You asked too much, so what was yours is now effectively ours: the case of Munkácsy’s Golgotha

The Orbán government has once again exhibited its penchant for “unusual/illegal” business practices. I’m talking about the controversy over the sale of one of the three large paintings, collectively referred to as the Trilogy, that Mihály Munkácsy (1844-1900) worked on between 1882 and 1896. The three huge canvases (25m²) depict Christ’s final days: Christ before Pilate, Golgotha, and Ecce Homo. Currently, all three can be seen in the Déri Múzeum in Debrecen. Two of the paintings are on permanent display but Golgotha is on loan and owned by Imre Pákh, an American-Hungarian businessman with a fascination for Munkácsy.  The attraction might stem from the fact that both men were born in Munkács/Mukachevo, now in Ukraine.

Imre Pákh is no stranger to Hungarian Spectrum. He was featured twice. Once as a possible benefactor of the extreme right in Hungary and once as a businessman financing a quack named Professor Yuliy V. Baltaytis, who ran a clinic practicing stem cell “therapy.” In fact, it was only a few days ago that Pákh was found guilty in connection with that case and received a ten-month suspended sentence.

Pákh most likely has the largest collection of Munkácsy paintings in the world, 53 in all. A few years ago, he lent Golgotha to the museum in Debrecen so that the three pieces could again be exhibited together, as they were supposed to be when the idea was originally conceived. The Hungarian government was quite satisfied with the arrangement because Munkácsy over the last fifty years or so had been elevated to the status of the national painter.

It is true that Munkácsy was extremely popular when he first appeared in Paris in the 1860s, and eventually he became something of an artistic star. If you ask knowledgeable art historians, however, they will tell you that Munkácsy is greatly overrated. He was a mediocre painter who even in his own lifetime was considered to be outmoded. He was still painting in the style of the Barbizon School when even impressionism was already passé in France.

Munkácsy’s art also suffered from his attraction to the material pleasures of life. He was ready to sell his talent to the highest bidder. In fact, one of his “business ventures” is behind the birth of the Trilogy. He signed a ten-year contract with an Austrian-born art dealer, Charles Sedelmeyer, from whom received a large monthly salary. It was he who came up with the idea of three large paintings about the death of Jesus Christ. Once all three were painted, the two organized tours of the paintings in various large cities of Europe. It was a simple business venture: to collect as much money as possible from entrance fees. Eventually the three paintings were bought by John Wanamaker, an American millionaire, who exhibited them at Easter time in his Philadelphia department store.

Pákh lent Golgotha to the Déri Múzum with the understanding that the Hungarian government would purchase it to make the set complete. He now claims that two years ago two officials of the prime minister’s office shook hands with him on a price of $9 million. Subsequently, however, Pákh learned that he would have to negotiate with the Hungarian National Bank over the price. The bank considers the earlier arrangement null and void. And it refuses to pay more than $6 million for the painting because it paid about $6 million to acquire Christ before Pilate from the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Canada) in January of this year. Moreover, the Hungarians claim that three Hungarian experts consider the picture not worth the price Pákh was asking. Pákh’s answer is that he was not allowed to see the estimates, but he knows that they are not really independent appraisers. Moreover, one could argue, quite independently of its artistic merit, that this piece is more valuable than the one purchased from the art gallery in Hamilton, Ontario, because it completes the set.

Mihály Munkácsy's Trilogy in the Déri Múzum in Debrecen

Mihály Munkácsy’s Trilogy in the Déri Múzum in Debrecen

In any case, the two sides couldn’t agree on a price, and Pákh announced that he is packing the painting up and selling it to a Swiss-Russian buyer who will pay him $10 million. At this point the prime minister’s office placed the painting under the protection of the Hungarian government, which means that the painting cannot leave the country. The painting has thus lost practically all its value because who would buy a painting that cannot be moved out of Hungary? According to one opinion, this move by the government is perfectly legal because “it serves the defense of national culture.” Others think differently, claiming that the law regulating the protection of art objects states that the item in question must have been stored in Hungary for at least fifty years before it can be placed under “protection,” and clearly this is not the case with Pákh’s painting.

According to Pákh, the Hungarians not only confiscated his personal property but even threatened him with expulsion from the country. This morning János Lázár admitted that the decision to place the painting under the protection of the government might not be “sportsmanlike,” but in the interest of the homeland the decision had to be made “with unexpected speed.” He sarcastically added that “we wanted to convince Mr. Pákh with this friendly gesture that it is worth coming to an agreement with the Hungarian government.” The Hungarian government “doesn’t allow itself to be blackmailed.” The price the Hungarian National Bank offered is “the standard international price,” and there is no way the government will pay a penny more for it. To the question about a possible law suit, Lázár cynically remarked that a law suit takes a very long time. So, Pákh can go ahead and sue.

