Some Famous Hungarian-American Artists of the Past
Many Hungarian immigrants to the United States have made significant contributions to their adopted homeland in a variety of fields. Some of the best known among them are scientists Leo Szilard and Edward Teller, publisher Joseph Pulitzer, musicians Eugene Ormandy, George Szell and Edouard Remenyi , a number of religious leaders, and a multitude of film directors, actors and sundry performers. Artists, however, with the possible exception of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and André Kertesz, aren't well known to the general public. Yet in the first half of the 20th century more than two dozen sculptors, painters, illustrators, and photographers from Hungary not only enjoyed widespread recognition and commercial success but also played a conspicuous role in capturing and preserving famous American personages and historical events for posterity in oil, watercolor, marble, bronze, wood and other media. Summarized below are the lives and careers of six of these artists known professionally in the United States as George Julian Zolnay, Alexander Finta, Julio Kilenyi, Willy Pogany, Laci de Gerenday and Louis Jambor. They created an incredible number of masterpieces, garnered a vast host of awards and honors, and are represented in museums, galleries and private collections throughout the world.
A scion of the distinguished Zsolnay family of Pécs, George Julian was born on July 4, 1863, an auspicious date in American history for it marked the end of the great and decisive battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War. It was George's father and uncle who founded the world renowned Zsolnay ceramic works. Today countless museums around the globe are proud to exhibit its beautiful creations.
In all fairness, most of the credit for launching the enterprise on the road to fame and fortune a belongs to Vilmos Zsolnay. George's father, Ignác, a gentle man of artistic temperament and poor business acumen, embarked on numerous ventures, none of them really successful. One of these endeavors took him to Bucharest. It was here at the Royal Art Institute that young George received his early training. (Because of this, George Julian Zolnay is sometimes erroneously denoted in biographical sketches as a native of Romania. The National Cyclopedia of American Biography states that Zolnay's father went to Bucharest to escape political persecution by the Hapsburg government. This contention is absolutely incorrect.)
Upon returning to Hungary,
young George went to work for the family ceramic concern but he didn't
find the situation to his liking. Therefore he furthered his studies in
Paris and at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, graduating
from this institution with high honors.
Zolnay's immense talents as a sculptor were readily acknowledged and he was embraced as one of the rising young stars of his profession. One of his earliest remarkable creations was a pediment of the Carmelite Cloister in Vienna. He modeled many of Hungary's most distinguished personages.
In 1892 Zolnay came to America as a member of a committee to survey and assess the status of art in the United State for the Hungarian government and do some sculptural work at the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893. He liked what he saw in the United States and decided to stay. Settling down in New York City, he opened a studio and almost immediately began garnering important commissions.
The Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897 in Nashville celebrated the 100th anniversary of the admission of the state to the Union. To house the multitude of exhibits an events, a host of different types and sized buildings were constructed. One of the most remarkable of these structures was the House of Fine Arts, modeled after the Parthenon. As a matter of fact, it was the world's only faithful-sized replica of the original temple in Athens. The most famous example of Greek architecture, the Parthenon was the perfect symbol of the city's cultural aspirations and aptly reflected the city's nickname "Athens of the South."
Zolnay was among the many artists who participated in the construction of the Nashville Parthenon. He created the pedimental sculptures.
All the structures of the Centennial were intended to be temporary. While the other structures were torn down soon after the exposition closed, the citizens of Nashville insisted on saving the Parthenon. It became a shrine to residents and visitors alike. However, within a few years the exterior and interior of the building, made of flimsy materials reflecting the building's temporary intention, began to disintegrate at an alarming rate. Repairs, made at substantial expense, prolonged its life. But the ravages of time continued their take their toll so seriously that it became obvious that the structure had to be either demolished or reconstructed in permanent form.
In 1920 the city's Park Commission, supported by a galaxy of prominent citizens, along with the involvement of local architect Russell Hart and architectural historian William Bell Dinsmoor, decided to reconstruct the Parthenon in lasting materials. The general contractors on the project was the firm of Foster & Creighton. Zolnay returned to make the metopes of the Doric freeze. There were originally 92 of these metopes. In his article on the reconstruction of the Parthenon in Art and Archeology, August 1921, Zolnay declared: "At the rate at which the work has been progressing the exterior of the building [...] will stand forth as a monument to man's innate craving for beauty which was the sole factor in this reconstruction. It will also be a demonstration of what adequate laws can do for the community." The outside of the Nashville Parthenon was completed in 1925 and the interior six years later.
