Studies and Apprenticeship (2007)
It was probably in 1946, when the four-party coalition was in power, after my father was appointed subprefect of Pécs, that a close friend of my parents, Bella Haász, visited them at [our home on] 21 Szcitowszky Square [today Szent István Square], accompanied by the painter Ferenc Martyn. All we knew about him was that he had lived in Paris for decades and had returned to Pécs at the end of the war under adventurous circumstances.
Bella knew that I spent all my time drawing. A few years later she lent me her copy of Marcel Proust’s cycle of novels In Search of Lost Time, which I had long been trying to get hold of. It was extremely difficult to find a copy of the first and – at that time – only Hungarian translation.
Ferenc Martyn took a look at my drawings and we talked, and then he told me I should draw a flower in a pot while closely observing the subject of the task at hand.
This is how I started to draw studies of nature around the age of 12 or 13, and every two weeks I would show them to my master. He looked at them, added something to them or altered them, and gave me some basic but very important instructions. Then he set some new tasks, or sometimes the same one again if the result hadn’t turned out well the first time around.
At the time Ferenc Martyn was living in Deutsch House on Kossuth Lajos Square, in a first-floor room which also served as his studio. I would often arrive while he was working, so I could see some of his works in progress. I can’t recall him actually painting while I was there, but he would be cleaning his palette, his brushes and tools while we talked, or else he would set me a drawing task to do on the balcony overlooking the yard. A great seashell, for example. It was the first time I’d ever seen such a thing.
Martyn often talked about old Italian and Spanish masters. A reproduction of Tintoretto’s Miracle of the Slave stood on his desk for a long time. He mentioned the names of Francesco Laurana and Pedro Sanchez, whose works I later saw at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest or at the Bargello in Florence during my study years or on my journeys.
Since I had the chance to see his works in progress it became natural to me that this was how a real-life painter worked, and these were the types of paintings and spatial compositions that an artist painted, like the ones he did in 1946 and 1947. (The first group exhibition of abstract artists in Hungary took place in Budapest around this time.) Right before my eyes he made the relief constructed from lathed wooden shapes, painted in shades of blue, as well as other small or medium-sized paintings.
His friend, Sansson (?), a language teacher, occasionally dropped by his studio and they exchanged quick words in French. Evidently, it seemed to me, this was the language of art, so as well as Latin I also took up French at my secondary school. We used to sing Sur le pont d’Avignon in class.
At the age of 17, when I first saw one of the great Munkácsy paintings at Károlyi Palace, which housed the Budapest Picture Gallery in those days, I burst into tears. It didn’t even cross my mind to look at it as a painting. What I saw was much rather a shocking theatrical tableau or a scene of war.
This happened in 1950, when I passed a supplementary admissions exam at the Secondary School of Art on Török Pál Street in Budapest. Thus began a new chapter in my studies.
Ilona Keserü Ilona, July 2007.