (to the artist, at least) as he has gone to considerable trouble to draw its shadow on the crowd – a detail he could easily have left out, given the lack of any other obvious shadows.

  15. Based on that and an objective extension of the benefit of doubt, I submit to you that the chameleon is the key to the picture.
    I am inclined to believe that the artist has painted Orban twice in there. Once orating hidden in the ornaments and once as chameleon in place of the angel that in reality resides on that column. The chameleon that he is and that casts a long shadow forward, the only one cast in the picture.
    This painter will come back yet in a few years, explaining that he satirized the whole system and the whole concept by depicting the symbol of he age, Orban, as the chameleon that already then, at the time of the reburial, cast a long and threatening shadow.
    It simply fits easily into the tradition of “reading between the lines” that a witty artist may smuggle his satire into this bizarre and nauseating enterprise.

  16. Paul in the painting by Tamás Galambos: The reburial of Imre Nagy, the Chameleon is very important. If you look at the shadow of the chameleon you will see that it casts a very long shadow over the whole proceedings. The problem is I do not know when it was painted, so the exact meaning is unclear. The important bit is the symbol the shadow of the Chameleon makes. If it were painted at about the time of the reburial, then the symbol is clearly a ‘Hammer and Sickle’ showing that the very system which killed Imre Nagy still darkens the whole proceeding. If it was painted after the fall of communism then it is some other form of warning or comment.
    There are two further important symbols. The first and most obvious is the long white triangle. This is incomplete and has a break near its tip as though it has gone behind the pillar. It is supported by a skewed girder structure. What it means I have no idea. The third is the mast with three black balls on it. Both of these items cast shadows.
    It is interesting that the ‘crowed’ is facing away from proceeding and are totally surrounded by men in black uniforms wearing green helmets.
    Finally there are the men on horses around the base of the column who and what they are I do not know. But they seem mediaeval in dress. Something from Hungarain history, but what?

  17. Paul: “The reburial of Imre Nagy, the Chameleon is very important. If you look at the shadow of the chameleon you will see that it casts a very long shadow over the whole proceedings.”
    I have been thinking about this chameleon and I think that the explanation of it is quite simple. Orbán in his speech complained that the same communists were standing by the coffins who had killed Nagy in the first place. So, they are the chameleons. Or, keep also in mind in Kövér’s speech the passage about the approval of Gyurcsány and his friends that was necessary for his getting a visa to visit the West in 1984.

  18. “The Reburial of Imre Nagy” is actually based on photos, and young VO is depicted giving his speech. Examples here:
    @Odin: The white triangle thing, whatever it is, he took from the photo.
    @Paul “And what on earth do those disembodied hands represent?”
    Kerényi said they mean that “Horthy’s hands were tied from both sides/directions.” = he was a Victim Of History. see http://fn.hir24.hu/itthon/2011/11/06/kerenyi-imre-megmutatja-mit-vett/
    On the Trianon-picture, Károlyi is depicted with a broken freemasons’ symbol. In “völkisch” discourse, “freemasons” is antisemitic code.
    Köver just said “if there is a hell, Károlyi is sitting there watching his statue” on Kossuth tér. The statue got symbolically lynched by Jobbik a year ago, and just now a Jobbik MP removed flowers and wreaths from it as a media stunt for N1 nazi television (“Traitors don’t deserve flowers”)– I have the impression there is a countdown ticking and the statue will be sawed off by unknown “patriots” before its official removal. Signals like this painting and Kövér’s speech give Jobbik & Co the licence to act.

  19. Galambos’ painting is a primitive painting that not only popular in South American cultures but have a long history in Hungarian art (Vankone Dudas Julia probably the most well known one http://tinyurl.com/7oq5mcx ). THe white triangle was actually a real decoration on the funeral. It was an installation at the museum http://tinyurl.com/88skff2 .
    Somogyi always used folkish forms. I was more familiar with him from the early eighties. He still uses naive style and bright colours, He used to be a priest.
    Anyway, what I mean to say hear is that art means different things to different people. I have no problem to discuss the reasoning behind the subjects choosen by those who ordered them, I have no problem to question why the artists got involved in such a mockery, but I do not feel that I have any right to discuss the artistic merit of any of the paintings.