On October 7, 1899, the 50th anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe, the Poe Memorial Association of the University of Virginia unveiled Zolnay's bronze bust of the poet in the University's new library. Depicting Poe in a reflective mood, the work has been called by one contemporary as "a most dramatic creation of a psychologist."
While in Nashville, Zolnay heard the story of Sam Davis, the fearless young Confederate scout of the Civil War executed as a spy. He became so intrigued that he made a bust of the heroic youth. Zolnay's creation amazed Sam's best friend, now an elderly man, as well as Sam's entire family. Sam Davis's bust made Zolnay known throughout the South, led to a multitude of commissions, and the sobriquet "Sculptor of the Confederacy."
Although Zolnay gained considerable fame by his bust of Sam Davis, it was his association with a much more formidable Davis that skyrocketed his reputation. That Davis was none other than Mrs. Jefferson Davis, widow of the Confederate President. She was very impressed by his work, and he became a personal friend of hers and her daughter Varina Anne Jefferson Davis, affectionately called "Winnie" even by those who had never met her. Because Winnie was born in the Confederate White House during the Civil War, she was nicknamed "The Daughter of the South."
Winnie Davis died after a prolonged illness in 1898. On November 9th of the following year - described as a great Confederate day in Richmond, Virginia - memorials were unveiled to Winnie Davis and her father in Hollywood Cemetery. Both were works of Zolnay; a large bronze statue for the Confederate President and a marble figure for his daughter. Some 30,000 people came to participate. Mrs. Jefferson Davis was present as the guest of the Richmond Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy. Other notables attending included General Fitzhugh Lee, John H. Reagan, Postmaster General of the Confederate States, and the Reverend James Smith, who was on General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's staff.
Both of Zolnay's creations were greeted with the utmost praise. Said one newspaper: "The design of the Winnie Davis monument is beautiful and artistic." Zolnay also did a tablet for Winnie which was installed in St. Paul's Church. Commenting on this memorial tablet, The Critic, declared: "Mr. Zolnay was fortunate in having known Miss Davis during her life, and that has helped him in getting a likeness. The design of the tablet, [...] is symbolic."
Zolnay met Abigail (Abbie) R. Gillim, the daughter of a prominent Owensboro, Kentucky, couple and fell in love. Their mutual attraction was rekindled and grew when he was chosen to execute the Confederate Monument in the public square of the city. Their wedding was a leading event in local society circles in November of 1902.
In 1903 Zolnay moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to assume charge of the Art Department at the 1904 World's Fair. In 1905 he served as chairman of the Missouri Art Commission at the Portland Exposition, garnering a gold meal award. Initially on the faculty of the St. Louis School of Fine Arts (Washington University), he resigned in 1909 to take the directorship of University City Art Academy. Among his pupils who later embarked on a distinguished artistic career were three St. Louis-born women, whose maiden names were: Nancy Coonsman, Caroline Risque, and Julie Yates.
Losing a competition did not agree with Zolnay and by all accounts he was not a graceful loser. Years later Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, would sum up such attitude with the terse phrase: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."
According George McCue's Sculpture City: St. Louis, Zolnay in his relation to fellow artists "was aggressive and often arrogant - qualities honestly come by considering his manifest capabilities and background of royal commissions, but which tended to isolate him within the art community." His outspoken disdain of the venerated Auguste Rodin stirred up quite a controversy and earned him a formidable array of antagonists. Zolnay once declared that it was his ambition "to make the Middle West the real art center of the country."
Among Zolnay's notable creations standing in St. Louis are the dramatic statue of Pierre Laclede, the founder of the city; the gigantic lions which guard the gateway to University City; and the Confederate Memorial. A gift of the Ladies' Confederate Monument Association, the Confederate Memorial, dating from 1914, is a 30-feet high Barre granite shaft to which is attached a bronze high relief of life-sized figures of a Southern family. The reverse side of the shaft depicts a quotation from General Robert E. Lee.
Leaving St. Louis in 1913, Zolnay resided in the nation's capital until 1926 when he returned to New York City.
