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Czóbel WANTED: Unique Exhibition of Missing Masterpieces

Fanni Kaszás 2020.01.16.

There are a lot of painters whose most important works are lost, have disappeared, or we don’t know exactly where they are. This is the case with Béla Czóbel’s paintings, which is reflected in the Czóbel museum of Szentendre, where Gergely Barki, curator and art historian, shows in the Czóbel WANTED exhibition, where photographs of Czóbel’s masterpieces which are currently hunted by the art historian are displayed.

Gergely Barki has been dealing with lost masterpieces for years now. A few years ago, he was the one who discovered – while watching television with his daughter – that in the film ‘Stuart Little,’ Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie are standing in front of a famous Hungarian painting, which had been missing for years. The sleeping nude of Róbert Berény has finally returned to Hungary from America after the discovery and was sold at an auction for no less than 70 million forints.

Since then, Barki has been referred to as a “picture hunter.” Apart from being an art historian, he is the curator of the Czóbel Museum in Szentendre. He told index.hu that although in the early decades of his career, Czóbel was considered to be one of the world’s most innovative and coolest artists by his contemporaries, most of his artworks are lost or lying around from this part of his life; therefore, the original works are needed to prove this to the world through exhibitions.

Even Gertrude Stein, hostess of a Paris salon where the most important figures of modernism in literature and art, such as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald met, wrote about Czóbel in her book about an exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants. According to Barki, Czóbel was noted as one of the ten most important artists of the avant-garde.

Stein wrote about one of his nudes, which, according to the art historian, is probably just one of the at least nine similar paintings that the Hungarian made at the time. He estimates that probably only a small percent of Czóbel’s pictures during his very important and progressive period in Paris are known. Mainly because he managed to sell most of his works immediately after completion, and some were lost during the First (and Second) World Wars when Czóbel had to flee Paris. Czóbel eventually returned to Hungary and settled in Szentendre, where he already had a museum. Research of the ‘art hunter’ shows that the painter is likely to have produced at least as many more works as are known today.

The WANTED exhibition at the Czóbel Museum in Szentendre now features black-and-white reproductions of images from the period up to 1925 that are still considered lost. According to Barki, if a nude painting showcased in a photograph at the Czóbel WANTED exhibition would appear, it would be a sensational discovery and could be sold for hundreds of millions forints.

This is the fourth edition of the “Reconsidered Czóbel” exhibition, which focuses on the secrets that the Czóbel-research, conducted by Barki, has revealed in recent years. With every picture, the exhibition shows how the mysteries around the painter and his works are solved – such as discovering an unknown masterpiece on the back of another, well-known painting.

The museum’s aim with the exhibition is to find the original works with the involvement and help of the general public. Maybe another painting will turn up unexpectedly from someone’s living room, just as Róbert Berény’s work from the film ‘Stuart Little.’

featured photo: Czóbel Museum (Béla Czóbel: Nude Women Lying, 1907. Whereabouts unknown)