Mákoskalác (Poppyseed Cake). Adolf Fényes, Budapest, 1910. Oil on canvas. (Hungarian National Gallery)

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Fényes, Adolf

(1867–1945), painter. Born in Kecskemét, Hungary, Adolf Fényes was one of his country’s most distinguished Jewish painters. The motifs of his works can be considered a metonym for the struggle to create a Hungarian Jewish identity, particularly during the decades immediately before and following World War I.

The son of Simon Fischmann, who was the rabbi of Kecskemét, Fényes received an elementary and middle school education, after which he attended a law program in Budapest. Before completing law school, however, he enrolled at the Mintarajziskola, a leading Budapest institute of design, and was taught by Bertalan Székely between 1884 and 1887. Fényes then studied for three years in Weimar with Max Thedy, and spent a year at the Julien Academy in Paris. Under the tutelage of his mentors, he embraced the naturalist style and quickly emerged as one of the most significant painters of the Nagybánya school. In the spring of 1894, he exhibited two paintings, Nagyapó (Grandpa) and Thüringiai paraszt (Thuringian Peasant). In that year, he also returned to Hungary and joined the Benczúr School of the Arts. He won the first of many prizes, in this case for Pletyka (Whisperer, or Gossip).

In 1898, Fényes left the Benczúr School and helped found the Szolnok artist’s colony. After 1900, he entered perhaps his most productive, diverse, and prestigious period, turning to a more impressionist style, and painting workers and poor people in broad impressionist renderings with dark colors. In 1900, he won the Paris Exhibition Prize for the impressionist-style Család (Family). His naturalist painting Civódás (Spat) won the Rudics Prize in 1901, while Öreg Ember (Old Man) earned him the Lipótváros Casino Prize. In 1905, his major works were shown at the National Gallery in Budapest. In 1907, he helped found Miénk, the Assembly of Hungarian Impressionists and Naturalists, and exhibited with them in 1908.

After 1903, Fényes used more color in his work, notably in his paintings of small-town streets; this style is apparent in his Kisvárosi csönd (Small-town Stillness) and Szent Endrei utca (Saint Andrew Street), which he painted in 1905. He also opted for a simpler style, as expressed in several portraits from around 1907: Kohner Adolf Baró (Baron Adolf Kohner), Jakab Dezső, and Sarbo Leo. Between 1911 and 1914, Fényes produced still-life pictures in striking colors, such as Falusi viragók (Village Flowers), Paraszt csendélet (Peasant Still-life), and paintings of the interiors of churches and homes, including Szolnoki nagytemplom (The Cathedral of Szolnol), Falusi templom (Village Church), and Budai szerb templom (The Serbian Church in Buda).

Before World War I, Fényes showed little attachment to Jewish subjects. During and after the war, however, he began adapting themes from the Bible. Between 1915 and 1918, he painted Noé bárkája (Noah’s Ark), A zsidók megverik Amalék seregét (The Jews Defeat the Army of Amalek), Ábrahám és az anygyalok (Abraham and the Angels), and Mozés vizet fakaszt a sziklából (Moses Draws Water from a Stone).

By the end of the 1920s, Fényes’ artistic career was nearing its end. Along with other Hungarian Jews, he faced increasingly harsh restrictions imposed by the antisemitic Horthy government that impeded his ability to paint. Interned in a forced labor camp in the 1930s, Fényes died of starvation at the close of World War II. He is thus one of countless Hungarian Jewish cultural figures who epitomize the rapid deterioration of Hungarian Jewry after World War II.

Suggested Reading

Júlia Bálintné, Fényes Adolf festöművészmúnkassága, 1867–1945 (Szolnok, Hun., 1992); Fényes Adolf: Emlékkiállítás (Budapest, 1960); Judit Szabadi, “Major Modern Hungarian Painters,” New Hungarian Quarterly (1984) 25 [95]: 159–166, [96]: 167–171; Judit Szabadi, “Portraiture and Landscape Painting at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century: Adolf Fényes, János Tonryai, Béla Endre, Gyula Rudnay,” New Hungarian Quarterly 26 [99] (1985): 171–174; Péter Újvári, Magyar zsidó lexikon, pp. 274–275 (Budapest, 1929).