(Eger, 1880 – Baia Mare, 1962)
“…this great artist, presents the struggle between naturalism and the non-naturalistic artistic volition, transcending the natural, in its immediate, unaltered reality. Sándor Ziffer is one of the most sincere representatives of our time: a time shaped by naturalism but wanting to free itself from naturalist prejudices, striving for solutions. … These creations are metaphysical attempts to grasp and depict space in its reality, and as such, they represent a necessary, constant struggle with an experiential-sensual reality that can never be completely overcome. Sándor Ziffer is aiming for the highest peaks an artist and a person can ever reach, and he often conquers inaccessible heights” (László Dienes).
He aimed for the highest, and he reached the highest, because the genius found his way in the darkest ages and in the most pessimistic life situations. Sándor Ziffer, who was born into the family of a poor teacher in Eger, faced the tests of life on many occasions. Due to his extraordinary intelligence, he found himself at school at the age of five. He also had a natural talent for music. Nevertheless, he ended up climbing the Transylvanian Parnassus of painting as a result of his childhood illnesses, which almost had a tragic end: the scarlet fever almost completely deafened him, and polio left him with a limp for the rest of his life. Their home’s atmosphere was spoiled by a defiant stepmother. These many disabilities in his life guided the introverted, receptive, self-reliant and extremely talented boy toward that particular Parnassus. After graduating from middle school, he had to attend a technical drawing school and then a school of applied arts. His exceptional abilities, his fondness for museums, his study of art and art history books matured him and he would eventually become Béla Czóbel’s best friend, and an enthusiastic student of Simon Hollósy, the founder of the Nagybánya artists’ colony. Owing to these two masters, his sense of beauty is touched by Cézanne, van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Baia Mare and post-impressionism. These would inspire his legendary “zifferian” cold blues, browns and greens, his energetic contours and last but not least, the coherent artistic creed that he embraced, and which got him through the two world wars and the social collapse that preceded them. Van Gogh’s letter to Emile Bernard could have been dated today, and one could say that these lines sound as if they were explaining Ziffer’s oeuvre: “Giotto and Cimabue, Holbein and Van Eyck lived in an obelisk-like society… characterized by an architectonic arrangement of things, each individual representing a living stone in the overall structure so that it formed an interconnected solid social momentum…we are living in a state of ‘Laissez faire’ and anarchy. We, the artists, who love order and measure have no choice but protect ourselves and retreat in our creations, in order to impose a little order at least in this particular place.” Sándor Ziffer’s talent, education, free spirit and superior intellect, embedded in humanism was appreciated by the Parisian artistic circles to such an extent that the portrait he sent to the Salon des Indépendants was selected by Matisse himself to be featured in the exhibition. Ziffer also became a member of Ady Endre’s group of friends abroad. The First World War found him in Berlin. His return to Baia Mare in 1918, to a new world, was another challenge awaiting completion. Nonetheless, he quickly integrated into the Romanian artists’ society, which was taking shape at the time. Although his relationship with the school of painting deteriorated, his pupils enthusiastically followed him. “He had the spirit of observation of a pathologist! We hung on his words as on revelation, we enjoyed listening to his remarks, his thoughts presented from different points of view and interesting perspectives. Given his severe deafness there was no point in asking him question, but it wasn’t even necessary, because he immediately identified the problem we were struggling with or failing in. Thus, we usually received the answer before we even raised the question. I often watched this man -who was mostly isolated from the outside world due to his handicap- during corrections, when he had to speak only about art, how his eyes brightened, his face lit up and he spoke in a clever, exciting, humorous and meaningful way” (János Incze).
The powerful personality of Sándor Ziffer stood as an unwavering bastion in the turmoil of the 20th century. He filtered and integrated the intriguing artistic trends of his era, such as Expressionism and Constructivism. These, however, only enriched and did not fundamentally change the painter, who stepped so lonely to the top of Parnassus.
The six representative oil paintings in our exhibition belong to different stages in Ziffer’s oeuvre, ranging from the post-impressionist aspirations of the 1910s to the expressive, constructivist thematic adaptations of the 20s, 30s and 40s. The captivating colours in Réti’s Studio in Nagybánya (1911) and in the German Forest (1917) are masterpieces of young adulthood, while the Women Reading (1922) is a masterpiece of the bright artistic maturity. The vivid blue in the Still Life and the Bank of River Zazar in Nagybánya, both from 1930, is crying out in grief. The series concludes with a monumental Self-Portrait created in 1941. This sums up his whole body of work, full of experiments. The self-portrait dominates not only the room, but it also defines the art of Baia Mare and the generations of painters growing up in this colony.