In 1972 Margit Kovács donated her works then in her possession to the Hungarian State to form the basis of the Margit Kovács Ceramics Collection established one year later in Szentendre. Although never actually lived here, she found the former salt house – later the home of artist family Vastagh – of this town with a Mediterranean feel an appropriate location for exhibiting her works. Assisting art historian Katalin Petényi, she herself undertook an active role in setting up the exhibition. As a result of her personal contribution, the exhibition not only provided a good overview of her entire oeuvre, but the layout of objects also added to a more complete picture of the artist’s personality. An intimate and mutual relationship could therefore develop between the visitors, the artist, and the objects, which has provided the basis for a successful exhibition for over thirty years.
This factor also contributed to the fact that, besides enjoying great popularity among the wider public, the museum has also been visited by high-ranking Hungarian and foreign politicians, officials, emperors, and presidents already from the beginning.
After being supplemented with further objects from the artist's estate, the collection took its final form after the death of Margit Kovács and continued to be open until 2010.
While trying to maintain its former intimacy, the renewed exhibition lays greater emphasis on the chronological presentation of the entire oeuvre. Two theme rooms (the so-called chapel room and the audiovisual room) interrupt the chronological order of the ceramics, thus making the presentation of her profile more dynamic and easier to understand.
The exhibition carries on the values of the original concept, while also living up to the challenges of our modern age. Instead of only coming upon the ceramics as passive recipients, visitors are encouraged to become active participants in the exhibition. For this purpose, they may get help at the information counters, LCD sets, and a 3D program with projectors set up in the exhibition rooms.
Studies, formative years
The 1920s and 1930s
After graduating from high-school, Margit Kovács started her professional career as a bank clerk. Yet it did not take long for her to discover that such profession is entirely contradictory to her personality. Thus, leaving behind a rewarding career, she moved to Budapest to enroll in Álmos Jaschik’s progressive free school in 1924. The personality-oriented art pedagogy and the applied-art approach of the school made her fascinated with ceramics. This new type of education helped her discover the possibilities lying within the dissolution of boundaries between the various genres, a discovery that later proved to play a key role in the unique character of her art.
In 1926 Margit Kovács continued her studies in Vienna. In the studio of ceramist Herta Bucher (1898–1960) she learnt the fundamentals of clay forming, pottery throwing as well as the most advanced technical processes of that period.
In 1928–29 she studied sculpture with Karl Killer (1873–1948) known for his religious sculptures, and ceramics with Adalbert Niemeyer, one of the founders of the Munich Secession, at the Staatsschule für Angewandte Kunst in Munich, Germany. These studies further encouraged Margit Kovács to put Jaschik’s approach of transgressing genres into practice.
Upon her return from Munich, she started to mature into an autonomous artist with an individual approach. Her first exhibition that took place at the Tamás Gallery in 1929 featured murals with religious themes and small animal figures, still bearing the influence of her masters in Vienna and Munich.
In the early 1930s she primarily made high reliefs as well as small free-standing sculptures. She kept experimenting with the presentation of various themes, with different techniques and genres, yet already synthesizing the effects coming from various directions and filling them with her own voice. Her early works had been influenced both by the Secession and Expressionism, while also drawing inspiration from the Byzantine and Roman styles.
During her study tour to Copenhagen, Denmark in 1932, she studied functional ceramics production. One year later, she went to Sèvres, France, where she was introduced to fire clay, a material to play a significant role at a later stage of her career.
Her collective exhibition at the Tamás Gallery in 1935 marked the end of her experimenting period. Her technique and relationship toward clay have become clear-cut and her synthesizing approach has crystallized, which is well demonstrated by her prizes and her success at group exhibitions.
The autonomous artist
From the late 1930s, she has made vases and other functional objects on commission from American clients. By providing financial security, this job allowed her sovereignty as an artist to strengthen. This way it became possible for her to move, with her mother, to Pozsonyi street 1 in Budapest, where she could finally start firing small ceramic objects in her own kiln.
In 1942, her artwork completed to that date was exhibited at the Tamás Gallery again, reflecting her wide scope of interest and intelligence in terms of both themes and techniques. The figures she featured on her large murals with the aim of monumentality are either highly plastic or show a plane-like decorativeness. More and more of her wheel-thrown free-standing sculptures expose formal solutions attributable to the throwing technique. The intimate and modest portrayals of the 1930s have now become even more expressive, with a simultaneous increase in the layers of meaning. All the Byzantine, Roman, and Gothic influences that have previously appeared one by one now amalgamate.
Her series titled Family Album made in the late 1940s is a recollection of the world of the lower middle class from the time of the artist’s childhood. Here, the elements of nostalgia and irony, sometimes even satire, are blended within the careless charm and colorful glazed decoration of the figures.