In reviewing Zolnay's frieze on the front of the new Central High School in Washington,DC, and making a number of observation about his other creations, Arts and Architecture, May of 1916, declared: "To Zolnay the creed of the craft is to labor mightily and faithfully serve a mistress who is at one exacting, erratic and in a constant state of evolution, for he regards Art as, not merely a *repletion of the past, but a living issue of life whose interpretation is the mirror of our civilization."
Zolnay's Industrial Memorial for the town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, has been described as a work in which the artist "wrought out of the living granite types of bygone days with all the pathos and heroism of that sturdy New England race." In San Francisco he executed a colossal granite group to decorate the US Custom House. The imposing Kiwanis War Memorial in Nashville, Tennessee, was completed a few years after the end of World War I. His statue of Sequoyah graces the National Statuary Hall in Washington, DC. Examples of Zolnay's public monuments can be seen in many other cities; for example, Kirksville, Missouri; Savannah, Georgia; Owensboro, Kentucky; and Galveston, Texas.
Zolnay spent the winter of 1922-23 in Rome, where he maintained a studio. "Honors have been heaped upon him by the artists of Rome and he has added greatly to the prestige of American sculpture in European countries, "commented Art and Archeology in April 1923.
Zolnay's talents extended far beyond sculpture. A fine musician, he played the violin with exceptional skill. He spoke and wrote seven languages fluently which greatly assisted him in the participation of international competition. Over the course of his long career, he contributed numerous articles to professional journals.
While his marriage to Abbie endure till the end of his long life, his two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, had a more turbulent marital history. Elizabeth's first husband, Capt. George T. Sumerlin Jr., whose father had served as Minister to Honduras, Venezuela, and Panama, perished in a car accident in October of 1934. In 1939 she married Major Horace B. Smith, an aide at the White House, on duty at the War Department. Margaret married John Churchill Newcomb, a graduate of Harvard University, in February 1937. The marriage lasted only four years and in November of 1945 she married John Hone Auerbach, an alumnus of Princeton University and a descendant of Philip Hone, mayor of New York City in 1826-1827.
Zolnay was an active member of several prominent professional and social clubs. While living in St. Louis he served as president of the Artists' Guild. He was one of eight men who founded the National Arts Club in New York city in 1897. In Washington, DC, he was affiliated with the Arts Club for several years.
The effects of an attack of pneumonia claimed Zolnay's life on May 1, 1949. He died peacefully at his home, 161 East 79th Street.
Born in the tiny village of Túrkeve on the Hungarian Great Plains, June 18, 1881, Finta obtained a diploma in mechanical engineering. He studied art in Budapest and Florence as well as in Paris with Zolnay's object of derision, Auguste Rodin. After finishing his military service in World War I, he created war memorials in several communities. In 1917 he was appointed expert in art and archeology by the Hungarian government. To be free from the political turbulence which followed the great conflict, he emigrated to Brazil in 1919.
He was by then an artist of reputation, with a long list of portraits, memorials and other works to his credit. In Rio de Janeiro he created numerous monuments. Best known among these are a 12-foot granite statue, named Strength, for the park of the Fluminenci Club, and Christ for the city's cathedral. In 1921 Finta served as director-in-chief in charge of sculpture at the World's Fair in Rio. To escape the ravages of yellow fever, Finta moved to New York City in 1923 and seven years later was naturalized. Like Zolnay, Finta had no difficulties in quickly establishing himself in the new homeland and carve out a satisfying career.
In the 1920s St. Stephen of Hungary Church was one of the most important Hungarian-American institutions in New York, a position it retains to this very day. When the church decided to relocate from 14th Street on the Lower East Side to its current location on 82nd on the Upper East Side, several notable artists participated in the decoration of the new edifice which was begun in 1927 and completed in the following year. Finta was one of these artists; the splendid figure of St. Stephen adorning the church is his creation.
In 1927, Alexander Konta, a banker and prominent figure of New York City's Hungarian community, along with New York Supreme Court Judge Victor Dowling commissioned Finta to do a chest-length marble bust of Patrick Cardinal Hayes, the first native-born New Yorker to become a cardinal, and donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Incidentally, Finta's second wife, Catherine, was a talented painter and a professor of design. Examples of her work in velvet and silk batik were included in the Brooklyn Museum's 1928 Summer show.
