Hungarian Mona Lisa: Key Art Work by Rippl-Rónai on Auction for Record Price

  • 30 Nov 2023 7:23 AM
  • Hungary Today
Hungarian Mona Lisa: Key Art Work by Rippl-Rónai on Auction for Record Price
The painting entitled Woman with a Birdcage was created in two versions by József Rippl-Rónai, the first of which will now be sold at an auction on December 17 for HUF 180 million (EUR 473,840), reports Magyar Nemzet. Such a high starting price has never been seen at a Hungarian art auction.

As for the 132-year-old painting’s history, it was 23 years ago that the owner of the Ernst Gallery acquired this mysterious, secessionist work celebrating beauty, which shows the influence of the dreamy-faced ideals of beauty of the English Pre-Raphaelite artists, but also the colors and mood of the full-length portraits of American painter, James Whistler.

Rippl-Rónai’s work, also known as the Hungarian Mona Lisa, depicts a standing female figure holding a cage. This signed work was described by the painter as a study, according to the text of a 1902 catalogue. It may seem surprising, but in his day, Rippl-Rónai’s full-length paintings were more a source of amusement and derision than of appreciation for what are now clearly modern and contemporary works.

The delicate female portrait shows Lazarine Baudrion, future wife of Rippl-Rónai (1861-1927), whom he painted on several occasions. Both versions were painted in Paris, and the full-length version, still on display at the Hungarian National Gallery, is one of the painter’s major works.

The small-scale oil painting, now to be sold at an auction, was probably first exhibited in Paris at the Palais Galliera – now a fashion history museum – and then in several other exhibitions until it was sold to its first owner, the Hungarian Mór Mayer, in 1906. In 1947, it was taken to the United States, and became the property of Dezső Bánóczi, and was then sold to Ernst Wastl, Austrian art collector who owned the Ernst Gallery. 

The Kieselbach Gallery was then tasked with identifying the work and having it examined by experts, and the painting sold for around USD 600,000, Tamás Kieselbach, art dealer and owner of the gallery, told Magyar Nemzet.

The first version of Woman with a Birdcage will be shown in Hungary for the first time in almost 20 years.

As Tamás Kieselbach, said, now is the chance to bring back to Hungary one of the most important paintings to be auctioned in Hungary.

This work is currently valued at HUF 240-380 million (EUR 631,000-999,700) by art dealers.

Several of the painter’s works are also known abroad, such as the 1894 work Slender Woman with Vase, which is now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Moreover, this is not the first Rippl-Rónai painting to attract attention because of its high price: in December 2021, the painting Elegant Lady in the Garden sold for HUF 95 million (EUR 250,000) at the auction of the Judit Virág Gallery and Auction House.

In a statement, the Kieselbach Gallery emphasized that Woman with a Birdcage is a key work of Hungarian modern painting, and its appearance at auction is a real sensation. They added that a similar significance in the region was the 1911 painting by the renowned Czech cubist painter Bohumil Kubista, Old Prague Motif, which sold for HUF 1.6 billion (EUR 4.2 million) last year.

The bidding will start at the Winter Auction of the Kieselbach Gallery on December 17 at 6 pm at the Hotel Marriott in Budapest.

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