Válasz, an internet site close to the government, argues that the government’s move is legal, but its article on the subject admits that “the majority of the comments consider the ‘protection’ nothing but stealing.” HVG‘s headline reads: “Since it couldn’t buy it, the government keeps Golgotha at home by force.” Népszabadság thinks that “the government conned the owner of Munkácsy’s Golgotha.

The government seems to be acting on a version of the old adage that possession is nine-tenths of the law. But, as a legal dictionary notes, this adage is a rule of force and not of law, since ownership requires the right to possess as well as actual or constructive possession. And there’s no compelling legal evidence that the Hungarian government has any right to possess Munkácsy’s Golgotha. Once again, the rule of force trumps the rule of law in the prime minister’s office.

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Eszti
Guest

I think there is a lot of merit in what you write without any need to drag down Munkácsy as a “mediocre” painter. I personally have always felt an affinity for his depictions of the puszta and farmlife, irrespective of when he became popular with the leading clowns… As for having to sell out to make money, as an artist or writer it seems many things have not changed, and for my generation are indeed getting worse. Accepting commissions for pieces is necessary to put bread on the table, so to speak, and does not automatically mean that the pieces are not worthy or have artistic merit…

Wondercat
Guest

If the State wants it, the State will take it; and the State is OV. Your painting? Your pension? HIS.

What a country, what a people, what a man.

Guest

Re: the world of art and money

Another disaster this time in the cultural sphere. No doubt another example of ‘art’ and its doings experiencing centralized control. All important to signify a message….there’s only one way to move the brush when the Administration paints their masterpieces. For artists it’s a killer.

As for the intellectual and aesthetic underpinnings behind a Rothko or a Turner well the country has ‘deep-sixed’ that kind of thoughtful stuff around those parts for the while. Probably anathema for its style and presents discomfort in what it represents.

LwiiH
Guest

I wonder what effect this will have on other works of art being lent to galleries in Hungary.

Guest

I wonder what effect this will have on the willingness of foreign museums to lend pieces of art to Hungarian museums in the future.

buddy
Guest

The lesson here is never trust thieves, I suppose. A pricey “tanulópénz” for Imre Pákh to pay.

I’m reminded of the story of when an NFL player was visiting Vladimir Putin, who asked to see his Superbowl ring. The player showed it to Putin and the latter simply walked off with it, leaving the poor NFL guy to go back home without his coveted ring.

Nádas
Guest

This actually happened to the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, in 2005. He didn’t make a big deal out of it “at the insistence of the [Bush] White House.”

buddy
Guest

You’re right! I misremembered it.

An odd twist about this story is that the Patriots officially denied Kraft’s version of events: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000212539/article/patriots-robert-kraft-tells-vladimir-putin-ring-story-for-laughs

I guess I really don’t care one way or another what happened, but I find it awful that an NFL owner can openly state that he has “great respect” for the “leadership of Vladimir Putin.” It’s enough to make me dislike the Patriots, which is (in my estimation) probably the most popular NFL team here in Hungary.

petofi
Guest

Isn’t Mr. Pakh one of those Christian princes of Hungary? Or, atleast of Hungarians in the US?

What VO is doing to him seems to echo what the German industrialists must’ve felt as Hitler took increasing control….

Guest

Re: Kraft and Vlad’s nice ring…

You know in a way I’m not surprised that he got that ring. I think deep-down he likes Western stuff like a lot of Russians. On the other hand he could be accused of being a ‘front-runner’ in more ways than one…;-)..

And speaking of getting Western things Vlad has had the great opportunity of having the Elgin Marbles given to him on ‘loan’ from Britain in the interest of cultural relations. Ironic in the sense that great pieces of marble representing the golden age of democracy and freedom in 5th century goes to a country that revels in autocracy. The Greeks weren’t even consulted. So much for cultural relations on the British side.

Curious what will happen to those ancient marbles now that they’re planted in Russia!
It appears Magyarorszag and Russia really know how to now navigate and maneuver in the world of art. Yes, perhaps they indeed know possession is nine tenths of the law. Oh what a modern age we have constructed.

Webber
Guest

Little as I like Putin, I very strongly doubt Russia would even consider taking the Elgin Marbles for Greece.