  20. I said “hear” but I meant “here” of course. It is not to often that I reread my posts (I know I should do it more often), so I just happen to catch this one. I apologize everyone if my posts look like riddles time-to-time.

  21. That white triangle thing has always puzzled me. Presumably it meant something important at the time, as they went to a lot of trouble to put it there, but I’ve never come across an explanation for it.
    Károlyi’s ‘broken Freemason’s symbol’ I took to be an ordinary compass – as might be used by someone dividing up a country on a map(?). But you could be right.
    As I said the other day, I am puzzled by the loony right’s hatred of Károlyi. The worst you can accuse him of is naivety and indecisiveness. If they want someone to blame, why not Kun, who caused so much disruption just at the wrong time, of Bethlen, whose intransigence prevented any adjustment to the new borders (and which indirectly led to the horrors of Nazi and Soviet occupation)?

  22. The chameleon is indeed a “visual trojan” ironizing the whole thing. The artist quoted an older painting of his, “The Golden Era (Danse Macabre) from 1996, see http://artportal.sigmanet.hu/lexikon/kepek/aranykor_danse_macabre
    (the tip came from Austrian journalist Gregor Mayer, who wrote an extensive comment to my post on the matter, highly recommended for those of you reading German)

  23. pusztaranger – I read Mayer’s comment (with a little help from Mr Google) but I am none the wiser. The puzzle of the chameleon in the latest picture is now replaced by the puzzle of its use in the original picture! (Plus the additional puzzle of why the artist chose to repeat the image!)
    A less obtuse explanation of these two pictures, their relationship and their context would be greatly appreciated, if anyone could oblige me.

  24. PS – any links to ‘adapted’ versions of these paintings on the net would be appreciated too.

  25. Thanks, Éva. The Yellow Submarine one is brilliant!
    I liked the IMF ‘burglar’ cartoon as well. OV with his light sabre and little dog, and tumble down house is quite sad as well as funny – an excellent example of what a cartoon can do.

  26. The only appropriate word to describe those paintings is “medievalist.”
    So art reflects reality.

  27. Öcsi: Exactly!
    “medievalist” was the word I was looking for – this kind of thing doesn’t belong in the 21st century, it feels crazy to me …

  28. The Freemason symbol in the Trianon painting is comprised of both the compass in Karolyi’s hand and the square lying on the ground–hence a broken symbol.

  29. Some1: Apparently, he hired this guy, who has some very nice ideas how to promote VO and Hungary and organized some medievalist (thanks Öcsi) paintings.
    Perhaps he does not need this PR organization anymore.

  30. I have to admit the adapted versions really cracked me. My favourite is the Rambo one for 2006.

  31. Ron: “Again off topic: VO is now nationalizing RABA.”
    Guys, I can’t keep up with you doesn’t matter how hard I try.

  32. Eva: Do not worry. We are not able to keep up and/or understand Mighty Mouse. As we will be never be able to understand insanity and keep up with its thoughts, if any.

  33. Ron: “VO is now nationalizing RABA. He paid apparently a premium for the shares of it. People are confused why he did this.” Because he did not want one of his last supporter Johnny Boy, to loose his job.

  34. Considering the incredible contribution of the Jewish community to Hungarian culture overall, I find the painting entitled ‘Holocaust’ to be sickening. It fixes the Jews in a state of eternal victimhood, as if their only role in Hungarian history until WWII was as the object of the German-Hungarian genocide. The painting includes a thoughtful-looking (!) Arrow-Cross figure in their midst, suggesting that Hungarian fascists were equally victimized and ‘one’ with their victims. The figure in the lower right hand corner bears a strange resemblance to the writer Frigyes Karinthy (1887-1938), who was actually spared the horrors of the war by a sudden illness. This painting pretends to be a gesture acknowledging the horrors that were visited upon the Hungarian Jewish community: it is meretricious tripe of the worst kind. A more honest portrayal would have been a scene of the Arrow-Cross thugs shoving their victims into the icy Danube.

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