The town of painters

Let’s begin the history of the “painter – town” with the memoirs of Miklós Bánovszki, who was one of the initiators:

“In 1926 I spent my last year in the National Academy of Fine Arts in the class of the painter – teacher Réti István. One morning we were thinking about a place where we could continue painting on summer. We wanted to find a nice natural environment, where we could work together. Then our friend Jenõ Paizs – Goebel arrived. We told him that we had been talking about our summer stay. Jenõ told us that his brother had visited Szentendre yesterday. This brother – Dr. Ödön Paizs – Goebel – was a journalist editor working for Evening Pages. He visited the mayor too. He was about leaving, when the mayor – Dr. László Starzsinszki – told him: ‘Mr. Editor give me some advice! We have – I mean that the town has a little ranch two kilometres far from the town. It consists of three small houses. When the war was drawing to its end, we furnished it as a contagious hospital: we bought six iron beds, six straw mattresses and six blankets. Luckily we escaped epidemics. One of the small houses is rented by a woman with two children. But the other two ones are empty. What can I do with them?’ Paizs Ödön – remembering his art student brother – proposed the followings: ‘Mr.Mayor! Offer these houses free for poor art – students.’…The next day I went to Szentendre, and visited the ranch. Leaving the HÉV station and the military barracks I had to go left towards Budapest. The road with poplars along it was narrow and dusty… Well, the place was really a dreary one. There was a draw – well in the yard; its water wasn’t pleasant. A collapsed pit half fallen to the ground… This was all. Parts of a scattered trunk were lying about. I was thinking. I thought it could be a place to lay our heads. If my mates don’t like it, we won’t accept it. I went back to the mayor and told him: ‘We receive your offer with thanks.’ The mayor asked: ‘Please tell me, who else will arrive?’ I mentioned some painters and sculptors, but I realised that he was absolutely uninformed with them. Then I asked his help, telling him that Nagybánya was made famous also by painters. If we settle here, we can make Szentendre to the town of painters too. We establish a colony of artists and discover the town. It is going to be a sight.”

The painters’ discovery of the town wasn’t by chance since by the forthcoming 20th Century the rows of houses preserved the atmosphere of the previous 150 years. In the mornings herd of cows walked along. When the air become clear again after the dust, the town – servant appeared and he was beating his drum until – according to his judgement – enough people arrived. Then he said: it is proclaimed in the name of the captain that … He made his speech in Serbian and German language too. Each time he mentioned the name of the captain he also raised his hand in a salute.

A characteristic of the century’s beginning was that several new associations were formed, where everyone could find the company suitable for him. Catholic and Lutheran scout troops, the Military Youth Organisation, the Workers Association, the Calvinist Gathering of Women, and in Izbég the Civil Reading Club and a choir were established. The Sport Club of Szentendre was set up in 1910, which unites not only the sportsmen but directs successful performances as well. The Town Development Association was formed in 1913. We also know about a skating association that organised a ball with a concert.

In 1914 the heir to the throne was assassinated. The news was heard with astonishment. Arnold Antolik mayor requested the employers to employ the relatives of the conscripts. At the end of the war a revolution broke out. Ferenc Kucsera, a chaplain, was shot by the Red Army because he had refused to tell them who gave the signal with the church bells for the upheaval against communist dictatorship.

After the World war I., revolution, and the Trianon peace treaty, life was slowly getting back to normal. Evidence of it was that in 1930 the St. Andrew Guild was set up as an offspring of the Casino, which existed until 1944. Its aims are acceptable even for modern civil associations: “We should foster and spread national culture, music, literature and art as well as search the data and literature concerning the natural endowments and the history of the town. We also should save the finds of excavations, preserve and mark with commemoratives the town’s historic sites. By these means we can also develop social life in every layers of the society. The association’s library, gaming room and lounge were a place of a vivid social life.

The number of local papers also increased in the age. Parties were formed which made an effort – especially during the days of local elections – to make use of citizens’ attachments due to their religious, national and financial differences. But having lived together for centuries families of Szentendre were used to differences. Relations between them become stronger and stronger, even marriages were frequent.

As for the economy of the town: quarry, cementworks, paper carriage and tool factories were in operation. Still, the majority of labourers worked for factories of the capital. They travelled by the local electric railway. Farming was extensive. Fruits of Szentendre such as: gooseberry, naseberry, nut, peach, apple and later the grape were in demand in the markets of the capital. Lajos Fischer established an infection – proof model vineyard of fifty Hungarian acres. Years later József Szucs made a nationwide name for himself as a vine – improver. Yet because of the general economic depression, the majority of people had a hard time of life.

Nevertheless, by the middle of the century the population of the town had been doubled to about 10000 people. Citizens moving out from Budapest built villas along the railway and on the confines of the town. It came into fashion to make postcards of them. For many of them these villas – originally built as summer resorts – had become permanent residences. That is how Szentendre looked when young painters wanted to make it famous. Their intention has been justified by time.

In the third year of the conquest of Miklós Bánovszki and his mates, they established the Association of Szentendre Painters in 28 January, 1928. They elected Iványi Béla Grünwald as president, dr. László Starzsinszki and the prevailing mayor as vice presidents. The founder members were József Bánáti Sverák, Miklós Bánovszky, Henrik Heintz, Ernõ Jeges, Béla Onódi, Jenõ Paizs – Goebel, Lajos Pándy and László Rozgonyi. In the following year Jenõ Barcsay joined them. The exciled painters of Nagybánya had found a new home. They took an active part in the town’s social and cultural life. In 1932 – 33 the Church Hill temple was adorned with the frescos of Bánáti József Sverák, Henrik Heinz and Béla Onódi. Some of them settled in Szentendre permanently. Their exhibitions in 1930 and 1939 brought them the appreciation of the profession and society.

Up to the beginning of World War II. more than thirty painters worked in the colony or visited Szentendre, among them there were such illustrious representatives of the Hungarian painting as Endre Bálint, Gyula Czimra, István Ilosvai Varga, Dezso Korniss, Lajos Vajda and Erzsébet Vaszkó. Several of them – Jenő Barcsay, Judit Beck and Piroska Szántó for example – were living in Szentendre from spring to autumn, and moved back to Budapest only for winters. Béla Czóbel and his wife Mária Modok were changing their residences between Paris and Szentendre. Why did they like the town? To answer the question we cite an exract from Endre Bálint’s work written in 1940:

“For a few years Szentendre has became a town of the painters. Every summer our artists representing different styles, go on a pilgrimage to Szentendre in large numbers. Arriving early in the morning they sit down to a corner of a dilapidated house, and begin to paint a detail of the town. A part from the painters the landscape is dominated by goats, without them the region is unimaginable. The painters’ interest in the town increased since Nagybánya is ruled by foreigners. Their affection for the town can be explained in various ways. The interesting structure of the houses built above each other, the constantly changing colours of the town, the beauty of the hills surrounding it, the closeness of the Danube and an affection of uncertain origin attracting the artists… I think the first “great” painter of Szentendre was Károly Ferenczy. A host of painters followed him… Today there is already a School of Szentendre members of which are the most prominent young artists, and who have a strong effect on younger painter generations.”