Continuing the series of Hungarian artists at the National Gallery, the exhibition on Gyula Derkovits showcases Hungary’s proletariat avant-garde from the early 20th century. Derkovits may have lived a short life, dying aged 40 in 1934, but his work left behind an artistic legacy rich in social analysis and experimental practices.
Featuring around 200 paintings, prints and drawings from the artist and his contemporaries, the exhibition showcases Derkovits’ work, outlining his themes, influences and inspiration in honour of the 120th anniversary of his birth in 1894.
From his experimentation with cubism and expressionism, the Hungarian artist evolved into his own personal style interwoven with social commentary.
Derkovits’ paintings might show elements borrowed and inspired from other artists, such as George Grosz or other contemporaries from Hungary, Austria, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, but his revolutionary take on social themes are part of what makes his work so unique.
His satirical depictions of the bourgeoisie render them into caricatures of Orwellian proportions, with fat businessmen snarling as they inhale cigars and drink champagne, and the sombre faces of kept women surrounded by lavish settings.
Women featured significantly in Derkovits’ work, where he found a fascination in the variety of roles and fates assigned to women of the time. He captured all aspects from motherhood to the prostitutes and courtesans, almost as a subtle proto-feminist critique that was ahead of his time.
War was a central motif in his paintings, although he chose to capture it not from the soldiers’ point of view but rather from that of the women, the children and those who could not go to war.
But that was not the only element of Derkovits’ oeuvre that made this artist a progressive, along with the raw portrayals of the workingman, but also of farm animals.
His graphic images of slaughtered animals and butchery feel like an artistic rendition of a PETA poster at times, highlighting the inhumanity of certain farming practices.
Drama is a central point of Derkovits’ paintings, typified by a heightened intensification of emotion, as seen in his most dramatic paintings Mourning and The Getaway. His own personal experiences and feelings seep into the paintings, along with the artist’s signature theme in his Expressionist work of crowds, be it human or animal.
The exhibition is split into two levels. The ground floor is a memorial to the artist, featuring photographs and objects capturing snippets of his life, whereas the painting exhibition carries on upstairs.
Derkovits’ artistic evolution is captured in the canvases of his paintings, whose influences are presented alongside in the form of his contemporaries.
However, it’s not just a couple of examples showcased against the original but also there is a whole room dedicated to Derkovits’ contemporaries.
Derkovits’ work offers a new perspective into the Hungarian avant-garde, and the exhibition is accessible to those who are not connoisseurs in art. It’s worth a visit for those interested in learning more about Hungarian art.
The exhibition runs until 27 July.