Rippl-Rónai Work, Unseen for Decades, Featured at Art and Antique Fair


The Rippl-Rónai masterpiece, “St. Paul’s Farewell.”

A masterpiece by József Rippl-Rónai (1867-1927), unseen for almost 80 years, was the centerpiece of this year’s sixth Art and Antique Budapest exhibition and fair, which ran at the Bálna from Feb. 29- March 3. This event, highly anticipated by art enthusiasts and collectors alike, unveiled a rare piece of Hungarian post-impressionism that has been hidden away in a private collection for decades, as reported by state news agency MTI.

The work, “St. Paul’s Farewell,” was painted by Rippl-Rónai in 1912 and showcases the zenith of his artistic journey. The artist is celebrated as the most distinguished Hungarian exponent of post-impressionism. His masterpiece was presented at the Judit Virág Gallery stand, offering the public a glimpse into his unique artistic vision.

“The painting has lain dormant for decades as a treasured piece of a private collection. It was first exhibited in Kaposvár in 1912, and the last time [in public] in December 1947, at the commemorative exhibition of the Ministry of Religion and Public Education in the capital,” explained Anna Kelen, an art historian with the Judit Virág Gallery, highlighting the painting’s historical and cultural significance.

Kelen emphasized the rarity of such large crowd scenes in Rippl-Rónai’s oeuvre, underscoring the uniqueness of “St. Paul’s Farewell.” The period, known as the artist’s “corn era,” gave birth to a style distinctly his own, winning him international acclaim and making his works highly sought after. This particular painting, with an estimated market value of HUF 300 million, remains in private hands, with ongoing negotiations for its sale being handled by the gallery.

Exhibitors and organizers at the press conference launching the sixth Art and Antique Budapest exhibition and fair.

Record Sale

“St. Paul’s Farewell” was painted around the same time as another of Rippl-Rónai’s masterpieces, “The Garden of the Castle of Geszt,” which achieved a record sale at a Judith Virág Gallery auction in December 2022.

“With this amount, the painting has ascended to second place on the list of Hungarian auction records, trailing only behind Csontváry’s ‘Mysterious Island,’” Kelen told MTI, pointing to the painting’s monumental value and significance.

The annual Art and Antique Budapest exhibition and fair boasted representation from 40 galleries, presenting thousands of artworks, ranging from paintings, sculptures, and jewelry to unique carpets, furniture, and antique books, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in a world of artistic wonder and historical depth.

“This year, we have a fantastic selection of classical and contemporary material,” announced Ádám Tausz, the event’s main organizer. He highlighted an online charity auction, where items donated by the exhibiting galleries were up for bidding on the Axioart platform until the evening of Sunday, March 2. The proceeds from this auction were dedicated to supporting the Opera House Ballet Students’ Charitable Foundation, fostering a bridge between art and philanthropy.

Now in its sixth iteration, the Art and Antique exhibition and fair was first held in 1994. Tausz noted that several of today’s exhibitors, including Erdész Gallery, MissionArt Gallery, Nemes Gallery, Nudelman Numismatica, and Virág Judit Gallery, have been participating since the event’s inception 30 years ago, a testament to its enduring appeal and significance in the art world.

1955 Masterpiece

Highlighting the fusion of classical and contemporary art, the fair featured notable works such as Judit Reigl’s “Black Explosion,” a 1955 masterpiece that represents a pivotal moment in Reigl’s career, shown at the Kálmán Makláry Fine Arts Gallery stand. This piece, along with a 1971 painting by Hantai Simon presented by Initio Arts & Design, valued at approximately HUF 100 million and recently discovered in a French private collection after more than 50 years, underscores the fair’s role as a premier platform for encountering the crème de la crème of Hungarian art.

This year’s fair was also distinguished by its display of a 12-person dinner set adorned with the Kossuth family coat of arms, showcased at the Nudelman Numismatica stand. This exquisite 230-piece silver dinner set once belonged to Ferenc Kossuth, son of the Hungarian 1848-49 revolutionary Lajos Kossuth and a minister of trade from 1906-1910. Preserved in an original four-drawer deer skin-covered wooden box, it is valued at HUF 16.5 million.

In addition to these highlights, the fair also featured “Storm at the Horse Race” by Gyula Batthyány, brought by the Nemes Gallery. This painting, hidden for almost a century, represents one of the most significant pieces of Batthyány’s oeuvre and ties contemporary art to Art Deco influences. It previously belonged to an American oil magnate, who acquired it directly from the artist, adding a layer of international intrigue and history to its story.

This year’s Art and Antique Budapest exhibition not only serves as a showcase for the unseen masterpieces of Rippl-Rónai and other celebrated Hungarian artists but also as a cultural event that bridges the gap between the past and present, offering visitors an unparalleled journey through the realms of art and history.

The Bálna became a hub for art lovers and collectors during the fair. Its fusion of classical and contemporary art and the inclusion of unique historical items ensures the exhibition remains a highlight of the cultural calendar, inviting enthusiasts to explore, discover, and appreciate Hungary’s rich artistic heritage and contemporary creativity.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of March 8, 2024.

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