In 2015, the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum in Budapest closed its doors. It was in need of renovation. It will reopen in 2018. Fortunately , one does not have to wait this long, to admire a small selection from its collection of Dutch Masters.
The museum’s complicated name translates into Museum of Fine Arts. A very fine art collection of an aristocratic family formed its basis. A few members of the Esterházy’s were art collectors. One of their employees admired Dutch and Flemish art. Funds were no problem and extremely fine pieces were bought.
But in the 19th century, the Esterházy’s faced financial difficulties. So their art collection was handed over to the then Hungarian government. This government had the impressive museum with the difficult name built and continued to buy art – till Hungary became a communist country.
Now a small selection from what is the fourth largest collection of Dutch Golden Age art in the world, can be admired outside Budapest. Do not be fooled by “small selection”. This selection of paintings and drawings fills half the sprawling period building of the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem.
Why the Frans Hals Museum? Its own collection contains important art from the Dutch Golden Age when Haarlem was an important art centre. Works selected from the Budapest Museum consist of paintings and drawings with a strong link to Haarlem.
In the Frans Hals Museum, each room showing Budapest art is dedicated to a theme. The first one shows a couple of fabulous portraits, including two by Frans Hals. There is an interesting one of a couple, painted by van Dyke – then aged eighteen. There is a Dutch captain showing off his award, gained by destroying pirate ships. In another part of the museum, containing its huge militia paintings, the captain’s father can be discovered feasting with friends.
Other rooms show paintings of still lives, landscapes, genre paintings and more. There are pies, fruits, cheeses, so realistic one would like to taste them. There are taverns where one would like to share a drink. There are others not even fit for the 17th century version of a Trip Advisor list.
Of course, Jan Steen can be found in one of his paintings having a very jolly time – as usual. But there is also a fabulous painting by him of a prostitute. Not sure if she’s really happy, but her dress is more beautiful, than the one Marilyn Monroe once wore.
There is a painting of four or five frivolous youngsters with monkey, who are definitely several generations removed from the portraits of the stern over-eighty-year-old husband and wife from this exhibition’s first room. The free audio-tour explains what is going on in this painting. (Watch the roving hands, for instance.)
As is the case with several paintings, a Budapest version of Saint Nicolas’ Eve has a counterpart in the Frans Hals’ own collection. A Budapest version of an interior of a Haarlem church is not hanging in the exhibition. It hangs right next to the Frans Hals’ own version. The painter used the architect’s drawings to paint two versions and visitors are encouraged to spot the differences.
After your visit, walk to this church which can be found not far from the museum. Like the Budapest museum, this church is being renovated. It remains interesting enough: its architect designed the Royal Palace of Amsterdam.
The exhibition continues with a room showing the influence of Italy. A hallway leads to another room. In the hallway one finds a fabulous portrait of an old man by Rubens. One also finds a large painting full of exotic birds and a smaller interior full of curiosities.
Then one enters a room with religious paintings. Here are several versions of Tobias and the Angel and biblical scenes. The works in this room illustrate that the Netherlands became Protestant, but there were still wealthy Catholic clients ordering art with Catholic themes.
However, well before I reached this room, all the fabulous Budapest paintings had become too much. So I no longer listened to the audio-tour and skipped looking at the paintings in the “Italian” room as well as most in this “religion” room. I did have a look at the drawings which came next. These include a Brazilian landscape by Frans Post, work of whom is currently on show in a separate exhibition at the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum.
With a spinning head, I also skipped the room full of militia paintings and other rooms displaying the museum’s permanent collection. At the end of the sprawling period building are the museum’s restaurant and small shop.
The current temporary exhibition at the Frans Hals Museum is just a tiny fraction of what the Budapest Fine Art Museum has to offer. To cite one of the visitors walking around this exhibition as dazed as I was: “Oh dear – now we’ll simply have to visit Budapest, once the museum reopens!”
Oh dear indeed! For one day will not suffice to take in all on show once the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum reopens. And there is its collection as well as the impressive building itself. Then there are all the other museums and sights of Budapest …
The only thing preventing me from revisiting this fabulous exhibition at the Frans Hals Museum is the extra charge. Several Dutch museums currently ask an extra charge on top of their ordinary ticket price during their temporary exhibitions. However, a few of them only demand one payment of this extra charge, after which one can visit as often as one wants. The Frans Hals Museum is one of a few, who do not have this policy.
The museum and Haarlem are close to Amsterdam. Haarlem has a well-preserved old town full of period buildings. It also has one of the Netherland’s oldest museums, the Teylers, as well as the Hallen, its museum for modern art. So if you decide to visit this fabulous exhibition, make sure you set aside enough time for the rest of Haarlem.