Guest

^
I guess I kind of take to heart the famous Mr. Boris Badenov quip from those old ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ cartoons from tv’s earlier age here in the U.S. where he says in that loud stentorian voice of his , ‘Never underestimate the power of a shnook!’

Curious if that last word though is translatable in magyar. But I figure the language’s power to describe almost everything really well will come through!…;-)…

Webber
Guest

well, you may be right…
As to translation: I think the word “schnook” may have entered English from Yiddish, a dialect that also gave Hungarian some useful words and phrases. Just try saying “Te snuk” in Hungarian to someone who has been badly cheated. It sounds like what it means, so I suppose it will be quickly understood. Pali madár might be a translation, though it sounds archaic to me (perhaps not to others?), and the people I know use “pali” as we use “guy” in English (“guy” also had a different meaning originally).

Latefor
Guest
Eva said ” Munkácsy is greatly overrated. He was a mediocre painter who even in his own lifetime was considered to be outmoded. There is no words in the English language that would even come close to describe my outrage re: another attack against a well-respected and admired Hungarian. Not long ago, Arpad Festy’s 120 m long cyclorama at the Opusztaszer Memorial park was reduced to humiliation. Imre Makovecz’s architectural masterpieces were called “horrific, visual assult” Munkacsy is now a “mediocre” painter. Woman wearing Kalocsa blouse was called:”ringmaster at the circus of Kalocsa” B U T, -12 x plates of shit – on exhibition a few years ago at the Rock Castle at Szeged paid by tax-payers, mind you) was considered a masterpiece by a notable Hungarian Art Critic, who had written a long piece about the “talented artist”. * * * Time has finally come when the Hungarian PM has to stands up against this outright racist, anti-Hungarian attacks! E N O U G H is E N O U G H! Orban, as the PM of Hungary, has a responsibility to protect the image of the Hungarian people all over the world. * * * …..and last of… Read more »
spectator
Guest
Rather open a bottle of something dear M. and loosen up little, please! The fact that something or someone is-, or thought to be Hungarian, doesn’t necessarily mean better quality, far from it. While the features – being Hungarian and being really good – isn’t exclusive by default, in reality more often than not the misplaced patriotism exaggerating such titles than “world famous” than anything more substantial than that. About Munkácsy: The “well-respected and admired Hungarian” – “Munkácsy was born as Michael Leo Lieb” – according to Wikipedia, so he is at least borderline case to be mad about him as ‘Great Hungarian’, you see. In my opinion he was a good painter who knew how to utilize his talent – and that’s about it. However, it still doesn’t verify the action of the government – it’s nothing more than a miserable act of thievery, whatever disguise they applying for coverup. Not to mention the sad fact, that in order to achieve that dramatic effect what became ‘his style’ he often used dark grounding whit tar as one of the ingredients. Tar tend to be “bleed” over time, (it results lost details in the shadow areas, yellowing whites, and changing… Read more »
Latefor
Guest

Spectator said: “Hungarian” NOT a race so the expression of “outright racist attack” is rather out-, or off the track in this case”

Hungarians belong to the human race, therefore my expression was correct. 🙂

Guest

It’s “human species” …
“Race” is not a scientific expression!

Latefor
Guest

Wolfi,
Let me define “Racial Discrimination” for you:

“when a person treated less favorably than another person in similar situation because of their national or ethnic origin.”

Please note, Australia is committed to the “International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination”.
And there is the issue of “genetic traits” if we look at it from the biological point of view. Would you like me to be more specific?

Guest

You don’t get it – please read it up on wiki:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_%28human_classification%29
“Even though there is a broad scientific agreement that essentialist and typological conceptualizations of race are untenable, scientists around the world continue to conceptualize race in widely differing ways, some of which have essentialist implications.[14] While some researchers sometimes use the concept of race to make distinctions among fuzzy sets of traits, others in the scientific community suggest that the idea of race often is used in a naive[9] or simplistic way,[15] and argue that, among humans, race has no taxonomic significance by pointing out that all living humans belong to the same species, Homo sapiens, and subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens.[16][17]”

Racism is a different matter – it starts with using the word “race”!

Latefor
Guest

Wolfi,
No, I don’t get it. I suppose to belong to the “subspecies” or the “the genetically inferior” variety of species.
I’m discussing “Racial Discrimination” here, for God’s sake!

buddy
Guest

Wolfi is correct, I’m afraid. In grad school for nationalism studies, we never discussed “race,” because it’s scientifically meaningless. Actually we did do one or two classes on it, where we took a historical view of how the word “race” was used, but that was just to show how useless of a term it is.

