by Jeffrey Taylor, Assistant Professor of Arts Management, Purchase College, State University of New York
This important work by American historian Jeffrey Taylor, who spent the last two decades in Hungary and earned his PhD at Central European University in Budapest, serves to detail the nineteenth century origin of the art market in a Central European nation as its economy was shifting from total dependence on agriculture to a mixed industrial/agricultural model during the Industrial Revolution. The creation of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1867 provided Hungary with a measure of equality with Austria, initiating a period when the social and cultural development of Hungary and its newly emerging professional and merchant classes provided a new marketplace,which while bourgeois in nature nevertheless brought “art” to a greater portion of the population. Taylor provides us with a fascinating history beginning in eighteen-hundred of the art market of Hungary, of the rise of modernism and its conflict with traditional elements. This book is a valuable addition to the history of European art of the 19th century and one which gives us an insight into the commercial aspects of the art marketplace which have not been explored by previous scholars.
The art market of Hungary began in Pest ( Buda and Pest were not joined into one city until 1873) around 1800 in the shops of booksellers who also dealt in maps, sheet music, and prints. The sale of paintings first began to appear in the form of the Pest Art Union, and then in the Kunsthalle model. By the late 19th century, however, the art market operated in a salon system which proved incapable of absorbing the rapidly expanding capacity of artist production. The population of artists in Budapest grew at a rate of approximately 7% a year in the last four decades preceding World War I. The vast over-production of artists and artworks produced a mad scramble for new retailing models as alternative salons, private galleries, studio exhibitions, salon des refusés, one-man shows, and groupings with aesthetic agendas all competed for the public’s attention. Secessions followed upon secessions, and the art politics of the period divided in to three camps, only one of which was Modernist in orientation, and they increasingly found themselves losing control of institutions to a stylistically stagnant, egalitarian-oriented artist proletariat. Therefore, by the early 20th century the more progressively-inclined artists began to turn towards the new commercial gallery models as the most successful venue for their work.