Signs of Civilization: István Réti

(Last Updated On June 18, 2022)

This was supposed to be another post on Soviet postcards when, to my dismay, I discovered that this particular piece had nothing to do with the Soviet Union. Postcards often have only minimal information about an artist and with luck, the artist will be of sufficient stature to have more information online. Since this image was printed in Russia, I assumed it was a Russian artist and I found nothing. Thankfully, Pip recognized the work and the artist and pointed me in the right direction.

Kenneth Clark had said it is much easier to recognize barbarism than civilization and struggled to give his viewers a kind of definition in the early BBC2 series Civilisation. Despite Clark’s uneasiness, I think the thoughtful viewer came away with three critical components of civilization: 1) There is a motivation and energy to build and develop, 2) male and female faculties are kept in balance and 3) civilization is an internationalist endeavor. That is to say it fosters artists and philosophers of such genius, they transcend national boundaries. In this way, this little postcard is small sign of civilization. It comes from a native of Hungary who studied abroad, had one of his pieces exhibited decades after his death at MC Fine Arts in Monaco where a photograph was taken for use as a postcard printed in Russia in 2013 then purchased by an American. This piece is titled “Gypsy Girl” and I would be fascinated to know something about the young girl who inspired this piece.

István Réti - Cigánylány (1912)

István Réti – Cigánylány (1912)

István Réti (1872–1945) was a Hungarian painter, professor, art historian and a founder of the Nagybánya artists’ colony, considered very influential in Hungarian and Romanian art. Réti began his studies at the Budapest School of Drawing at the age of 18 but left after a month for Munich, where he studied with Simon Hollósy, a young Hungarian painter. Later when working in Turin, Italy, Réti was attracted to the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage and then during a trip to Paris, became acquainted with the work of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. While studying at the Académie Julian there, it became a point of attraction for other Hungarian painters. In 1896 Réti returned to Hungary to become one of the founders of an artists’ colony in Nagybánya (Baia Mare in Romania since 1918). Even while teaching in Budapest beginning in 1913, he continued to be involved in making improvements to the teaching methods and theory at the school there. Réti spent the last decade of his life writing a history of the Nagybánya artists’ colony. He had long been preoccupied with contemporary questions of artistic theory and after 1920, he focused his attention on writing articles on aesthetics—influenced by Benedetto Croce and Henri Bergson. Many art historians regard his work in this area a more profound influence on artists than either his painting or teaching activities.

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