For the Authors Club in 1931, Finta designed, without charge, a plaque marking the site in Brooklyn where Walt Whitman set the type for the first issue of Leaves of Grass, the first unconventional work of one of America's great poets. Acknowledging the artist's generous gesture, Dr. Emory Holloway, Whitman's biographer, said during the unveiling ceremony: "Whitman's interest in the welfare of foreigners seeking opportunity in America finds an echo in the gift of Mr. Finta."
The exquisite bronze tablet presented to Dr. W. H. Park, director of the laboratories of the city's Department of Health, from his grateful and admiring colleagues on his 70th birthday in 1933 was the work of Finta. The Commissioner of Health, who made the presentation, recounted Dr. Park's distinguished 40-year career and acknowledged that "the birth of preventative medicine as we know it is due almost entirely to Dr. Park." It was Dr. Park who in 1891 introduced diphtheria anti-toxin into the United States.
That same year internationally recognized Dr. William C. Carl was celebrated for his 40 years of continuous service as organist and director of music at the First Presbyterian Church, 5th Avenue and 11th Street, with a bronze tablet by Finta.
To honor Colonel Michael de Kovats, one of the Hungarian heroes of the American Revolutionary War, Finta designed a bronze relief, equestrian figure. It was unveiled on January 24, 1940, at the Hungarian Reference Library, 19 west 44th Street, with Dr. Laszlo Telkes, director of the library, presiding over the ceremonies. For the Cleveland Public Library Finta executed a bust of the renowned poet Sándor Petőfi. Another Hungarian subject of Finta's art was Count Apponyi, the internationally respected statesman and friend of Theodore Roosevelt.
His bronze bas-relief portrait of Lajos Kossuth was installed at Wood Street and Third Avenue in Pittsburgh in 1949, while a bronze bust of Kossuth, dating from 1954, was placed in Exposition Park in Los Angeles.
Finta also did an equestrian statue of General Ulysses S. Grant. Other famous Americans depicted in various forms by Finta include Washington Irving, Robert Fulton, Dr. Alfred E. Hess, New York Senator Robert F. Wagner, and Countess Laszlo Szechenyi, born Gladys Vanderbilt.
Finta's reputation spanned the entire globe; therefore it wasn't surprising when he was the artist selected to do the bronze statue for His Royal Highness, the Maharaja of Indore.
Besides his career as a sculptor, Finta was an outstanding book illustrator, poet, and author of articles, short stories, and novels. His most popular book is Herdsboy of Hungary: The True Story of Mocskos, written in collaboration with Jeanette Eaton. The New York Times book review, January 29, 1933, called it "a book that has the unmistakable ring of truth" and added that the "illustrations have beauty and strangeness and the vigor of the text. . . . A book of unusual strength, vividness and authenticity for older boys and girls." Finta wrote several epic poems, lectured regularly on a variety of subjects, and was an honorary member of the Edgar Allan Poe Literary Society of America.
Around the start of the Second World War, Finta moved to Los Angeles. He became an active member of the Painters and Sculptors Club of Southern California. During 1944-45 he worked for the Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
For some reason, American reference works are uncertain about the date of Finta's death. Some cite 1958 as the year of his death; others 1959, and sometimes a question mark appears after the indicated year. According to one authoritative Hungarian source, Finta died on August 3, 1958.
In his last will and testament Finta bequeathed many of his creations to his native town. These gifts constituted the nucleus of the Finta Múzeum in Túrkeve. Alfonz Lengyel's The Life and Art of Alexander Finta, Hungarian-American Sculptor, published in 1964, recounts his career and achievements.
Born in the city of Arad on February 21, 1885, Kilenyi was the son of a businessman. Following studies at the Royal Art School at Budapest, he went abroad to attend art academies in Germany and France. Like Finta, Kilenyi emigrated to South America early in life, but in his case the destination was Argentina. He arrived in 1907 and left for the United States in 1916, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1924. Upon coming to the United States, Kilenyi settled in New York City and remained a lifelong resident of the Big Apple.
Kilenyi was particularly renowned for commemorative plaques and medals.
In 1928 Kilenyi did a four feet high and two fee wide bronze tablet in memory of John Campbell Greenway, one of Yale University's most famous football and baseball players, a Rough Rider and close friend of Theodore Roosevelt, and a general during World War I.
