The loves of Rippl-Rónai

When József Rippl-Rónai became Munkácsi's student and later his assistant in Paris, he found his models in the street or in cafés and asked them to sit for him. He did not have close relationships with all his models, but this is how it happened at the weekly fair in Neuilly in 1888, when he met Lazarine Baudrion, his future wife, who was from Burgundy. It happened this way also at the restaurant in Csengery Street, where he met Elza Bányai, Zorka. This week, we are not looking to find out how Rippl-Rónai painted, but how he loved.

Munika, Lazarine Baudrion

They moved in together soon after their meeting in 1888, but although Rippl referred to her everywhere as his wife, they married only after ten years in Paris and six years in Kaposvár. Lazarine was not only his wife, but also his partner in art, and she brought some of Rippl's applied art works to life.

55621.jpgAfter their meeting, they lived in Paris poorly for many years, and even moved to the countryside for a while. Even then, Paris was not too kind to almost unknown artists. After a few years, Rippl's art found an appreciative audience, and his increasing orders finally gave them financial security. They lived in Budapest in the winter and in Kaposvár in the summer. In the spring of 1902, the artist bought a peasant house in Fő Street, where he brought Lazarine with him, and in 1908 they moved to Villa Rome. Many famous artists were invited to the villa, from Endre Ady to Ödön Márffy. The couple's almost idyllic life was overshadowed by the fact that they never had a child together, although they longed for one. When Lazarine's sister, who was living in France, died in 1910, they decided to adopt her orphaned child. This is how 8-year-old Anette Paris, or Anella, came to Hungary. The little girl was nicknamed by the artist, who was very fond of her.

82071.jpgMany paintings were made of Anella, or as he called her in his letters to her, the Little Old One. Rippl had a rather definite idea about bringing up a child, and his means of discipline was to set up fidgety children as models. Thus in plural, because due to another family tragedy, two more children were added to the family: two little boys, Ferenc Martyn and Róbert Martyn, nicknamed Pubi and Öcsi by Rippl-Rónai, who also appeared as models on the canvas. Interestingly, only Pubi became a real disciple from the children's group at Villa Rome, and Ferenc Martyn followed the painter's footsteps to become a significant artist.

Anella later wrote a biography of her famous adopted father, or at least the part of it that she knew. She saw that there were many inaccuracies about the painter in the public mind and decided to correct them. She began working in 1962, and her writing covered the period from her arrival in Hungary until Rippl-Rónai's death. That we know so much about Rippl's last love is largely thanks to her.

Zorka, Elza Bányai

The 54-year-old painter caught a glimpse of 17-year-old Elza Bányai, or Zorka as he called her, working as a waitress at the Hatvani restaurant in Csengery Street. The painter was looking for a model and the girl roused his interest. According to the memoirs, he brought this to the attention of his wife Lazarine. She herself, knowing her husband, suggested that the girl be invited to the studio. It was then that the ominous question was asked: "Well, ask her to come and sit for you."

55070.jpgThus, the acquaintance between the painter and barely seventeen Elsa Bányai began, and thus Lazarine unwittingly introduced her husband to his future lover. Rippl's relationship with Zorka lasted for 12 years, but how the love affair began we are not sure. Her mother accompanied her for the first few times, but when she saw that nothing inappropriate was going on, Elza went to see the painter alone. All the more so because Zorka and Anella were of a similar age, so she was seen as a potential friend.

In the first surviving pastel of Zorka, we can see both a shy adolescent girl and a woman well aware of her attractions. During their walks together, Anella noticed that her walking companions Zorka and Rippl often dropped behind her.

The artist tried to hide his attraction at first, but it was obvious to everyone that they were having an affair. They were seen together at the painter's haunt, the Central Café more and more frequently. Zorka's ambition to become an actress is also reported by Anella, somewhat piquantly.
Allegedly, Elza would not leave Uncle Józsi (Rippl) alone until he enrolled her in Szidi Rákosi's acting school, although she had little talent. He could only get roles because of her acquaintance with Rippl-Rónai, but they did not bring her any breakthrough success.

7622.jpgRippl made more than 300 paintings of Zorka, who had grown from a teenage girl into an adult woman. By the 1920s, his relationship had deteriorated, not only with his wife, but also with Anella, who was growing up. From his daughter's recollections, we know that someone blackmailed the painter into revealing his affair with Zorka, and Rippl was deeply affected. However, this period brought him much sadness anyway, as his brother Ödön died. First his studio in Kaposvár, then the one in Kelenhegy were broken into and the formerly healthy painter began to fall ill. In 1925, he suffered several strokes and was paralysed on one side.
His wife resented him so much that she did not visit the very ill Rippl at first; Anella and her husband looked after him. Later Lazarine was reconciled, and the four of them spent together the elderly painter's last two years. After the artist's death, Lazarine did not leave Hungary, but Zorka moved abroad, met a Belgian cannery owner in Ostend in 1929 and they lived in marriage for forty years. It is said that several portraits of her hung on the walls of their apartment.

Translated by Zita Aknai

On the cover: Lazarine and Zorka


Nyáry Krisztián: Festői szerelmek, Corvina Kiadó, 2016.

Horváth János (szerk.) : Rippl-Rónai emlékkönyv - Paris Anella visszaemlékezéseivel Rippl-Rónairól


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