Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lajos Vajda

Lajos Vajda, c. 1935 
An Immorality
by Ezra Pound (1917)
Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,

Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men's believing.
Lajos Vajda (1908-1941) was born in Zalaegerszeg, a town in western Hungary, to a family of Jewish descent. Hiss father was employed as a judicial clerk at the district court. His uncle, Mihály Vajda, became an important figure in Lajo's life. Mihály Vajda worked as a journalist for the liberal Hungarian newspaper Az Est, serving for some years as its Paris correspondent. It was in his uncle's library that Lajos developed an appreciation for art and  reading.

 Lajos Vajda, Self-Portrait in a Mask, 1935

In 1916, the family moved to Belgrade where Vajda continued his primary education and became acquainted with Serbian orthodox churches. The icons and the atmosphere in the churches greatly influenced him. Lajos continued his education at a German-speaking school, where he was an outstanding student. By this time, he had native proficiency in Serbian and German, and spoke Hungarian at home. The poverty-stricken family returned to Hungary in 1923, and settled in the small town of Szentendre. One year later, Lajos enrolled in a Budapest art school run by the Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association. Aged 17, during one of his painting trips, he got a bad chill. Complications arose in the form of tuberculosis, and he was operated seven times. In 1927, Vajda enrolled at the Royal Hungarian Academy of Arts, becoming a pupil of István Csók

 Lajos Vajda, Tower and Still-Life, 1937

Vajda and some other students of István Csók and János Vaszary established a group with a passion for modern art. Modelled on the French "Les Fauves", they called themselves "Vadak", or "Wild Ones". At this time that Vajda came into contact with Lajos Kassák, who promoted Hungarian Modernism. At the end of the 1920s, Vajda developed a fascination with Russian Constructivism and Socialist doctrine. He joined the Munka Kör (Work Circle), a group of artists, intellectuals and workers who shared a belief in an artistic renewal that was to coincide with a revolution in society.

Lajos Vajda, Tiger and Lillies, 1933

In 1930, Vajda traveled to Paris, where he lived for more than three years. He developped there an appreciation for film and began to produce photomontages like the above Tiger and Lillies. Most of the works produced in Paris are unknown  - apart from about a dozen montages. Vajda later recalled being close to starvation on several occasions during his stay in France.


Vajda returned to Hungary in 1934. He spent his summers in Szentendre, a small town and art colony on the Danube. Following in the footsteps of the composers Belá Bártok and Zoltán Kodály, Vajda drew inspiration from the archaic Serbian, Slavic and Hungarian motifs that he encountered on local tombstones and in the architecture of homes and churches in Szentendre. Being without any income, Vajda was dependent on the financial support of his family. In 1935, he met Júlia Richter, a student from Bratislava, who was studying at the College of Applied Art. They got married in 1938, and their relationship lasts until Vajda's death. 

 Lajos Vajda, Houses in Szentendre with Blue Sky, 1935

In 1937, Vajda rented a studio in Budapest, but continued to spent the summer months living and working in Szentendre. After a period of great activity, he held his first exhibition at his studio in 1937. A critical review stated: "Lajos Vajda takes on a tragic artistic position, doing so with a stark consistency that is unusual in Hungary. This is modern catacomb art. We see fantastic hieroglyphics and dark mementos. Something is afoot in this Europe with a dishevelled soul."

 Lajos Vajda, Floating Houses, 1937

Towards the end of the 1930s, Vajda became increasingly isolated. He had lost his believe in the Munka Kör and started creating barren, nightmarish landscapes inhabited by devilish birds, apocalyptic monsters, gnomes, and ghastly human and vegetable forms. Vajda's later work, dating from 1939 and 1940, consists of large drawings in ink and charcoal with little colour. They are his final depictions of a demonic world.

 Lajos Vajda, Mask and Moon, 1938

In 1940, Vajda was drafted to the Hungarian Labour Service (Munkaszolgálat), the required military substitution for Jewish men, who were no longer permitted to serve in the regular armed forces since the passing of the Hungarian anti-semitic laws. Lacking warm clothing, Vajda got a severe pneumonia, and was sent back to Budapest, where he was hospitalized for eight months amid awful conditions. His wife finally managed to take him to a sanatorium in Budakeszi, where he, aged only 33, died on September 7, 1941. He was buried in the Jewish Cemetery of Budapest.

 Lajos Vajda, Silver Gnome, 1940

In 1943, after Lajos Vajda's death, there was a posthumous exhibition of his works at the Budapest Alkotás House of Art. The opening of the exhibition took place amid apocalyptical circumstances. The visitors fled the exhibition rooms in order to escape an air raid.

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