Latefor
Guest

Buddy
I was’t discussing “race” from a scientific point of view!

Webber
Guest

Tastes in art, architecture and fashion are individual, not national. Oddly, apparently you think some Hungarians who are critical of some things, such as Eva, can be and are anti-Hungarian. Moreover you think so simply because they criticize some things in Hungary or certain Hungarians, and have opinions about fashion and art that make you uncomfortable. You apparently aren’t acquainted with the end of the famous phrase “My country right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
Eva is working on the second bit now. Those who denounce her for it really are working against Hungary.
Anyway, bad taste is bad taste. That orange top combined with that shirt embroidered with a Kalocsa design is hideous.
It is made more hideous by its fake folk nature. Never in the 19th Century did any Hungarian wear such a combination.

andysomos
Guest

Wolfi: (side note) I been trying to connect w. you. Bist du in Ungarn? Lemme know andysomos at yahoo com.

spectator
Guest

Thank you for the valuable information, I really appreciate it!.

carlkauffman1
Guest

Munkascy might be a historical mediocrity but the prices being asked are not outrageous by todays art world standards. Its hard to understand why the Hungarian National Bank wouldn’t come up with a couple million more if Golgotha is such a national treasure. In all fairness he may be “mediocre” but he’s also a perfectly good example of 19th century academic painting. That sort of work such as the multitude of French academic painters like Bouguereau doesn’t hold up well but it has a certain following. Hungary is and was a small country and I’m not sure how many truly great painters it has produced so I’m not sure why it shouldn’t want to purchase such a piece. But I’m guessing not many international art collectors are going to want to do business with the Hungarian government after this.

Latefor
Guest

Webber,
How about critisising the 12 x plates of shit, on exhibition at the Reok Castle at Szeged? Forgive my simple taste, but was that the beginning of “setting the country right”? Is that a beginning of something I’m not aware of, perhaps a new art movement in the making?
Most of the regular commentators on this blog are dead set against all the artists I have mentioned but conveniently ignoring my comment re: “shit” masterpiece. Nobody says anything. Maybe appreciating its message requires refined taste…and the ability to smell (trouble for me?) I cannot understand your reasoning.

Webber
Guest

Latefor – I can’t follow your logic. You are aware, aren’t you, that disliking one thing does not mean one must like another?
One of the figures I dislike, an unbearable mediocrity, Wass, is unavoidable in Hungary these days. Pushed by the government to the hilt. Even if you don’t want to know about Wass, you have to – his works are in the national curriculum, his statues sprout like mushrooms, his name is repeated by politicians.
Contrast that to the 12x plates you mentioned – I’m not aware of it, not interested in it, and wouldn’t have gone to the exhibition of it if I had known it was happening. Nobody is pushing it on the public. It was, apparently, exhibited, and that’s over. I wonder why you mention it at all? There is all sorts of atrocious stuff around going under the name “art” and “literature.” So what? You can always ignore it. It hasn’t been forced on you.
As long as it’s not in the national canon, as long as I’m not forced to see it, I couldn’t care less.
Tune out.

Webber
Guest

P.S. Short answer – since I don’t know anything about those 12x plates you mentioned, and am not forced to know, and don’t care, I don’t have anything critical to say about them. You have to SEE art to know whether you like it or hate it.
Didn’t see it. Don’t care about it. Don’t have anything to say about it.
Do you, often, talk about things you know nothing about?

exTor
Guest

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2015/06/11/you-asked-too-much-so-what-was-yours-is-now-effectively-ours-the-case-of-munkacsys-golgotha/#comment-98328

This theme has become a major pain in the brain.

Webber, I dont get it. Why do you bother with Latefor? I think that Melanie has gone off the deep end with her magnum post, linked above. She finished it with a pathetic reference to her opus.

I agree with those who felt that disparagement of Munkácsy was uncalled for. The article’s point, that Viktor Orbán hijacked Golgotha, did not require any critical evaluation of Munkácsy’s artistry to underpin its case.

Regardless of what I think about the various examples (eg: Hungarian blouses, certain paintings, some architectures, etcetera) cited, those who have given their opinions are not attacking Hungary, Latefor’s false logic notwithstanding. Melanie keeps mentioning some kind of exhibition in Szeged, however she has yet to provide a link. I cant find it. In any case, that does not matter either. Art is art and it’s personal. I’m sure that some people actually consider Melanie to be a good writer, bit it aint relevant.

People, please stop engaging with her. The hysteria is hard to follow.

MAGYARKOZÓ

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