Objects from the collection of Béla Lajta

The folk art exhibition organised by the Hungarian Society of Applied Arts in 1908 featured a number of items from Béla Lajta’s personal collection – three washing mallets among them. These items are closely connected to the woodcarvings from Kalotaszeg, Transylvania, earlier owned by Dezső Malonyai, Elek Koronghi Lippich and Géza Maróti which they collected while compiling the volume dedicated to the Kalotaszeg region of the book series, ’The Art of the Hungarian People’. The other identified item of Lajta’s collection, a 1810 painted chest had been purchased by Lajta in 1908 or 1909 in Kalotaszeg, as Lajta’s widow recalled. In the bequest of the architect’s monographer Ferenc Vámos there were about a dozen photographs showing the embroidered Slovak headscarves that had once been in Lajta’s possession. An extensive collection of folk artefacts – the likes of which could be seen in the flats of other artists and affluent citizens of the time – was part of Lajta’s immediate surroundings right until his death, as the heritage inventory reveals.

The photograph depicting ’the study’ of Béla Lajta in 1911 shows a very different type of interior, including, among other items, a painting by then up-and-coming artist József Egry, an African tribal statue and a set of antique Jewish liturgical objects. The pastel by Egry and the Bamana (Bambara) ‘do nyéléni’ statue from Mali could possibly get into his possession as a result of the exhibitions of the ’Művészház’ (House of Artists) gallery, where József Egry featured with a number of paintings that received considerable attention in 1909 and 1910. The standing female statue, on the other hand, is very similar to the artefact displayed at the exhibition of ’Oriental Art’ in Művészház in April, 1911, which was a milestone on the way of presenting African sculpture as an art form. Its owner at the time was Miklós Vitéz, a friend and fellow collector of the architect Lajos Kozma, who was a key member at the time in Lajta’s team. The two Jewish liturgical artefacts were donated to the newly founded Jewish Museum already in 1911 – the pair of Torah crowns by Béla Lajta, the paroket (curtain for the Torah shrine) by baron József Hatvany.

As for the furniture in the photo, two items can be identified: the chair on the right at the far end of the room is one of the chairs that had been made for the Wechselmann Educational Institute for the Blind, while the turn-of-the-century British writing cabinet was – according to the family legend – a gift from its presumed designer, H. M. Baillie Scott.

Lajta’s collection of oriental ceramics

The Hungarian Museum of Architecture acquired a set of ceramic fragments from Lajta’s widow in 1973. The collection included about thirty larger and slightly fewer small, 1-2-centimetre-wide pieces. It is not documented how Lajta got into possession of these items. His only documented journey outside Europe during his study trips of 1900–1901 was his short trip to Morocco, where he took the crossing from Spain. The items he brought back and his later recollections, however, suggest that he had also been to Egypt and Syria. Whether or not he had travelled to the valley of the Nile, it is far more likely that he acquired these ceramics later, from a larger collection.

The collection is mostly made up of medieval Egyptian and Syrian pottery fragments, and a few items that might well originate outside Egypt but were possible to come by in the 14th-15th century Egypt. The collection of fragments is closely connected to the similar but incomparably more extensive ceramic fragment collection acquired by Miklós Zsolnay during his trip to Levant at the turn of 1887 and 1888. During Zsolnay’s stay in Egypt, the person supervising the Egyptian Vicekingdom’s antiquities from the Muslim era was a Hungarian architect, Miksa Herz (1856–1919). It might have been him who called the old style fan but ever market trend aware Zsolnay’s attention to these ceramics. He was the travel guide of Hungarians visiting Egypt and he was in a position to hand out liberal amounts of ceramic fragments as gifts to his guests because these would be lying around by the tens of thousands on the rubbish heaps of Fustat, south of central Cairo.

Hungary’s current inventory of Egyptian ceramics is probably a result of Zsolnay’s field trip and it was from this collection that some smaller sets of items might have been acquired by artists in connection with Lechner’s circle or with the Zsolnay Ceramic Manufacture. In 1960 the Museum of Applied Arts bought ceramic fragments from Fustat from Ferenc Vámos (author of monographs on Lechner’s and Lajta’s oeuvre) which documentedly come from the Zsolnay collection. Thus medieval Egyptian pottery was possibly known to the Hungarian architects of the turn of the century – yet it had no tangible influence on the Hungarian architecture of the period.

Iván Szántó

 

Items from Béla Lajta's art collection

01_Vasárnapi Újság, 1911. 842. p.02_Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Fotóarchívum, ng. ltsz.: 6717 030_Néprajzi Múzeum, ltsz.: 56.24.2031_Néprajzi Múzeum, ltsz.: 56.24.2032_Egyenlőség, 1911. XII. 3. 10. p. 04_Magyar Zsidó Múzeum, ltsz.: 64.378.1-2050_Magyar Zsidó Múzeum, ltsz.: 64.1551053_Egyenlőség, 1910. VII. 24. 7. p.060_Magyar Zsidó Múzeum, ltsz.: 64.271061_Magyar Zsidó Múzeum, ltsz.: 64.271062_Magyar Zsidó Múzeum, ltsz.: 64.27106_Múlt és Jövő, 1915. 296. p.070_Múlt és Jövő, 1915. 294. p.071_Egyenlőség, 1912. XI. 24. 14. p.072_Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Szoborosztály, archívum, ltsz.: 1142073_Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Szoborosztály, archívum, ltsz.: 13.242075_Iparművészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 61.34408_Néprajzi Múzeum, ltsz.: 62.115.1090_Néprajzi Múzeum, ltsz.: 51.4.24091_Néprajzi Múzeum, ltsz.: 51.4.24092_Néprajzi Múzeum, ltsz.: 51.4.24093_Pester Lloyd, 1908. V. 3. 6. p.09_Magyar Iparművészet, 1908/5. 196. p.10_Magyar Iparművészet, 1908/5. 197. p.11_BTM Kiscelli Múzeum Fényképtár, ltsz.: 66-2323-1012_BTM Kiscelli Múzeum Fényképtár, ltsz.: 66-2323-213_BTM Kiscelli Múzeum Fényképtár, ltsz.: 66-2323-314_BTM Kiscelli Múzeum Fényképtár, ltsz.: 66-2323-415_BTM Kiscelli Múzeum Fényképtár, ltsz.: 66-2323-516_BTM Kiscelli Múzeum Fényképtár, ltsz.: 66-2323-617_BTM Kiscelli Múzeum Fényképtár, ltsz.: 66-2323-718_BTM Kiscelli Múzeum Fényképtár, ltsz.: 66-2323-819_BTM Kiscelli Múzeum Fényképtár, ltsz.: 66-2323-920_BTM Kiscelli Múzeum Fényképtár, ltsz.: 66.2323.121_BFL VII.12.b 1921/17674221_BFL VII.12.b 1921/17674221_BFL VII.12.b 1921/17674221_BFL VII.12.b 1921/17674221_BFL VII.12.b 1921/176742

Objects from Lajta's collection of oriental ceramics

Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019Magyar Építészeti Múzeum, ltsz.: 72.019