Munkácsy Mihály was born in Munkács on 20 February, 1844.
He started his working life as a joiner and later he became a famous painter who conquered the whole world with his huge canvases. He was an excellent expert of the village and city life either in Europe or Hungary.He was a European and a Hungarian citizen either and a brilliant talented painter who was very hard-working to create his huge life-work.
His father moved to Hungary at the beginning of the 18th century. His father’s name was Lieb Mihály, his mother’s name was Reök Cecília. He used his surname, Lieb, until 1868, then he changed it to Munkácsy.
The family moved to Miskolc at the end of 1848. At the age of four he moved with his mother to Cserépváralja to his uncle. He wrote about this period of his life later: „ My happiest memories are connected with this place, an old castle, the arches of the gate, old cannons, which are important for the development of a child’s imagination.
After the death of his parents Munkácsy moved to Békéscsaba to his uncle, Reök István.
His years of education
Munkácsy Mihály was not a bright student so he got to a joiner as an assistant. Then he worked in Arad but these years were very hard for him, he lived in misery, so at the end of 1960s he went back to his uncle who lived in Gyula that time.
In 1861 he worked with a painter called Szamossy Elek in Wenckheim castle in Gyula. Muhkácsy painted his first paintings-The Spinning Woman and Reading a Letter.
Later Munkácsy went o Budapest and found a patron and he studied.
His patron encouraged him to paint genre-paintings.
In 1865 he was admitted to the Art Academy in Vienna.
His art work was influenced by Rubens and Rembrandt. He learned at the Academy of Düsseldorf.
He returned to Békéscsaba and painted portraits.In this period his best works are –Sprinkling at Easter,The Grieving Outlaw.
Some years later he learned at the Academy of München. He travelled to Paris and the art work of Gustave Courbet inspired him.
On 15 October 1868 he was in Düsseldorf .His painting- The Yawning Man-servant- has the influence of Benjamin Vautier,but later he detached himself from his pattern and found his own style.
In 1869 he started his first important picture-Death Cell- in which he used his childhood and young age memories. The painting had dramatic effect, he used the spiritual description of the Düsseldorf school.He sent his painting to Paris where he won a gold medal with this artwortk. His painting was seen by hundreds of people, his work made him well-known, foreign and homeland papers wrote about his success.
He travelled again, to Holland and England, and back again to Paris
In Paris he got into crisis, he was criticised, his depression became deeper, he comitted a suicide but he was rescued. He recovered and started to paint again.
He got married the widow, Cecile Papiert.During their honeymoon they were in Bazel, Genf, Milano, Velence, Vienna, Budapest, Békéscsaba.
He painted that time- A Woman with Brushwood,A Butter-making Woman, Autumn in the Park, The Lost Child.
Then they returned to Paris where a new period of his work started to create a new art image. They lived luxurious life in a palace where they arranged balls where famous European artists, aristocrats were invited.
His work-Atelier-was his ars poetica.Critics praised his painting style, colours and elegance.His realistic genre paintings are : A Wounded Wanderer, A Girl with a Tray, Two Families in the Kitchen.
His picture Milton won gold medal i n the world exhibition in Paris. His name became popular.His picture was shown in several artistic centres in Europe so Munkácsy gained a world wide reputation.His picture Milton was exhibited in München, Vienna, Budapest and London.
From 1880 he worked on Jesus in front of Pilate.His painting was exhibited in London, Manchaster, Liverpool and Budapest.
He was chosen the freeman of Budapest and Munkács on 4 November,1880.
He created a foundation to help young artists.
The Jesus- paintings were exhibited in the United States,too. He met Pulitzer József, C.M. Depew senator and Grover Cleveland, the president.
American millionaires ordered from him portraits and salon pictures.
In 1891 the Parliament was built and he painted the monumental picture, the Hungarian Conquest, which was finished in 1893.
In 1896 he painted the third part of the Jesus trilogy- Ecce Homo.
