Monet and Friends

1 December 2003 – 15 March 2004

1 December 2003 - 1 January 2004

Only those who have ever arranged a show themselves can fully appreciate just how many diverse conditions influence an exhibition, as the visible final outcome of a prolonged process. Chance and unforeseeable factors play a much greater role than one could expect or even surmise beforehand. It is the task of the curator – or in fact, one of the many tasks – to channel these factors, and with them, or counter to them, to compose a functioning, organic whole that appears to the viewer that it is good exactly as it is. More precisely, it doesn't even enter the viewer's mind that it could have been done another way.

The famous curator, Harald Szeemann, following the arrangement of one of his extremely successful shows, which was highly esteemed by all who saw it, held a slide lecture at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, in which he presented on the one hand, those paintings that he would have liked to exhibit according to his original ideas, and on the other hand, those that he ultimately selected in the absence of the former. And it may just be that the final result was actually better than it might have been according to the original plan.

"Monet and Friends" was indisputably the most successful exhibition of the past year: so successful, that it shattered the conception fixed in everyone, according to which: "a proper Hungarian does not go to exhibitions, and if so, it is out of the question that she or he would stand in line". Here, with rare exceptions, everyone stood in line, even the professionals, and they knew why. And if they finally could enter, they saw that it was worth the wait: they could truly view the works of Monet, Sisley, Renoir and others – including numerous masterpieces – in such a way, that the compositions enhanced and reinforced each other, together with the paintings, drawings and sculptures of the local collection. What was ultimately realised was not a fragmentary or secondary show, but an exhibition that was comprehensive and rich in masterworks, and which rendered an account of the Impressionist approach, with its shifts and individual flavours, and the French milieu.

But no matter how great an experience was provided by these few halls that took possession of the Parisian chef-d'oeuvres for three and a half months, what truly endured is, in fact, the catalogue, which can confidently be compared to Impressionime: Les origins 1859–1969, the similarly impressive volume accompanying the large-scale exhibition organised in the Grand Palais ten years ago, or with the catalogue of the Cézanne exhibition likewise arranged in the Grand Palais one year later, in 1995. With both Cézanne and the Hungarian "Monet and Friends", it is the personality of the painters, and their original aspect and style that emerge by way of the contemporary writings, criticism and documentation. Naturally, for us, it is the discovery and publication of the Hungarian press coverage that is exciting – Árpád Tímár researched and compiled that of the 1863–94 periods, and Eszter Földi that after 1895 – since this shed at least as much light on the relations and changes in approach in Hungary as on the French artists themselves. In parallel with this, the essay written by curator Judit Geskó and art historian Péter Molnos comprises the greatest measure of new aspects and data. This study focuses on the collectors of French artworks in Hungary, and the circumstances of collecting. The profiles of individual prominent personalities, such as Count Gyula Andrássy, Adolf Kohner or Ferenc Hatvany are clearly distinct and stand out from the rest. In connection with collecting itself, we gain a wealth of new information, just as in the corresponding chapter in the Parisian Cézanne catalogue, with the difference being that there, the number of French collectors was much greater, and in the majority of cases only a brief survey could be read.

With the Hungarian catalogue, the simultaneous approach from various angles of the reception of Impressionist paintings in Hungary becomes tangible and reveals the complex network that made possible the Hungarian acceptance of Impressionism, if a bit delayed, nevertheless, in the first years of the twentieth century. In the light of this research, to all intents and purposes, the Budapest presentation of Impressionist painting gains a much greater meaning and significance, as in this case, it is not only a part of distant French art history, but also a contemporaneous Hungarian (art) history. And so, we owe thanks first and foremost to the editor of the catalogue, Judit Geskó, then to the illustrious French and Hungarian staff of authors, and last but not least, for the exceptionally high quality of the exhibition catalogue, Vince Publishing. And we eagerly await the continuation.

Curator of the exhibition: Judit Geskó

Krisztina Passuth