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The Chronology of Hungarian Printmaking (part 1)

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

By Julia Meszaros | In Hungary, the first fine art prints appeared around the turn of the 19th into the 20th century, in the oeuvre of painters like Jozsef Rippl-Ronai, Viktor Olgyai and Karoly Ferenczy, who studied in Western Europe. Printmaking as an independent medium began to integrate into the structures of Hungarian fine arts before World War I. The establishment of the printmaking department at the Hungarian Royal Institute of Arts and Crafts in Budapest in 1910 acknowledged the autonomy of the practice, formally separating it from reproductive printing and typography.1 The restructuring of the printmaking department at the Hungarian College of Fine Arts in Budapest,2 headed by Viktor Olgyai, ultimately finalized the medium’s detachment from graphic design in 1921.3

Viktor Olgyai, A Tolgy, etching

Viktor Olgyai, A Tolgy, etching (more information in Hungarian at Muveszet

Viktor Olgyai (1870–1929), the first Hungarian professional teacher of fine art printmaking, faced a number of challenges. He was expected to introduce a modern educational program in a country where progressive artists who openly declared their support for social change were forced to emigrate after the formation of Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. Many of them left the nation for good, such as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo Peri and Lajos Ebneth. It was also difficult for Olgyai to develop an autonomous position for a printmaking department at an institution that only acknowledged the practice because of its indispensability as a reproductive medium. In addition, Hungarian authorities enforced a political agenda that required printed works to represent the national spirit.4 The tortuous search for the identity of modern Hungarian printmaking lasted on and off before and after World War II, and even beyond 1956.5

During the seven decades of development of modern printmaking in Hungary, only two institutions for art education, both located in Budapest, offered printmaking programs: the Hungarian College of Fine Arts and the Hungarian College of Arts and Crafts. Artists outside of academia had limited opportunities to explore the medium. In 1921, the Hungarian Etching Workshop was established in Budapest, enabling artists to work in intaglio. It was more complicated to practice lithography because presses only existed at industrial printing houses. Although the facilities were available to artists, houses had to stop production in order for them to work on their projects, meaning that artists could only use the space occasionally. In 1955, another printmaking workshop opened in the city of Miskolc. Regarding new technologies, the Hungarian College of Fine Arts installed a screen printing facility at the end of the 1960s. The Pecs Graphic Workshop in the city of Pecs and the Pest Workshop in Budapest offered screen printing starting in 1971, and in 1973, painter and sculptor Janos Fajo opened a screen printing studio in Budapest for artists to practice the technique. The teaching of photo and offset lithography at the College began in 1971. Practicing artists had the opportunity to explore those two techniques at the Mako Graphic Artists’ Colony from 1976, where screen printing started in 1979.6 Screen prints and offset prints were only accepted since 1979 as autonomous fine art prints at the Hungarian National Graphic Biennial in Miskolc, founded in 1961.


Two distinghuished generations of etchers can be traced in Hungarian modern print history: the students and apprentices of the aformentioned Viktor Olgyai and those taught from 1931 until 1948 by Nandor Lajos Varga, Olgyai’s student and successor at the College.

Instructors strived to establish and improve the modern Hungarian graphic language as an ideal synthesis of classical and early modern methods—and later on, emergent avant-garde approaches—by fusing Rembrandt’s treatment of light with the students’ personal approaches.

Between 1922 and 1929 of Olgyai’s leadership, a neoclassical printmaking style known as Arkadia Art flourished,7 shaping the work of artists like Vilmos Aba Novak, Erzsebet Aszodi Weil, Tibor Galle, Kalman Istokovits, David Jandi and Karoly Patko. When Varga headed the printmaking department, students began practicing an eclectic style identified by scholars of the Academy of Hungary in Rome as the Roman School,8 with origins linked to Olgyai’s early teaching activities in illustration and small prints. Varga was committed to developing a clear graphic language in Olgyai’s legacy. From 1934, the human-centered nature of the developed styles—characterized by clarity and heterogenity but touched with Hungarian folk and national traits—fulfilled the expectations of the political hegemonies up until the 1960s, accounting for the regime change from the national socialist to the socialist government in 1948. Nevertheless, aside from the official style, a number of avant-garde Hungarian printmakers began to divert from the ideal of perfectionism in drawing and turn to the principles of early modern art trends by integrating elements of Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism and other movements into their works. Jozsef Rippl-Ronai, Janos Mattis-Teutsch, Sandor Bortnyik, Gyula Derkovits, Bela Uitz, Endre Balint, Dezso Korniss and Gyula Hincz thus defined printmaking as an alternative means of personal expression and developed it into a colorful art form,9 although they faced staunch criticism for working with non-canonized technology.