But in 1897 he became ill,he suffered from a mental disorder,and he died in 1900. Thousands of people visited the Art Gallery where his body lay in state.
Munákcsy created a huge art work. His name was known all over the world.He worked very hard to achieve his successes.He travelled all around in Europe, his paintings were exhibited in a lot of European cities. He could do it due to his hard-working personlity and outstanding talent.From a simple joiner assistant he fought his way up and became one of the most popular Hungarian painters.
Picture restorers have a very hard work to look after his pictures because Munkácsy used a lot of „ bitum” which is an undercoat primer(foundation paint) which provides warm tonality but in a big amount as Munkácsy used it , it doesn’t dry out, it fades. Munkácsy’s paintings have its bad effects on them.
The three parts of the Jesus trilogy never were seen together until 1995.
In Békéscsaba a square and a srteet have Munkácsy’s name.
There is the Munkácsy Museum.
A statue was made of him.
There is a Munkácy Memorial House in Békéscsaba.
The house where he was a joiner assitant has a memorial tablet.
A novel was written about his life.
A crater on the Mercury was given his name to.
oil, canvas 119*170,5cm
Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest
The artist was 26 when he painted this picture, which brought him the world wide reputation.
The order of the figures theatrically effective.they are settled in the picture as if we could see them on the stage.
„Death Cell” depicts a country prison where according to the tradition the relatives, friends could take leave of the convict.
Munkácsy expressed the Hungarian temperament, the undiminished outlaw in the figure of the convict.
He painted the figures with psychological descriptive power.
He gave a symbolical meaning with the means of realism, the symbol of the Hungarian nation, braveness and strength.
We can see a gloomy, faded death cell.On the right there is the convict. His body and face express fury kept back.He mixes different feelings: power, strength, fear, fury.
On the left there are figures of different people looking at the convict-men, women, children.Their faces express compassion, disgust, curiosity.They feel the coming fate makes everybody shivering, even us.
Looking at the figures we can feel deep emotional content. This is expressed with deep shadows, deep black colour, the clothes are black and brown,too.
There is contrast in the colours which gives tension to the picture. The sharp white is shining into the dark colours and it increases the dramatic effect.
The whole picture shows liveliness and tension which is expressed by the method and style of using the paintbrush-powerful-as if the painter could feel the inner excitement of his figures. Munkácsy painted passionately. Don’t forget he had to express complex emotions: fear, horror,fear of death, the last day of the guilty man, the terrible sitting up all night.
One of the figures is the convict’s wife. She is the only one who is standing back to the convict, maybe becaue she is the only one who is emotionally involved in the case. she is crying voiceless, she is in real, deep despair.
The small boy maybe the convict’s son is standing opposite the man, looking at his father with innocent curiosity, he doesn’t unerstand anything.
The convict’s gloomy despair, knitted brows, glassy eyes, depaired silence makes his figure powerful.
Among the visitors the most intensive person is the one who is looking down the ground in a long felt cloak, he feels sorrow for the convict.
The man holding his pipe has deep emotions on his face.
The old woman is expressing her inner fear.
In the background the old woman and the soldier are indifferent.
The figures are different but they are in a brilliantly organised unity.
We can see the unity of colours and movement, wide shapes, large units.
The painting has a lot of contrasts which gives the shocking effect of it.
The colours are black and white. Some light is coming from the lattice window.It gives some fresh feeling looking at that part of the picture, but looking down there is the deep depressive colours and the movement of the figures.
The dark colours are ruling the picture and it gives shocking effect despite the some positive colours, the brick-red skirt or the grey blouse which only break the darkness a bit but even press the contrast.
The seriousness of the topic, the simplicity, the power of the colours, the outstanding talent to express the deep emotions, the psychologically brilliant expression of the feelings on the figures’faces, the deep shock we can get looking at the picture, make it a masterpiece.
Presentation: Munkácsy Mihály