Exploring Art Nouveau architecture in Budapest
When one comes to Budapest for the first time, there is often an architectural shock. And it’s natural, its city core has absorbed the leading influences of the last few centuries and now can be used as a guidebook through the various schools and tendencies that were prevalent in Europe and the world at the time. Although touched by the destroying hand of war and merciless brutalist machine of communism, Budapest has managed to come into the 21st century with a strong idea of the necessity of heritage preservation and now can boldly call itself one of united Europe’s architectural capitals.
While losing yourself on the streets of the Hungarian capital it is hard not to notice buildings that immediately stand out from the regulated and at times strict neo-classical Austro-Hungarian facades. Here and there you see houses that simply make you stop awe-inspired by the very fact that such colors, such tiles, such rooftop designs can be constructed and someone could have commissioned it. Congratulations, you’ve stumbled upon Budapest Szecesszió, the architecture that immediately puts the Hungarian powerhouse into the Reseau Art Nouveau Network Route of Council of Europe.
Why Szecesszió? As at the beginning of the 20th century, Hungary was forming the largest empire of the world with Austria, the architectural ideas were also circulating within the common borders and the French word Art Nouveau wasn’t fitting, instead, the eve of Austrian Secession movement was coinciding with rising of a new style in Budapest. However, don’t be puzzled by the name, Hungarian Art Nouveau went well beyond the strictness of the Viennese namesake.
In order to understand the local approach to the style, one name is extremely important. It is Ödön Lechner, the architect that was able to transform the Art Nouveau conquering Europe in the first years of the 20th century into something Hungarian thus giving it the national forms and motives. Considering Lechner’s transformative role for the Central European architecture and the visual outlook of his signature style, it is safe to compare his works with the ones of another master, Barcelona’s very own Gaudi.
Exit the Corvin-negyed metro station in the direction of Üllői út and you’ll understand why. There is a mesmerizing building full of colors and unusual shapes. On one hand, it starkly contrasts with the surrounding regularly looking houses, on the other, it is masterfully woven into the cityscape forming a complete street outlook. It is the Museum of Applied Arts designed by Ödön Lechner with help from another talented architect of the time Gyula Pártos. It is the third oldest among the world’s museums of applied art, by the way. And it’s a sight to behold and a visual candy for all the architecture enthusiasts.
One of the most distinctive features of the building is its combination of various elements that form a unique style. While designing the Museum of Applied Arts Lechner was inspired by the Asian architecture, that’s why the shapes here look like the shapes found in Mughal palaces, there are Persian ornaments and Hindu expressiveness. The architect makes all of it work applying these elements for the formation of his own signature style that in the end is, in fact, Hungarian national Art Nouveau, you may never confuse it with another one.
Also, there is an element in the design of the Museum of Applied Arts that sheds a light to one of the most fruitful and famous collaborations in the architectural world of the turn of the centuries. Look at the tiles that grace the rooftop. The combination of bright green and golden, the magnificent ensemble of colors done in an irregular shape. It is a product of the revolutionary pyrogranite technique created by the iconic Zsolnay porcelain factory located in the Southern Hungarian city of Pécs. Quite possibly without this artistic amalgam of the architectural genius and the inventive technology, there would be no Szecesszió as we know it today.
Don’t stop just at the Museum of Applied Arts, there are many more Art Nouveau masterpieces gracing the countless lined streets of Budapest. Another highlight is the splendid Gresham Palace considered by many as a prime European example of Gesamtkunstwerk, or a “total work of art” after the German term that has no analogs in English. Located right opposite the famous Chain Bridge, this 1906-built hotel is a fascinating merge of the artistic geniuses of architects Zsigmond Quittner and Jozsef Vago, sculpture works of sculptors Géza Maróti, Miklós Ligeti, and Ede Telcs, stained glass masterpieces of Miksa Róth and metalwork of Gyula Jungfer. In other words, each part of this building is high art in itself and combined it becomes a spectacular “synthesis of the arts”.
While many of the Art Nouveau interiors of Budapest are not accessible to visitors, there are still some that will give you an idea of the grandeur of this style from the inside. One of them is the Gellért Hotel and Thermal Baths, a fantastic building from 1918 evoking the Belle Epoque charms of the leisure-loving Europe right at the edge of the catastrophe of the First World War. Extremely photogenic, pleasantly colorful and undeniably beautiful, the interiors of Gellért are a must-see while exploring Budapest architectural scene. Also, you may recognize the blueness of the baths from the GQ’s post-La La Land Ryan Gosling photo session.
One day or even one week is definitely not enough for getting a taste of the Budapest Szecesszió, it is best savored at a contemplative pace. If you want to get the facts straight as well as discover the in-depth history of the movement, it is advised to visit the museums. Firstly, there’s a House of Hungarian Art Nouveau. Itself located in 1903 Secessionist house, it boasts a nice collection of the objects produced at the height of this style including furniture, paintings and porcelain. Another must-visit if you’re planning to get a full scope of Hungarian Art Nouveau beauty is the Miksa Róth Memorial House, a somewhat under-the-radar museum that houses a wonderful collection of Miksa Róth’s works: stained glass masterpieces that can be found in the majority of the Secessionist buildings around Budapest and Hungary.
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