His 1930 medal commemorating the 50th anniversary of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers symbolizes the engineer and his past and present achievements.
Working around the clock a year later, Kilenyi completed a bronze plaque commemorating the record flight around the world by Wiley Post and Harry Gatty. The plaque was presented to the fliers during a gala dinner at the Hotel Astor. With Gatty as navigator, Post circumnavigated the globe in a record time of eight days. In 1933 he made the first solo flight around the world. Sadly Post didn't live long to enjoy his triumphs. On August 15, 1935, his plane, with close friend Will Rogers, the humorist, on board, crashed on take-off, killing both of them.
Previously, Kilenyi designed medals to commemorate the flight of Charles A. Lindbergh aboard The Spirit of St. Louis and Rear Admiral Richard Byrd's polar flights of 1926 and 1930. Other famous Americans depicted on Kilenyi's creations include Thomas A. Edison, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Mark Twain, and General John A. Pershing.
The medal commemorating the 150th anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill was among his most noteworthy efforts. For his execution of the official poster and medal for the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles in 1932, Kilenyi was presented with a medal from the 10th Olympiad Committee of the city.
Four of the five boroughs of New York City are on islands and are connected to each other as well as the New Jersey shoreline across the Hudson River by bridges and tunnels. Opened in 1931 as the longest suspension bridge in the world, the George Washington Bridge, the only bridge across the Hudson River in New York City, has been described by the great Le Courbousier as the most beautiful in the world. Also opened in 1931, the Bayonne Bridge, which spans the Kill van Kull between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey, was the longest steel arch bridge in the world.
The Port Authority, the public agency formed by the states of New York and New Jersey, appointed Kilenyi to execute the commemorative medals for both bridges.
The designs drew praise from the numismatic world and the general public. Therefore, it wasn't much of a surprise that the design of the souvenir bronze medal in connection with the opening of another Port Authority project in 1937, namely the Lincoln Tunnel under the Hudson River, was entrusted to Kilenyi. The medal bears the head of Abraham Lincoln on one side while the reverse depicts the westerly entrance to the tunnel.
The Port Authority was very pleased with all of his creations; it ordered as many as 10,000 of his medals struck at one time.
When Kilenyi was retained to design a medal symbolizing the friendship between the United States and Poland, he put the likeness of Ignace Jan Paderewski, Poland most famous living personage on one side. Because Paderewski was unable to sit for him and photos and drawings of him were found wanting, Kilenyi watched Moonlight Sonata - a movie featuring the famous pianist - to capture as accurately as possible the features of his subject.
Paderewski, the foremost pianist of his age and an inspiration to Polish nationalism, was a leading figure in the restoration of Poland following World War I. When his country was invaded at the beginning of World War II, he joined the Polish government in exile in France and came to the United States in late 1940. Already suffering from poor health, he spent his final days at the Buckingham Hotel in mid-Manhattan and died there on June 29, 1941. A plaque on the outside near the building's main entrance recalls the residency and death of the renowned piano virtuoso.
Julio was by no means the only famous Kilenyi in America at the time. Edward, his brother, also enjoyed widespread respect and fame in the United States, but in a different field, that being music. Educated in Hungary and later in Italy and Germany, he came to America in 1908. Settling in New York City and continuing his studies, he obtained a master's degree in music from Columbia University in 1915. He taught at Columbia and at the same time also gave private lessons. One of his star pupils was George Gershwin, already a recognized composer. Edward Kilenyi instructed Gershwin in instrumentation, composition and harmony from 1919 to 1921. He also became deeply involved with music for Hollywood movies and in that capacity he supervised the musical scores of numerous films, including Abie's Irish Rose. Incidentally, his son Edward Jr., was also an outstanding musician. Early in his career he was dubbed by some as a "young Paderewski" and later was on the faculty of Florida State University for many years.
Surrounded by a throng of some 200 people, Kermit Roosevelt 3rd, 10-year old great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, unveiled Kilenyi's bronze portrait plaque of his illustrious ancestor at the entrance of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay Harbor on September 5, 1948.
From 1949 to 1955 Kilenyi was art director for the L. G. Balfour Co., a jewelry manufacturing firm headquartered in Attleboro, Massachusetts. In 1951 he designed an impressive medallion in bronze commemorating the 100th anniversary of Fruit of the Loom textiles.
