Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka – a lonely art travel in time and space

Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (1853-1919) is a Hungarian painter whose life is as bizarre and distinctive as his works.

He was born in a small town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which town today is on the territory of Slovakia and has around twelve thousand inhabitants. As of his thirtieth year he was a pharmacist in his hometown.

They say that at that time he once dreamt a strange dream, in which a mystical voice told him that he would become a great painter, as great as Rafael.

Believing the dream, Tivadar embarked a tour of Europe and visited the Vatican galleries. He then returned to Hungary, where he worked for another dozen years at the pharmacy to collect money for his further travels.

After 1890 he managed to visit France, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, North Africa and the Middle East (Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Syria).

His most famous works Tivadar painted only for a period of several years, between 1903 and 1909. Apart from their huge size, his paintings are distinguished by a strong individual style, influenced by the famous Renaissance painters and by his many travels abroad.

Tivadar made several exhibitions in Paris and other cities in western Europe, where he was recognised as a painter with an original style.

His works are characterised by exceptional expressiveness, with a renaissance knowledge of the perspective and icon-influenced colour vision. He barely uses contours; his drawing is soft and renaissance-like. The colours are fresh and saturated. Tivadar uses the white colour in a very specific way. In his paintings the white objects are emphasised unobtrusively, but at the same time categorically.

The backgrounds are usually landscapes in which a renaissance adoration of nature and its cosmic power is felt. This is especially evident in the depiction of mountains and trees. As if painted by a student in the school of Andrea Verrocchio!

Tivadar has a very original vision of the role of heaven. In many of his paintings, the sky occupies almost half the canvas. Besides white, gray and blue, he very often uses red and yellow for the sky, and it in great proportions. The sky is like a separate, very important character in his artistic productions.

I call them “productions” because his works resemble theatrical or opera performances. They have some dramatic, very strong storyline, often with a biblical twist, but with no direct connection to biblical legends and heroes. On some paintings you can build decors of spectacular opera performances and I assure you; the emotion will be very strong!

One can say for sure – his work is difficult to confuse with those of another artist, which is one of the manifestations of the great talent.

Art critics relate stylistically his paintings to post-impressionism, expressionism, symbolism, magic realism, and surrealism. Given that he left only about one hundred and fifty paintings, it is a remarkable stylistic variety!

Interestingly, the fact that Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka  is absolutely self-taught; it is not known about him to have been trained by anyone else.

He remained misunderstood and underestimated in his homeland. He has been considered strange because he was a pacifist, a vegetarian, a non-smoker and lived extremely modestly and ascetically. He tended to go into pathos in conversation and firmly believed that he has had a mission – to develop the art of the Hungarian people to an exceptional level.

In his life, however, he failed to sell any picture. In his last years he lived lonely, misunderstood, unhappy and did not paint anymore. After his death, he was completely forgotten.

His paintings were found by chance by an architect who came to his studio, looking for a rented apartment. He carried the works of Tivadar to the Fine arts school, where he was a lecturer.

In 1949, the paintings of Tivadar took part in exhibitions in Paris and Brussels.

The interest in his art was revived in the seventies  of the last century when his collection of works was moved to  a museum with his name in the city of Pécs, southern Hungary  and thus his paintings were stored for the future.

I choose to show you his painting “Riders by the seashore”,  painted in 1909 year.

On the shores of an isolated sea bay we see riders women and men, some with their dogs.

The horses are slender, elegant, with elongated heads and limbs. They look a little unreal, like in a dream.

The riders have typical postures for riding, but they’re sitting somehow rigid. Men are strangely alike. Women – too. Everyone is focused on themselves and on riding.

The cliffs are high, striated, cold-emitting. No greenery is visible. The trees stand lifeless.

The sea is slightly waved, somehow strangely collapsed in itself and very lonely.

The sky stands as a décor without any emotional involvement in the painting.

From this painting it spurts such incredible loneliness! The lack of vitality and emotions in it causes a feeling of cold and loneliness. Interesting how the lack of emotions can give birth to such a strong emotion?

Perhaps the Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka  will remain in the history of art precisely with its uniqueness, grandiosity and lack of sensitiveness. A lonely stranger in art.

You may see the paintings of Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka here at Wikiart.