Chefs-d'oeuvre deBudapest | Musée du Luxembourg

Laurent Brero
Mar 3, 2016 4:36PM

Exhibition organised by the Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, the Museum of Fine Art, Budapest and the Hungarian National Gallery.

As Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, the famous Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, embarks on a major programme of renovation work requiring it to close its doors, the most outstanding masterpieces on which its reputation is based are to go on display at the Musée du Luxembourg. 

Budapest is known for the richness of its collections housed at the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum and at the Hungarian National Gallery, and also for the originality of their shared history, which has its roots in the 19th century. Their genesis bears witness to the desire of the public authorities of the time to provide the Hungarian capital with a world-class institution offering the best of Hungarian and European art, essential to the formation and elevation of the populace. Driven by a dynamic, well-thought-out cultural policy, the idea of a fine-art museum took shape in 1871, with the acquisition by the State of some six hundred masterpieces from the collection of the Princes Esterhazy. It was subsequently expanded thanks to the generosity of Hungarian collectors, keen to contribute to the enterprise by gradually filling in the gaps in the original core collection. 1896 marked a decisive turning-point: that year, parliament decided to have built a single large building to house all these treasures, which at the time were displayed in various sites across the city. In the history of Hungary, the creation of this museum coincided with a period of economic growth and a golden age for the arts. Built on the edge of the large city park, the new building – a veritable “Temple of the Muses”, marked by references to classical architecture – opened in 1906. It soon became a popular meeting-place among the inhabitants of Budapest, and one of the most prestigious collections in central Europe. 

Beyond the opportunity to see in Paris works by Dürer, Cranach, Greco, Tiepolo, Goya, Manet, Gauguin and Kokoschka, the exhibition recounts the Hungarian capital’s unique relationship with art. Some of the most spectacular works, from medieval sculptures to Hungarian symbolism, promise to be an entirely new discovery for visitors to the Musée du Luxembourg, as the Szépmüvészeti’s Múzeum collections are joined by those of the Hungarian National Gallery.  

The exhibition is in chronological order, sometimes focusing on the specific characteristics of a particular school (e.g. the Dutch Golden Age so beloved of the Esterhazys), while also developing a number of cross-cutting themes, illustrated in a highly original way in the collection, which alternates between portrait, imaginary figure and genre scene, from Hoffmann and Rubens to Messerschmidt, Goya, Fùssli and Manet.

Religious painting is also evoked through the European schools, to create encounters rich in meaning. Meanwhile, visitors are offered a new perspective on the symbolism and expressionism of the turn of the 20th century, through the presentation of Hungarian masterpieces alongside works, equally rarely seen in France, by Böcklin, Rodin and Puvis de Chavannes.

Some 85 paintings, drawings and sculptures, then, rise to the challenge of recreating in the small space of the Musée du Luxembourg all the splendour of a museum like no other, to offer an unexpected take on European art.   


Curators: Laurent Salomé, head heritage curator and scientific director at Rmn-Grand Palais; Cécile Maisonneuve, PhD in history of art, scientific advisor to Rmn-Grand Palais. 

Exhibition design : Jean-Julien Simonot  

Laurent Brero