Kilenyi died on January 29, 1959. Among the professional organizations he held membership were the National Sculpture Society, the Architectural League of New York, Allied Artists of America, Audobon Artists, and the American Numismatic Society. His creations can be found in prestigious museums throughout the world.
A native of the city of Szeged, Pogany was born on August 24, 1882. Following engineering studies for a year at Budapest Technical University, he studied art at home and abroad. He lived in England for a few years; while there he married, taking Lilian Rose Doris as his wife on December 9, 1908. Coming to the United States in 1914, he settled in New York City.
He first concentrated his efforts on designing scenes, costumes, and sets for plays, ballets and operas. His unbounded versatility and creative talents soon had him soaring in a myriad of other fields.
Even early in his career he was acknowledged as one of the few real masters of color. His works "abound in the most gorgeous of hues and tints," enthused one critic. Pogany even contributed a new shade to the existing chromatic scale, known in the art world as Pogany Blue.
In his book Around the World in New York, published in 1924, Konrad Bercovici wrote: "Among Hungarians living here are men like [...] Willy Pogany, one of the most famous of portraitists and illustrators, is one of the most sought-after painters. His work on stage has made him famous the world over. But best are his illustrations to Gulliver's Travels, which surpass anything done before. Essentially, as a painter and colorist, Willy Pogany harks back to Hungarian traditions. One could unmistakably recognize his nationality by looking at any of his paintings."
An article in the New York Times, January 1, 1928, credited him as an illustrator of over 100 books, the designer of nearly 80 stage productions, and the creator of several hundreds of paintings adorning the walls of private galleries and museums.
Not one to take lightly any aspersions to his name or reputation, Pogany in 1920 sued the renowned David Belasco along with Charles Frohman Inc. because in their play Call the Doctor the leading lady declares that her sweetheart is a Hungarian artist named "Pogany Willie" and utters comments implying that he is a "cheat, fraud and deceiver of the most despicable kind." As damages for debasing the character of "a living Hungarian artist of recognized standing and reputation," Pogany demanded $100,000 and another $100,000 for the use of his name without permission. $200,000 was quite a sum in those days.
However, the jury trying the case did not agree with him. The play did not ridicule him in any way, they concluded. After the verdict was announced, the judge called Pogany and Belasco to the bench and the two men shook hands. Belasco said: "I am happy that the jury found that the words complained of were not to be misunderstood as reflecting on Mr. Pogany, whom I consider an able artist of high standing."
Throughout his life Pogany participated in a myriad of Hungarian-American activities. In April of 1924, for example, he designed the scenery for the production of a pageant and ball at the Hotel Commodore held under the auspices of the American Committee for the support of the Hungarian Tuberculosis Children's Fund. He was one of the artists who did the splendid interior decorations for St. Stephen of Hungary Church. Pogany was among the artists prominently featured in the show called "Hungarian-Americans," held at the Painters and Sculptors Gallery, 22 East 11the Street, from January 1 to January 31, 1932. The show was a follow-up of the College Art Association's recent Hungarian Exhibition at the galleries of E. and A. Silberman.
Chess was his favorite pastime and a competent chess player was always welcome in his studio. For active recreation he preferred soccer, swimming and rowing.
Pogany collaborated on several of the projects initiated by Emery Roth, the renowned Hungarian-born architect of New York City's luxury apartment buildings and grand hotels. (The aforementioned Buckingham Hotel was built from Roth's designs.) For example, Pogany designed the gigantic salt-water swimming pool at the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn. Concerning this pool, Architecture and Building, April 1930, which devoted a lengthy article to the hotel, said: "Below the ballroom is a great space occupied by the swimming pool. [...] Designed by Willy Pogany the entire wall surfaces of this room are covered with gold mirrors, while the columns are enclosed with emerald green tile with gold inserts. [...] The illumination of the pool is most unusual when lighted from below the surface of the water."
While Pogany's professional success continued to rise unabated in the 1930s, his marriage, long on shaky ground, disintegrated. His wife sued for divorce in Los Angeles, charging him with desertion and becoming infatuated with another woman. She also contended that he used coercion to obtain a Mexican divorce in 1933. The newspapers which followed the legal proceedings did not elaborate on details of the divorce settlement. Thus we don't know whether the ex-Mrs. Pogany adhered or not to the dictum of a much-married Hungarian celebrity of our times, namely Zsa Zsa Gabor, who has often been quoted as saying: "I never hated a man enough to give him diamonds back." Pogany soon married Elaine Cox, the daughter of an English exporter-importer.
