Endre Szász’s life – Master of book illustrations and porcelain panels

Endre Szász was an extremely versatile artist of the 20th century and had outstanding effects on fine arts. He was a painter, a graphic artist and a visual designer, a fashion and jewel designer, a porcelain painter and a master that lifted book illustration onto artistic levels. By favour of the Rippl-Rónai Museum of Kaposvár, an important graphic collection of Szász’s special artworks can be found in our database in digital format. We are going to study his adventurous life related to that.

Avicenna, olajfestmény - Rippl Rónai Megyei Hatókörű Városi Múzeum, CC BY

Endre Szász was born in Csíkszereda on 7th January 1926, as the only child of surgeon Béla Szász and Erzsébet Susenka. He spent his childhood there and later the family moved to Kaposvár. His excellent perceptibility was noticed in his childhood: he drew and carved without models from memory. His education was strict and he had frequent conflicts with his father, due to his artistic orientation. This and his father’s alcoholic problems were the reasons why he left his parents and became self-supporting from the age of 14. A year later, his first separate exhibition was opened in Marosvásárhely. The young talent was patronized by his master Károly Molter, Károly Kós and Gyula László. He started the College of Fine Arts in 1946, but left it two and a half years later because he wanted to escape from the smothery atmosphere of the art limited by politics.

In 1950, he was sentenced to 10 years due to a fake charge: hiding a weapon. He spent only one and a half years in prison because of his illness. He found a job at the National Decoration Company as a graphic artist. He received a special task in 1951: to decorate the banqueting-hall of Pushkin Cinema – in the topic of Petőfi and Pushkin’s friendship – to the honour of a Chinese leader. He managed to solve it, despite the fact that this friendship is questionable, because Petőfi was only 14 when Pushkin died. A part of the building was destroyed in 1956 and the mural perished.

Omár Chajjam illusztráció, rézkarc - Rippl Rónai Megyei Hatókörű Városi Múzeum, CC BY

Szász started illustrating books that time. He enriched about 600 volumes with his drawings in the 1950s and ‘60s, including books of Villon, Heine and Balassi. He made pen sketches or copper engravings and then he applied dry-point technique. He could express his own style mostly by the latter. He became a school-creator; his characteristic style was determinative in the art of book graphics. He achieved his greatest success by illustrating the Hungarian edition of the Persian poet Omar Khayyám’s book Rubáiyát, which was chosen among the thirty most beautiful books of the 20th century by the British Museum, in the frame of the exhibition
‘Book Art of Five Centuries’.

He worked for the Film Factory during the 1960s as a decorator and scenist, but he also painted. He got more and more awards – including the Munkácsy Prize – and became increasingly famous. It was also due to the fact that the Medicor calendars illustrated with Endre Szász’s surrealistic paintings were very popular, many people cut out and framed these pictures and hanged them on the wall as reproductions. His most famous film work was the Stars of Eger (1968) in which he took part as a scenist and visual designer – but he also appeared in a short scene in the role of a painter. Director Zoltán Várkonyi asked him for this task. They worked together in an artistic symbiosis during the film shootings, inspiring one another. About this time, Szász met the members of the band Omega and he made the design of their record sleeve ‘Éjszakai országúton’ (On the night highway) in 1970. Their common approach also forged them, according to which: unifying peer arts would increase acceptors’ experience.

A rókalány, szitanyomat - Rippl Rónai Megyei Hatókörű Városi Múzeum, CC BY

Endre Szász spent the following two decades in Toronto and Los Angeles – after that the Hungarian political situation had not allowed him to travel abroad for a long time. While being abroad, he met Salvador Dalí and his agent, whom he worked with for a short period. He had a friendly relationship with Dalí. In 1974, even the White House ordered a monumental work from him in the topic of ending the Vietnamese war. He visited Hungary in 1978, when he was requested by the director of the Theatre of Győr to make a large porcelain panel. It was this time, when he picked up on porcelain as a time-proven material and started testing it at the Porcelain Factory of Hollóháza. The huge panel was made for the theatre and Szász cultivated a fruitful relationship with the factory: he made designs and motifs and further porcelain panels, for the Hilton Hotel of Budapest among others. The two 10-metre-wide porcelain panels of György Dózsa decorating the Dózsa György Station of Metro 3 are also his creations.

A király mátkája, szitanyomat - Rippl Rónai Megyei Hatókörű Városi Múzeum, CC BY

Endre Szász returned to Hungary in the ‘90s and found a home in Várda – near Kaposvár – where he could live a creative life. He died in August, 2003. His widow Mrs. Endre Szász, nee Katalin Hajdú, made the Master’s artwork collection accessible at the former atelier and family home, which now functions as the Endre Szász Castle Museum. Another Szász collection with 300 works can be found at the Herman Ottó Museum of Miskolc as well.


Translated by Zita Aknai



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