No establishment in Hungary has ventured to give a comprehensive presentation of the painter Béla Kontuly's (1904-1983) oeuvre since the 1932 and 1936 shows at the Ernst Museum.
The 2004 centenary exhibition at the Ernst Museum and the concurrently presented book-a catalogue of works with a scholarly review of Béla Kontuly's art-is fully in line with the latest trends in Hungarian and Central European art history which has set out to give a positive reassessment of realism in art. Its western antecedents were the giant exhibitions and catalogues of the 1980s and 1990s which contributed to a more objective understanding of realism which was so popular in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. The comeback of the realist tendencies and the ever-increasing art-market value of Kontuly's high-quality paintings are indicative of the timeliness of a scholarly reappraisal of the Hungarian realist trends-especially the 'Roman school', an art group-which have been subjected to much prejudice over the past decades.
During his scholarship years in Rome (1929-30) Béla Kontuly set out to integrate the new realism of contemporary Europe, combine the characteristics of its different trends, and develop his own brand of realism. The present exhibition seeks to highlight Kontuly's contributions and the modernity of his art.
In addition to nearly fifty amazingly high-quality paintings by Kontuly, the exhibition also presents works by the major representatives of the 'Roman school'. The works reveal the favourite genres, techniques and clichés of 1930s realism in an effort to demonstrate how these Hungarians in Rome gave their homeland first-rate, European-standard modern painting.