After World War II she joined the Hungarian Communist Party and by her own means she took an active role in the country’s reconstruction. Owing to her clear worldview as revealed from her works she became a celebrated artist of the new system. She was among the first to receive the Kossuth Prize in 1948 for her work.
From then on she has received a series of significant state commissions (the map of Lake Balaton to be displayed at the Southern Railway Station in Budapest and the map of Hungary for the Border Crossing Station of Hegyeshalom, both in 1950). Through these works, she emerged as a recognized figure in architectural ceramics and public ceramic art.
Although she had participated in folk art exhibitions as early as the 1930s, her interest toward folk art has intensified during the 1950s, thus fulfilling communist cultural policy expectations of that period. She has developed a rich and unique system of motifs on the basis of the forms of expression typical for Hungarian folk art. In most of her works, symbols and floral ornaments are incorporated as simple decorative elements, without their original meanings, independently from the given subject and the applied technique.
The large murals she made during that period reflect Horror Vacui images of the International Gothic style. On her reliefs and murals, genre scenes become highly detailed and crowded, thus compromising their monumental effect. Themes that meet the expectations of socialist realism are often presented with highly stylized figures in decorative compositions. During this period, the presentation of emotions on her small sculptures is sometimes given a dramatic overtone.
Her large free-standing sculptures thrown during these years have made her a popular ceramist also among the wider public.
Cultural history, the sources of inspiration
Margit Kovács observed the world around her with a kind of childlike curiosity and naiveness. She was equally interested in Hungarian folk art and remote cultures. She integrated her cultural experiences in her work. Room 4 of the exhibition would like to explore and present this inspirational field that was supplied by several sources. You can find here representations of biblical themes, evocation of mythology or illustrative representations of folk poetry and folk tales.
Yet, besides the themes selected, her means of expression are also manifestations of her sources of inspiration. Margit Kovács has always decided on the details of technical implementation with an eye to the selected theme.
Rooms 5 and 6 (Chapel Room)
Works with religious themes
The cellar of the permanent exhibition opened in 1973 primarily featured contemplative objects and works with religious themes. During the 30 plus years of the museum’s existence this simple barrel vault cellar has become a kind of unconsecrated chapel.
The new exhibition would like to preserve the atmosphere of the well-liked chapel, thus trying to create a quasi-sacral space through both the selection of the works and the installation of the exhibition. Given the character of the space, visitors are provided with a complete iconographical program that aims to reveal the relationship between the works in terms of both styles and themes.
Rooms 7 and 8
Late creative period
The 1960s and 1970s
During her late creative period, Margit Kovács has summed up the influences as regards techniques, forms, and styles that had previously been present only as ‘sinking streams’. Recalling the experiences of her former studies in Sèvres, France she turned toward fire clay again around 1956. This material with coarser grains calls for a more rustic, summarizing and closed composition. On her sculptures and reliefs made of fire clay, mainly left unglazed or colored with pastel-effect engobe and decorated with engraving, she returned to a more expressive language of forms. By capturing emotions in a highly overheated manner, her works often have a theatrical effect. As in the case of her works made during the 1950s, she allowed manifestation of geometric forms that are attributable to the technique of wheel-throwing.
During the 1970s, besides themes coming from the realm of legends and folk tales as well as mythological subjects, religious themes also appeared again in her works. This time also, her fire clay reliefs have been formulated with the aim of monumentality.
Functional and decorative objects
The creation of decorative objects played a significant role in the oeuvre of Margit Kovács. During her study tours abroad, she has gradually learnt the fundamentals of how to create such objects: she learnt wheel-throwing and monumental ceramic art at Hertha Bucher’s studio and functional ceramic art later in Copenhagen. In these works functionality and decorativeness usually go hand in hand, making it almost impossible to decide which one comes first, such as in the case of Wedding oven. She kept varying forms and decorative motifs originating from different sources with endless fantasy and, at times, with gentle irony.
An exhibition for the hands
At the Exhibition for the hands, all ceramic objects, freestanding sculptures and reliefs may be touched and examined. Our aim is to bring the art of Margit Kovács within reach for our visitors with visual impairment. Sighted people also get a chance to enrich their visual experience of reception through the empirical experience of touching shapes. In selecting the objects we primarily aimed at creating a picture of the entire oeuvre of Margit Kovács by bringing the diversity of techniques and genres within reach through the best known works of the artist.
In the workshop of Margit Kovács
Permanent exhibitions usually aim to present the entire oeuvre of the artist, make the journey toward becoming an artist understandable, and introduce the artist’s personality. In order to fulfill these goals, we reconstructed the Budapest home of Margit Kovács on the gallery, with the help of her personal belongings: her furniture, books, and favorite ceramics. You can also get an insight into her studio, including her pottery wheel as well as small studies displayed on the shelves to demonstrate the various stages of the creation process.