Tamás Lossonczy: painter
Tamás Lossonczy (1904–2009) was a Hungarian abstract painter born in Budapest. He is considered by many critics to be one of the leading figures of modern art in Hungary of the 20th century.
After graduation from secondary school, Lossonczy began law studies, but soon afterward took an entrance examination to the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts and was accepted. During the 1920s, he traveled frequently to Paris, where he befriended several prominent artists of the period, such as Piet Mondrian and Vilmos Huszár, whom he met in 1929.
Despite these formative influences, Lossonczy soon became disillusioned with painting, turning, with limited success, to architecture and interior design. He was also involved with a number of Marxist organizations and was briefly detained on suspicion of conspiracy and subversion even before he joined the Group of Socialist Artists in 1934. Ironically, he managed to escape serious persecution until the establishment of the communist state after the second world war.
Encouraged by the critic Ernö Kállai and the sculptor Ibolya Schwarz (whom he married in 1939), he eventually returned to painting. He developed a repertoire of suggestive, organic forms, filled with butterfly wings and fungi-like lines, as in the Configurations of 1940-42. This surreal style did not exclude other motifs – in particular luminous, chromatic circles and other geometric shapes – but was nonetheless a pervasive feature of his work throughout the subsequent decades.
Lossonczy and his wife privately exhibited many of their artworks in their home. Unfortunately, most of Lossonczy’s early paintings disappeared when his studio was destroyed during the bombing of Budapest in 1944, an experience that he described in his often moving and candid diaries: “The mad orgy of ruins, entangled wires, twisted corpses, dead horses, overturned parts of blown-up bridges, bloody hoofs which had been torn off horses, broken guns, scattered ammunition, chamber pots, rusted washbasins, pieces of straw and entrails of horses floating in muddy pools mixed with blood, cameras, wrecked cars and tank parts: They all bear witness to the awful suffering of the city.”
However, this disaster was followed by a period of great artistic achievement at the end of the war, when Hungary enjoyed a proliferation of innovative artistic groups – the European school, the Avant-garde Artists Of The Danube Valley and the Hungarian Group of Concrete Art. Lossonczy joined all of these groups.
This expansive era did not last long. Abstract art was not consistent with the socialist realist style promoted by the authorities and Lossonczy’s work was swiftly branded bourgeois and irrelevant. In one exhibition, his canvases were even daubed with white paint, an incident that left the sensitive artist demoralized and humiliated.
Although Lossonczy made a few attempts at socialist realism and other more neutral figurative styles, in 1954 he was expelled from the Association of Hungarian Artists. His anguish at this time is vividly expressed in Human-Animal (1955-56), in which miniature faces emerge from the mouths of angular, screaming creatures, over a background spattered with spots of color.
From 1957-1968, he taught drawing at an industrial school in Budapest. It was in the early 60s that he recovered his old creativity with a dramatic and monumental canvas, the three-metre-square Great Purifying Storm (1962), in remembrance of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.
This searing painting, with its frenetic, rotating lines, set the tone for much of Lossonczy’s mature work, including the vibrant Latent Powers (1969) and Storm of Colours (1971). Lossonczy also remained committed to drawing – “artistic bubbling,” as he described it – and, at various points in his career, experimented with less conventional media, from boxes covered with paint and fragments of mirrors to paper reliefs and, in 1980, a series of string sculptures.
Throughout this period Lossonczy remained relatively isolated, although he had a small solo show at the Adolf Fényes hall in Budapest in 1971, followed seven years later by a display at the city’s Mücsarnok (also known as the Kunsthalle). It was not, however, until after the collapse of communism that Lossonczy was given a substantial retrospective exhibition, at the Ernst Museum in Budapest in 1995.
Lossonczy is a founding member of the Széchenyi Academy of Letters and Arts, established by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1992, and in 1994 he received the Kossuth Prize, the most prestigious cultural award in Hungary, and is awarded by the President.
While Lossonczy stayed detached from contemporary artistic developments, he did eventually receive international attention, above all a spectacular public commission, his large-scale mosaic at the EUR-Magliana metro station in Rome, which was inaugurated in 1998.
After the death of his first wife, Lossonczy remarried. In 2003 his second wife, Éda Pál, opened the Paris Blue Salon, a gallery in Budapest devoted to his work. The artist’s centenary the following year was celebrated with a series of shows and events, including the award of the Hungarian Legion of Honour.
Lossonczy’s final years were also marked by some exuberant canvases, including a painting dedicated to his wife, Éda Series IV. Configuration (2000), which is filled with the quirky biomorphic forms that are such a persistent theme of his oeuvre. Even in extreme old age, he remained active, climbing the stairs from his flat to his studio with the help of two sticks and defying his failing eyesight with characteristic determination.
Tamás Lossonczy died on November 3, 2009, at the age of 105. His funeral was held on November 19, and he was buried in the famed Farkasréti Temető, a cemetery in Budapest, amongst the many famous Hungarian actors and actresses, opera singers, musicians, painters, sculptors, architects, writers, and poets.