Folk Painting


Vankóné Dudás Juli: Dance under the May-tree at Pentecost
Vankóné Dudás Juli: Dance under the May-tree at Pentecost

Primitivism as an art form was discovered at the turn of the 20th century. The thinkers suddenly realized that there are values beyond antique and renaissance art traditions. Attention was directed to the cultures of natural people around the world, to their ritual objects and those used in every day life, which are in complete accordance with their environment. The peasant artisans had no training of any sort, their work was not considered as art, but it represented an important part of their culture. Primitivism is inspired by this ethnic art and the purity of peasant life.

The discovery of the charm of Primitive Art ended the 400 years of colonial expansion which tried to bring the entire globe under the domination of Western civilization.

Primitivism became an individual art style in the 1930’s.

Folk (primitive) painters and sculptors are mature people with an individual concept of the world, who express their life philosophy through their paintings and sculptures. Although being mature individuals they have kept the innocence of a child, but while the innocence of a child is temporary, it stays with these adult artists. The adult folk artist also resembles the child in having no technical training. This results in the fact that he/she doesn’t follow any art style. Their creations are not empty objects, but the results of inner strength. To create is not an obligation, but pleasure. The works of these artists are individual confessions, while folkart expresses the taste of the community anonymously.

In Hungary, folk painters and sculptors, with the exception of a few at the beginning of the century, were mostly discovered in the 1930’s. The “Hungarian Talents” – as they were called – had their first exhibit in 1934. Post WW I. Hungary welcomed them with great enthusiasm as the inspiration of Hungarian ethnic culture could be observed in their simple, pure and characteristically individual work. The works of these young artists were in demand, but nevertheless they had a hard life after they left the village, because they were cheated humanly and materially. The artistic world didn’t accept them either and therefore most of them have lived on the edge of the artistic and intellectual life.

The “Girl drawings” represented another group of folk (primitive) art in Hungary between the two World Wars. These were documentary drawings of everyday peasant life. They were not individual works, but similar all over the country and accepted by their community, the life-giving peasantry.

In the 1960’s, Primitivism was rediscovered in Hungary. It is characteristic of this group of artists, that they started to do artistic work at an old age, most of them already retired. These individuals, who worked lifelong as farmers, miners, shepherds, carpenters, machinists, and as cleaning women, when retired, gave way to their hidden talents and started to paint and sculpt. They didn’t work for profit or exhibitions, but for their own pleasure, often to satisfy their childhood desires.

Both waves of Hungarian Primitivism are rich in sculptures. The artists carved for themselves and considered the statues as companions. The sculptures are stylized and reminiscent to peasant art, but at the same time detach themselves by their individuality and expression.


Emese Kerkay


American Hungarian Museum, No. 22, 1993