Viktor Olgyai, A Cyprusok Utja, mezzotint

Viktor Olgyai, A Cyprusok Utja, mezzotint (more information in Hungarian at Muveszet

Illustration, drawing and printmaking have become and remained synonymous in the Hungarian public opinion. Art collectors have maintained the interconnection of the three fields for the past century.

Drawing is appreciated for the beauty of lines, clarity of contours, composition, completeness of forms and brilliance of execution; illustration is revered for figurativity based on the principles of nature or ironic drama. The criteria for evaluating prints include the professionalism of technical execution and accuracy of graphic language. Along with illustrators, Hungarian printmakers enjoyed relative freedom of expression throughout the 1960s and 1970s, largely because the socialist government did not consider them a threat. The established definition of the Hungarian printmaking tradition carried on for decades. It stood, however, in a sharp ideological contrast to the wide acceptance of various alternative practices adapted into printmaking: photo-based printing; Xerox and computer printing; combinations of digital, photographic and traditional processes; printing on alternative materials like fabric or cloth; and conceptual approaches. Despite the breadth of experimental tendencies, the unconventional techniques were not accepted as equal to the traditional methods and forms until the end of the 1990s.10 ...

[This article appears in full in the print and digital edition of Celebrating Print, Vol.2, No.2.]


1. Eszter Foldi, “Fa- es linoleummetszes Magyarorszagon 1904-tol 1911-ig” [Wood and linocut in Hungary from 1904 to 1911], in A modern magyar fa- es linoleummetszes (1890–1950) [The modern Hungarian wood and linocut (1890–1950)], ed. Eniko Roka (Miskolc: Miskolci Galeria, 2005), 30–31.

2. The Hungarian College of Fine Arts was officially renamed Hungarian University of Fine Arts in 2001.

3. Eszter Foldi, A kepzomuveszet mostohagyermeke: A magyar muveszgrafika kezdetei 1890–1914 [The stepchild of fine art: The beginnings of Hungarian fine art printmaking 1890–1914] (Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2013), 118–123. 4. Sandor Kontha, “Bevezetes: I; Muveszetunk a ket vilaghaboru kozott” [Introduction: I; Our art between the World Wars I–II], in vol. 1 of Magyar muveszet 1919–1945 [Hungarian Art 1919–1945], ed. Sandor Kontha (Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1985), 15–22.

5. In 1956 Hungary, there occurred an unsuccessful national uprising to remove the Soviet occupiers and establish the country as a sovereign state.

6. Judit Mazanyi, “Parhuzamos tortenetek I: Ratekintes kivulrol; A szitanyomas terhoditasa Magyarorszsgon es a Szentendrei Grafikai Muhely" [Parallel histories I: Look from outside; Expansion of screen printing and the printmaking workshop in Szentendre], in Minden szitanyomat [Everything is screen print], (Szentendre: PMMI Pest Megyei Muzeumok Igazgatosaga, Ferenczy Museum, 2012).

7. Ferenc Zsakovics, A rezkarcolo nemzedek 1921–1929 [The etching generation 1921–1929] (Miskolc: Miskolci Galeria, 2001).

8. Otto Mezei, “Muveszetoktatas” [Art education], in vol. 1 of Magyar muveszet 1919–1945 [Hungarian art 1919–1945], ed. Sandor Kontha (Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1985), 40; Julianna P. Szucs, “A romai iskola” [The Roman School], in Magyar muveszet 1919–1945, 412–442.

9. Krisztina Passuth, Magyar muveszek az europai avantgardban [Hungarian artists in the European avant-garde] (Budapest: Corvina, 1974); Katalin Bakos, Eniko Roka and Ulrike Gauss, eds., Modernism: Drawing and Print in Europe 1900–1930, (Budapest: Museum of Fine Arts, 2004).

10. Ildiko Hajdu, “A Miskolci Grafikai Biennalek fel evszazada, 1961–2011” [Half century of graphic biennials in Miskolc, 1961–2011], Zempleni Muzsa 42, no. 2 (2016).


A full version of this article The Chronology of Hungarian Printmaking: Defied Traditions and Technological Trends by Julia Meszaros appears in the print and digital edition of Celebrating Print, Vol.2 No. 2.

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JULIA N. MESZAROS is an art historian, curator and art critic. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in art history at the Faculty of Humanities of ELTE University in Budapest, Hungary, where she also completed her PhD. She worked at the City Art Museum and the Romer Floris Art and History Museum in Gyor. As a jury member and curator, she shaped numerous international printmaking events and exhibitions including Masters of Graphic Arts–International Graphics and Drawing Biennial. She has published work about contemporary Hungarian fine art, international printmaking and Baroque art in Gyor. Meszaros received awards such as the Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic (1995 and 2009), the Miklos Banffy Prize (2001) and the Lajos Nemeth Prize (2004).

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