No event in Canadian history generated more domestic media frenzy than the birth of the Dionne quintuplets. Today's coverage of the never-ending incidents of massive corruption and mismanagement in government at the municipal, provincial and federal levels pale in comparison to the publicity accorded to the five identical baby girls born in a tiny hamlet in northern Ontario in 1934. In a world gripped by the Great Depression they also became international celebrities. The Ontario and the federal government passed unprecedented laws to protect them as much with an eye to their economic potential as to their personal welfare. Quintland, the compound containing their home, rivaled Niagara Falls as the biggest tourist attraction in Canada.
Pogany spent several months in painting portraits of the quintuplets. He was but one of the many artists who captured the likeness of the little girls to satisfy the insatiable curiosity of the general public.
Pogany acted as art director for several motion picture companies in Hollywood; among the movies he had an input to were Dante's Inferno (1935) and Modern Times (1936). He was responsible for the scenic design in the film version of Street Scene, Elmer Rice's Pulitzer Prize play. The movie was directed by King Vidor, grandson of Charles Vidor of Galveston, Texas, a Hungarian exile to the United States after the 1848-49 War of Liberation.
Pogany was particularly admired and praised for his murals. The forest and floral motif he did for the old Ziegfeld Theater in New York is often mentioned as his finest output in this genre. In addition to public buildings, Pogany did murals for the residences of William Randolph Hearst and John Ringling, one of the Ringling brothers of the circus fame.
Hundreds of books contain lavish illustrations by Pogany. Among these is The Golden Cockerel - written by his second wife and based on Alexander Pushkin's timeless fairy tale - published by Thomas Nelson & Sons in 1938. The book review in the New York Times praised the art work, declaring that "their extravaganza of color and movement, have a captivating rhythm and are in the true fairy-tale key." Between 1940 and 1951 he did numerous cover illustrations for leading magazines.
Besides conducting art classes in New York City, Pogany often lectured at art schools throughout the United States. Among the books he wrote on art and art instruction were Willy Pogany's Drawing Lesson in 1946 and Oil Painting Lessons in 1954.
Incidentally, his sister, Paula Pogany Bennett, was also a writer of some note; she was the author of The Art of Hungarian Cooking, a book emphasizing and extolling the innumerable culinary applications of paprika.
During his career Pogany did innumerable portraits. Among the movie stars he painted were Carole Lombard, Anna May Wong, and Miriam Hopkins. His portrait of Dr. Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, was hung in Manhattan's House of Living Judaism in 1955.
In 1954 Pogany launched a $1,000,000 libel suit against the infamous Whittaker Chambers and Random House Inc., the publisher of Chambers' book, Witness. The book claimed that Pogany was the brother of a notorious Communist named Joseph Pogany, who under the name of John Pepper was the Communist International's clandestine representative to the American Commies. Even though the defendants conceded that the adverse comments about Willy Pogany were false and steps had been taken to remove any references to him in new prints, the suit was thrown out of court. The decision was based on the grounds that a false statement that a man is the brother of a prominent Communist was not by itself sufficient for damages for libel, and that the victim must demonstrate special damages suffered in order to be compensated.
died suddenly and unexpectedly on July 30, 1955, in his home at the
Hotel Des Artistes, I West 67th Street. According to his obituary
notice in the New York Times, he apparently enjoyed good
health till his final moments and was busy designing sets for several
Broadway plays. Referring to him as "one of the most facile and gifted
artists of his time," the obituary praised him as an individual whose
interest in art and design was almost limitless.
Laci de Gerenday
Laci de Gerenday came to the United States as an infant. Born on August 17, 1911, in Budapest, he was the son of László Gerenday, a Protestant clergyman. Not long after being ordained, the Reverend Gerenday joined the French Foreign Legion as a chaplain. Drawing upon his adventures in North Africa he authored several popular books upon returning to Hungary. In 1914 the family moved to the United States. The Reverend Gerenday held pastorates a several places, including New York City's First Hungarian Reformed Church on 69th Street in Manhattan. (This church was one of the early works of the aforementioned Emery Roth.)
