Portraits of artists and intellectuals from Café Japán

The following portraits and caricatures can be found in the Archive’s fonds titled Képzőművészeti szövetségek iratai, “Documents of the Alliance of Hungarian Artists” (MDK-C-I-2/1179.1–116.). Aside from a few exceptions, they were all drawn by Lajos Szentgyörgyvári Gyenes, who was the secretary general (and later, the president) of Magyar Képzőművészek Országos Szövetsége (Hungarian National Alliance of Artists) from 1932 on. We came in possession of the portrait series as part of the artist’s bequest. A prominent organiser in art life at the time, Szentgyörgyvári made drawings of Café Japán’s regulars for more than a decade, starting at the end of the 1920s. The series contains the portraits of about 80 artists and intellectuals.

Café Japán opened in the 1890s in Budapest, at Andrássy Avenue 45. It was named for the Japanese porcelain pictures ornamenting its inner walls. Its regular customers were mostly made up of artists and intellectuals (architects, sculptors, painters and art critics, as well as art collectors, writers, musicians and actors). The architect Ödön Lechner was one of them – according to contemporary accounts, he would sometimes make sketches of his new ideas on the marble tabletop. Several artist associations were formed among the walls of the café: MIÉNK (Magyar Impresszionisták és Naturalisták Köre, “Circle of Hungarian Impressionists and Naturalists”, 1907–1910), comprised of progressive artists; Szinyei Merse Pál Társaság (“Pál Szinyei Merse Association”, 1920–1949), one of the most prominent artist associations of the time; and Munkácsy Céh („The Munkácsy Guild”, 1928–1943), whose members were art critics, collectors and artists alike.