István BALOGH 

(Oradea, 1890 – Oradea, 1956)

Leafing through the work of Dezső Kosztolányi, one cannot help noticing a short letter dating from 1916 and addressed to Imre Kner. In this letter the poet claims that he had found the “illustrator”.  “I hereby announce my triumphant discovery of a brilliant young man in the person of István Balogh, who surpasses all illustrators of the time. (…) I have seen some of his works, some book illustrations and I am thrilled.” The Oradea-born artist was educated in Cluj Napoca but he always considered himself a resident of his birthplace. He gave up studying law and became an illustrator at the Sonnenfeld Printing House, where he could make the most of his exceptional talent. He illuminated poems by Ady, Juhász and Babits, collections which today are considered rare books. And so, his fate was sealed. 

The latent artistic legacy of István Balogh, the undeservedly forgotten genius, book illuminator, graphic artist and painter, poses a challenge to art historians to this day as the aspiring artist discovered and promoted by the “Tomorrow” Literary Society of Oradea became marginalized almost till the last days of his life due to his involvement in organizing cultural activates for the Republic of Councils in Hungary. Forced to leave his home town, he lived in Budapest, Vienna and Munich. His works remained in hiding, dispersed among private collections. The “new style”, the Art Nouveau, captured the imagination of the sensitive young artist craving for novelty, and Oradea, his home town, nurtured his talent. “…in the evenings, he frequented the Emke café, a regular meeting place for poets, journalists, actors and intellectuals of the town. He took part in debates with Dutka, Emőd and Tódor Manojlovics, the German and Serbian translator of Ady’s poems, and he listened with awe to Ady himself, on the rare occasions he visited Oradea. To please the writers and artists, who were regulars to the Emke cafe, the owner had subscribed to just about every national and international literary and art magazine. Thus, one could easily browse through the ‘Art’, the German ‘Jugend’  and ‘Simplicissimus’ magazines, the Parisian ‘L’Illustration’  as well as the English ‘Studio’ magazine. I can still remember that Balogh was amazed above all by the colour reproductions of Stuck’s and Klinger’s works.  Among these illustrations, he once noticed Stuck’s painting entitled ‘Sphinx’, which served as a source of inspiration for his first great miniature, the ‘Sphinx ligustri’, which is the size of two-three stamps” (Géza Tabéry).

In 1911, during his studies in Munich, István Balogh became one of the favourite students of Franz von Stuck, the German grand master of Art Nouveau. His tuition fee for the painting academy was covered by a scholarship offered by the Masonic lodge in Oradea. The artist was very fond of Italy, Florence in particular, which he discovered during two study visits made in the 1910s. However, his zeal was diminished by the wars, following which he sought solitude. Tabéry’s efforts to sort out and preserve his dispersed legacy, comprising at least two thousand works, met with little success. 

In the light of this incomplete legacy, the two works belonging to the Böhm collection, dating from the glory days of the artist, are of particular significance. The mixed media ‘Scenery’, dating from 1922, depicts one of his favourite themes, that of the solitary tree, while the ‘Fisherman’ chalk drawing from 1935 conceals in fine browns and unrestrained lines the multi-layered symbolism of the man fishing alone in the water of life.

Balogh was actually a poet; who instead of lyric poetry used the brush as an instrument” (Géza Tabéry).