Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Lajos Fülep: The Task of Hungarian Art History (1951)

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Lajos Fülep: The Task of Hungarian Art History (1951)

Article excerpt

Introduction: Lajos Fülep and Hungarian art

Lajos Fülep (1885-1970), arguably the most influential Hungarian art historian and theorist of the 20th century, only became part of the institutional framework in his sixties, after publishing many of his major writings as a freelancer. Having graduated from high school in 1902, he began his career as a journalist and critic. He undertook several trips to Paris and studied philosophy, literature and art history in Italy from 1907 to 1914. His art theoretical essay Memory in Artistic Creation earned him a doctorate at the University of Budapest in 1912. It was around this time that Fülep became associated with György (Georg) Lukács, with whom he co-edited a journal of philosophy, A Szellem (The Mind). During World War I, he was a member of the so-called Sunday Circle (Vasárnapi Kör), a group of progressive thinkers which included Frigyes (Frederick) Antal, Arnold Hauser, the writer Béla Balázs, the sociologist Károly (Karl) Mannheim, the poet and essayist Emma Ritóok, as well as Lukács and Fülep. In those years, Fülep worked as a secondary school teacher and - for a brief period - as an art historian at the Municipal Gallery of Budapest. He also studied theology and passed exams to become a Calvinist priest. In 1918 he worked at the Ministry of External Affairs and in the next year he was appointed as a professor at the department of Italian language and literature at the university. After the fall of the short-lived Council Republic of 1919, he was dismissed from this position. He subsequently practised priesthood in different small towns in Southern Hungary until 1947, while publishing his theoretical essays in journals and lecturing as a visiting professor at the University of Pécs in the 1930s. In 1948, he became a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and in 1951 a professor at the Art History Department of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. From then until his death, Fülep was the central personality of Hungarian art historical scholarship, taking on a leading role in the establishment and organisation of new institutions. He was the chair of the newly founded Committee for Art History of the Academy of Sciences, editor-in-chief of the new scholarly journals Muvészettörténeti Értesíto (Bulletin of Art History) and Acta Historiae Artium, as well as editor of a two-volume new history of art in Hungary. He published scholarly monographs on Rembrandt, Miklós Izsó and Gyula Derkovits. The new generation of art historians trained at the university in the early 1960s respected him as their master, and he is now widely considered the founding father of Hungarian art history writing as it is today.

As a critic, Fülep started out under the spell of the Symbolism of the Nabis circle. His artistic ideals were embodied in the work of Cézanne, his reverence for whom was rooted in the primitivism of the Symbolists. In the early 1900s, he became an avid supporter of modernist tendencies in Hungary, most notably the Eight, a group of avant-garde artists influenced by Cézanne. The most pregnant trait of Fülep's criticism is probably his insistence on quality and originality: he had no patience for phenomena he regarded as bad art or non-art, and neither for any kind of academicism, including the 'modern academicism' he discerned in the work of certain followers of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. In the next decades, as he gradually turned from a critical-philosophical outlook towards a historical one and became more interested in art history as a historical discipline, Fülep also realised the importance of 'bad art.' The text published here is evidence of this turn. The question of national art - the definition of the concept and its relationship with global art history - recurred in Fülep's writings on multiple occasions. His first major attempt to address the problem was the essay Hungarian Art, first published in the literary magazine Nyugat (West) - a forum of modernists - between 1916-18, and subsequently in book form in 1923. …

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