Portraits drawn on stone – Miklós Barabás’ lithographs in the graphic collection of the Piarist Museum

Before the conquest of photography, during the 1840s and 1850s, lithographs became the most wide-spread technique of portrait making, due to its more refined, freer and more realistic rendering than engravings and owing to its affordability. One of the most significant lithographers of Hungary was Miklós Barabás (1810-1898), whose 31 lithograph portraits are guarded in the Graphic Collection of the Piarist Museum.

705324_Vasvari_08.jpgBy the revolutionary invention of book-making: book printing, written culture, literature and the scientific or religious texts became accessible gradually to wider layers of society. By the invention of multiplier graphic processes, a similar trend took place in the field of arts as well: fine art and visual representations could reach more and more people's homes. The multiplier graphic process has three main branches: the relief, the intaglio and the planographic printing, and these three techniques show well the order of graphical development. Relief printing, as the oldest multiplier process was represented by wood-engraving and lino-cut in the 20th century, while intaglio appeared as copperplate engraving in the 15th century, etching as of the 17th century, and steel-engraving appeared at the end of the 18th century as the most prominent type of intaglio. All the above mentioned genres can be found in the Graphic Collection of the Piarist Museum, but our present exhibition does not focus on them. We would like to salute the planographic lithograph printing or lithography, the 19th-century innovation of graphic art, and an outstanding Hungarian artist of it: Miklós Barabás.


Unlike other graphic genres, lithography was not an organic discovery, but it was invented by Austrian graphic artist Alois Senefelder (1771-1834). Due to financial considerations, Senefelder wanted to work with stone for his engravings instead of copperplates or steel plates. By coincidence, he recognised that a drawing made with a mixture of wax, soap, carbon black and ink would rise from the stone due to the effect of aqua fortis, and thus a relief plate is created similarly to the wood-engraving.
In contrast with other processes, lithography is based on the immiscibility of oils and water. Senefelder improved the technique further. During the lithography printing, they draw with a lithographic chalk made out of carbon black and wax onto the surface of a smooth, level lithographic limestone plate, which is called lithio. They wet the stone plate and spread oil-based ink on it, which sticks to the lines of the drawing, but can be easily removed from the wet parts of the stone plate. A printing paper is placed on the stone plate and put under press, so the oily parts give the ink to the paper and the lithograph is created.

Lithography effaced copperplate- and steel-engraving completely by the beginning of the 19th century. Besides its cheapness and quick producibility, its advantage is that artists can easily make their lithio ideas freely without any physical obstacles. Until the 1860s, before the spreading of photography, lithography became the most wide-spread technique in portrait and landscape genres, whose most significant Hungarian representative was Miklós Barabás (1810-1898).

705539_Grof_Nadasdy_24.jpgBarabás was born in Kézdimárkosfalva in 1810. He went to the boarding-schools of Nagyenyed and Kolozsvár. He started painting portraits already at this early age, and got familiar with the techniques of drawing and oil painting. In 1829, he learnt in Vienna as Johan Ender’s student at the Academy of Fine Art. There he had the opportunity to study the characteristics of Viennese middle-class portrait and genre painting and the gouache technique as well. Having returned to Kolozsvár in 1830, he learnt the technique of lithography from Gábor Barra, and worked with it on a high artistic level almost in his whole life. As of 1831, he worked in Bukarest for two years, where he became a rather popular portrait painter. From 1834 to 1835, he went on a study tour to Italy, where he learnt the new techniques of aquarelle painting from English painter William Leighton Leitch, and adopted a new kind of nature depiction. In 1835 in Pest, he introduced his 705486_Ipolyi_28.jpgVeronese painting copy that he had made during his trip to Venice, which brought success to him. Since then, he lived and worked in Pest. Besides painting, he also undertook the reviving of the artistic life of the city.

Due to a great number of orders, he was one of our first painters who could make a living by his art. It was possible mainly because he was excellent in all types and techniques of portraits. He painted almost every outstanding personality of his period. His portraits of artists, writers, poets, politicians and their families prove his excellent portrayal skills. As of the 1840s, Barabás’s other main genre became lithography. This multiplier graphic process was rather innovative back then, but became popular widely soon due to its affordability. Barabás had the opportunity to make a lot of lithograph portraits that could reach a huge number of people.

705480_Simonffy_27.jpgNot surprisingly, during the 1840s and 1850s, the famous lithographer was encharged with making a lot of portraits of Piarists as well. Students often ordered the lithograph portraits of their favourite teachers or form masters, which they gave as a fashionable gift on a dedicated memorial card to them. The Graphic Collection of the Piarist Museum has 31 lithographs from Miklós Barabás, of which 13 portraits were gifts to Piarist friar teachers. Song-writer Kálmán Simonffy’s portrait is also very special, because the grateful student dedicated it to Friar Ferenc Schröck (Somhegyi), who was also drawn by Barabás. Another significant lithograph is the one that depicts the “First Hungarian independent responsible ministry”, the government of Batthyány, made 705317_Zimmerman_01.jpgin 1848.

Miklós Barabás’s lithographs were usually multiplied by Ágost Frigyes Walzel, who ran the most successful lithographic workshop of Hungary in Pest in the 1840s, owing to his cooperation with the famous artist. Besides Ágost Frigyes Walzel, also Antal Rohn from Pest, the Pollák Brothers and the Viennese printing house Reifenstein & Rösch multiplied and printed Miklós Barabás’s lithios. As of the 1860s, by the spreading of photography, the demand in lithograph portraits decreased obviously. In 1862, also Miklós Barabás withdrew from fine art and opened a photography workshop with photographer János Fajth.


Boglárka Helmeczi – Noémi Herczeg – Péter Borbás
Piarist Museum

Translated by Zita Aknai




More thematic virtual exhibitions