Hungarian Art Collection Returns Home and Goes to Online Auction

Art

Group photo of Thibaud Bárdy (second from right) with (left to right) János Viski, József Csillag, István Benyovszky, and László Neogrády.

The remarkable story of a Hungarian couple who became fine art collectors and dealers in America is now coming to light. The artworks assembled by Thibaud Bárdy and his second wife, Margareta Schik-Bárdy, are being auctioned off in a series of single-owner online events by Mike Portobello Auctions in Budapest.

The online catalog of the 81 lots in the sixth auction, the latest in the series, can be viewed at the aukcio.net website. The current sale runs until June 19, with others due to follow.

American lawyer Thomas Schwartz, who inherited the artworks from his godmother, Margareta, and is now putting them up for sale, describes the Bárdy collection as representing Hungary’s “hidden treasure.”

According to the Hungarian-language website műtárgy.com (artwork.com), Bárdy was born in Budapest in 1901. Interested in Hungarian art from a young age, he became friends with a circle of artists, supporting many of them with commissions.

After the Second World War, he moved to the United States, sending relief parcels by post to artists living in difficult circumstances in his home country. He frequently visited Hungary and always left with paintings. He sold many of the works to Hungarians living abroad but also continued to build up his own collection.

Margareta was born in 1916 in Jászberény (88 km east of Budapest by road) but moved to the capital, where she worked as a jeweler. After the 1956 revolution, she and her first husband, Frank Schick, emigrated to the United States, where she, too, continued collecting Hungarian art. After the deaths of their spouses, Bárdy and Margareta met at the Hungarian Cultural Club in New York.

They had homes in New York and Miami Beach, traveling extensively between the two and to Hungary, continuing to develop their now combined collection through a shared passion for art. Coincidently, both lived to be 97. Schik-Bárdy, who Schwartz knew as “Margitka,” died in 2013 when she left the artworks to her godson and close friend Schwartz.

Thibaud Bárdy (right) with the artist Pál Molnár-C (1894-1981)

Under the Culture Radar

“For decades, Hungary’s masterpieces were isolated behind the Iron Curtain and under the cultural radar of the West,” Schwartz tells the Budapest Business Journal. “Astute Hungarian collectors and the general public are rediscovering Hungary’s masterworks after decades of isolation. Today, discerning art lovers consider these works highly collectible,” he adds.

The lawyer has an interesting story himself. He got to know “Margitka” because he could speak Hungarian, his parents having been ethnic Hungarians from Slovakia, where he was born after World War II before the family moved to the States. He has also had an acting career as Tom Derek. Now, he says he is on a mission to honor his godmother’s legacy and Hungary’s rich cultural heritage, which she highly valued.

“The greatest service I can provide in promoting Hungarian fine art is honoring her trust in me and fulfilling my mission. I brought the collection back to Hungary, where it is held in the highest esteem, and through my association with Portobello, I am genuinely excited about sharing it with the people of Hungary and Hungarian communities in the surrounding Central European countries,” Schwartz explains.

The collection is extensive, totaling 1,200 oil paintings and 2,500 graphic works, including watercolors, prints, lithographs and drawings. Schwartz says the pieces range from “museum-grade to decorative classical.”

The provenance of the collection is fully authenticated. Bárdy maintained a close friendship with many of the Hungarian artists from whom he collected, as is documented through the many photographs, letters and sketchbooks found in the couple’s personal belongings.

Schwartz adds that the pieces are also “very affordable and available at auction at their actual fair market value, with no middleman costs or retail overhead.” He believes the internet is accelerating Hungarian art’s much-deserved recognition.

Sophisticated Collectors

“There’s a new, technologically sophisticated collector in today’s art world, and they’ve eagerly welcomed new tools to help them collect more efficiently. Collectors have become more comfortable and confident buying fine art through secure online resources. The result of all this on a global level includes unlimited art exposure opportunities with more individuals, from all income brackets, investing in Hungarian fine art,” Schwartz says.

He insists Hungarian art lacks nothing compared to what he calls “A-list Western European art” except in terms of cost, with the latter’s “huge prices and volatility.”

“Collectors are now focusing on the skill, technique and high quality of the art in this recognized asset class. They esteem the affordability and potential for high long-term appreciation of these works,” says Schwartz.

He argues Hungary’s modern and classical paintings represent a valuable opportunity and something of a safe haven in increasingly volatile and uncertain economic times.

“With a war in Ukraine, a looming recession and high inflation’s loss of purchasing power, investment-grade Hungarian art now represents an important hedge against growing economic and geopolitical risk,” he says.

“Beyond their pure aesthetic enjoyment, fine art as an asset class has an extremely low correlation with stocks, bonds and real estate in a financial crisis. As a result, Hungarian masterworks have uniquely preserved their power and enduring value over many decades, Schwartz adds.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of June 16, 2023.

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