Young Laci was educated at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Ursinus College, Srivenham University in England, National Academy of Design, and the Beaux Arts Institute of New York.
During his long and prolific career he created a multitude of highly esteemed works of art. One of the best known is the carved wood wall sculpture depicting the founding of the town of Grand Crossing, now reposing in the Federal Building in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Another outstanding work is the large bronze relief for St. Francis of Assissi School in Torrington, Connecticut. He executed a vast array of portraits and medals, including a gold medal in behalf of the Society of Electrical Engineers in 1960. Although at ease with different materials, his preferred media were wood and bronze.
In 1939 de Gerenday married Mary Ellen Lord and their union endured until her death in 1976. During World War II he served as a combat engineer for three years and was decorated on several occasions.
Like most other artists, de Gerenday was a member of several professional associations, among them the National Sculpture Society and Allied Artists of America. The quality and originality of his works were recognized by a multitude of awards, including the Lindsey Morris Memorial prize (a detailed list of the honors and awards bestowed on him appear in editions of Who's Who in America).
Joining the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts in Connecticut, he served on the faculty as a teacher for 22 years. The school was founded by fellow artist Elizabeth Gordon Chandler and the two of them were married in 1979. Working closely together, they transformed the small academy into a nationally recognized degree-granting college of fine arts.
De Gerenday lived a long and fruitful life, passing away at the age of 89. In his obituary in the Hartford Courant, June 19, 2001, Henry Putsch, president of the Lyme Academy, refereed to him as "one of the most significant figurative sculptors of the 20th century."
Although he did not receive the fame and accolades bestowed on Pogany, Finta, Zolnay and Kilenyi, Jambor nevertheless enjoyed a rewarding career marked by versatility. His artistic talents were fully appreciated by fellow artists, critics, and satisfied clients.
At the time of his death, June 11, 1954, he was president of the American Artists Professional League. He was also affiliated with a number of other professional organizations, including the American Watercolor Society, Allied Artists of America, and the Audobon Artists, and was a former president of the Salmagundi Club.
Born in the city of Nagyvárad on August 1, 1884, he studied at the Royal Art Academy in Budapest and afterwards abroad, in Germany and Italy.
He was best known for religious wall decorations in churches. and was one of the prominent artists who did the decorations for St. Stephen of Hungary Church along with Alexander Finta.
His murals were by no means confined to houses of worship; he executed many in large private homes and quasi-public buildings. A multi-faceted artists, he also did society portraits, book illustrations, and scenery for film. His splendid work as a book illustrator is attested by a multitude of volumes; among them is the 1947 edition of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
One of the notable Americans whose portrait Jambor painted was the Reverend Francis P. Duffy, chaplain of the 69th Regiment of World War I fame. Born in Canada on May 2, 1871, Father Duffy was ordained in 1896 and became an American citizen six years later. From 1905 to 1907 he edited the New York Review and shortly before the outbreak of World War I he formed the Church of Our Savior in the Bronx. Appointed chaplain of the 69th Regiment in 1914, Father Duffy served at the Mexican border and in France. He won fame and decorations for his devotion to his men under fire. After the war he became pastor of Holy Cross Church on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Cardinal Hayes once described Father Duffy as "the ideal army chaplain and the ideal parish priest." Thousands attended the funeral when he died in 1932.
Notes & Comments - Succinct overviews concerning the lives and accomplishments of the artists discussed above are presented in a broad spectrum of reference texts, among them Who Was Who in American Art, Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, Who's Who in America, and The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. There are dozens of comprehensive books on the Zsolnay ceramic works in addition to countless articles in magazines and scholarly journals.
a personal note, I had the opportunity to see and enjoy the outstanding
creations of Finta, Jambor and Pogany in St. Stephen of Hungary Church
hundreds of times since I attended the grammar school affiliated with
the church from 1957 to 1961. Although I graduated from Cardinal Hayes
High School in the Bronx, I had no idea - and I'm sure none of the
other students did either - that the famous bust of His Eminence in the
Metropolitan Museum was the work of Alexander Finta. Speaking of
Cardinal Hayes High School, a most worthy successor to Father Duffy as
pastor of Holy Cross Church is the Reverend Father Peter Colapietro,
one of my classmates.