11. 03. 2015. 15:02

“I am the Master”

The art collection of Milán Füst and his wife

The art collection of Milán Füst, one of the most influential figures in 20th century Hungarian literature, and his wife, Erzsébet Helfer. - Exhibition at the Petőfi Literary Museum, Budapest, open until 15 November 2015.

Ever since it was established in 1954, the Petőfi Literary Museum has given home to a number of literary exhibitions drawing attention to great Hungarian authors and poets in an entertaining and informative way. This April, the Museum opened an exhibition on some of the most outstanding art pieces that Milán Füst, one of the most influential figures in 20th century Hungarian literature, and his wife, Erzsébet Helfer, collected over the years.

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Milán Füst (1888–1967) is best known for his novel The Story of my Wife which brought him international acclaim and even a Nobel Prize nomination after its publication in French in 1964. However, Füst excelled in poetry and drama as well.

Füst started writing poems at an early age, and his first poems were published in Nyugat, the most significant journal of modern Hungarian literature, in 1909. His poems, which explore human mortality and the vanity of existence, drew attention not only with their dark, medieval images, but also with their unusual form. He renewed Hungarian lyrical tradition by writing free verse.

Although Füst was not appreciated by many, the inner circles of literature always admired him: he was a “poet of poets.”

He was also a dramatist who wrote masterpieces such as Boldogtalanok (The Dejected), IV Henrik király (King Henry IV) and Catullus. These dramas, however, were only recognized belatedly, in the 1960s.

His greatest literary performance may be his Journal that he kept for 40 years, working on it for hours every day. The journal was lost during the siege of Budapest in 1945, but fortunately, most of it was found later on.

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The exhibition also commemorates Milán Füst’s wife, Erzsébet Helfer. Füst met Helfer in 1914–15 and married her in July 1923. Erzsébet Helfer came from a wealthy family, which allowed Füst to concentrate exclusively on his writing. Not only did Helfer create a loving and caring atmosphere for her husband but she also helped him with his work: she typed his manuscripts, handled publishing business, and was also in charge of the foreign management tasks. They were married for 44 years, until Füst’s death. After her husband’s death, Helfer dedicated her life to having his work preserved and acknowledged. She also established the Milán Füst Foundation. She died at the age of 90 in 1987.

Besides introducing Füst and his wife, the exhibition concentrates on their love for arts and their art collection. The first room tells the story of Füst and his wife and their love for fine arts. The second room showcases paintings and graphic works by Hungarian artists that Füst and his wife had collected over the years, as well as some pieces of furniture from his study room. In the third room, visitors can enjoy the selection of international paintings Füst had purchased and added to his collection when abroad.

Füst and his wife started to expand their art collection in the 1920s by purchasing paintings and by receiving them as gifts from their artist friends. Their last Buda apartment already gained fame during the author’s life for its spacious, wood-panelled interiors, valuable paintings, etchings, applied art pieces and bibliographical rarities. As we walk around looking at the paintings exhibited, we get to experience the author’s lifestyle and taste and how the fine arts he admired and loved formed his way of thinking as a person and as an author.

In the 1920s and 30s, Füst travelled a lot to Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece and Poland. Although most of these trips had some other reason, he always considered them to be study trips where he studied art history. The walls of the third room are covered by 16th–18th century Italian, Spanish and German paintings collected during these trips. They include mythological, biblical and historical compositions, oil portraits of famous personalities, engravings of castles by German artists and theatre-themed Japanese woodcuts. In addition to the paintings, a wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary, a 17th century cabinet, a Venetian mirror, a 15th century Tuscany painting and a suite of seating furniture in Louis XIV style can be visited in the third room.

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Füst had a particular interest in the masters of Italian renaissance such as Raffaello, Botticelli and Michelangelo. He also liked the works of Brueghel, Velázquez, and Goya, who impressed him with his representations of distorted and ugly shapes, whereas Rembrandt impressed him with his female characters and self-portraits.

Füst also wrote a number of articles and reviews in his areas of interest: music and fine arts. Among his friends, there were world famous musicians like Leó Weiner and József Szigeti, as well as great Hungarian painters including Róbert Berényi and Aurél Bernáth.

Art enthusiasts as well as those interested in literature should make sure to visit the exhibition, open until 15th November. It is both a well-designed and enjoyable art collection and a great introduction into Milán Füst.

Zsófia Elek

Tags: Milán Füst