For art lovers looking for a unique architectural style
Visitors to Budapest are often impressed by its wonderful late 19th and early 20th century buildings, incorporating motifs from old Hungarian architecture, particularly that of Transylvania, folk art and even oriental features. If you are an art lover looking for a truly unique architectural style while in Hungary or if you like to explore different styles than you’ll find Hungarian Art Nouveau fascinating.
Gothic, Baroque and Classicism amongst other architectural styles are highly visible in churches, palaces and other buildings across Europe. While these structures are captivating and filled with history, these styles share common characteristics and are easily recognizable anywhere you travel. This however is not the case with Art Nouveau, which makes it truly unique. It’s also unique in that this style encompasses many different art forms including architecture, fine arts, fashion, and applied arts amongst others.
This gorgeous art movement of the early 20th century finds expression not in uniformity but in variety. Several national schools coexisted in Europe at the turn of the century and despite of all the variations, a framework of a unified modern style called Art Nouveau was born. Hungary was no exception and it developed its own Art Nouveau style called Szecesszió. Luckily many buildings were commissioned in this style, as Hungarian Art Nouveau flourished in Budapest’s golden era when its population tripled, the number of its buildings doubled and the city turned into a metropolis. This is also the time when Budapest and Vienna were twin capitals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Vienna Secession had a huge influence on Hungarian artists.
Art Nouveau Buildings in Budapest
At its core there are two noticeably different architectural styles in Hungary for this period: Art Nouveau, which followed along the lines of the western Art Nouveau movements and Historicism, which incorporated traditional Hungarian styles.
One of the most important figures of the Hungarian Art Nouveau movement was architect Ödön Lechner (1845–1914). His importance to Hungarian Art Nouveau is perhaps best defined by the fact that he is often referred to as the ‘Hungarian Gaudi’. Inspired by Indian and Syrian architecture, which Lechner combined with traditional Hungarian design, his buildings are a unique and original synthesis of several architectural styles. This version of Art Nouveau is very specific to Hungary. Lechner’s buildings are richly decorated with terracotta tiles made by the famous Zsolnay factory.
Buildings in Budapest designed by Lechner include the Museum of Applied Arts, the Postal Savings Bank building (Postatakarékpénztár) and the Geological Museum.
The other prominent architect from this era was Károly Kós (1883-1977) with a style leaning more towards Historicism. He applied many of the characteristics of traditional Hungarian architecture in his designs. He was inspired by conventional Hungarian folk architecture, especially by the Székely’s, a Hungarian ethnic group in Transylvania.
Buildings in Budapest designed by Kós include the Budapest Zoo and ‘Wekerle Telep’, a residential neighborhood in Pest.
The two styles formed a common basis for other Hungarian architects of the Art Nouveau movement. Béla Lajta and Aladár Árkay were initially inspired by Lechner's style and István Medgyaszay, another notable architect, developed his own style incorporating traditional motifs.
Besides the two main ‘homemade’ styles there are several Art Nouveau buildings in Budapest which are a blend of Art Nouveau’s many variations. The Vienna Secession, the German Jugendstil and Art Nouveau from Belgium and France are all visible in the city, combined with traditional Hungarian decorative elements. Good examples are the Paris Department Store, the Gellért Baths and the Gresham Palace.
Art Nouveau’s Influence on Fine Arts
One of the most famous and highly sought after artist of the era was József Rippl-Rónai (1861-1927). He was a painter and a designer, an Art Nouveau person to the core, from the clothes he wore to his art. His works included beautiful paintings, entire furnishings and even a stained-glass window for the Ernst Museum. József Rippl-Rónai’s artwork was widely exhibited in Vienna, Munich and Frankfurt during his lifetime.
Aladár Körösföi-Kriesch (1863-1920) and Sándor Nagy (1869-1950) were the two textile artists who founded the Gödöllő Art Colony, a center for the visual and applied arts. Many talented young artists, who later became famous, attended this institution.
No article about Hungarian Art Nouveau would be complete without mentioning the Zsolnay factory, producer of the frost-resistant terracotta decorations, which were used as architectural elements on numerous Art Nouveau buildings.
If I managed to pique your interest about Hungarian Art Nouveau, a great place to learn more about this style is the Bedö-Ház in Budapest. The building houses a museum dedicated to the Hungarian Art Nouveau movement. There is a permanent exhibition of artifacts, including furniture, paintings, jewelry, glassware and ceramics. Built in 1903 the house itself is a great example of the Art Nouveau architecture.
Art Nouveau Tours
A special thanks to Márk Mervai for taking the photos of these beautiful buildings for this article.