Collection of Prints and Drawings


About the Collection

The Collection of Prints and Drawings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest preserves nearly 9.000 drawings and 100.000 prints, giving a comprehensive view of European graphic art from the mid-fifteenth century up to the present day. The core of the print collection, over 51.000 objects, originates from the famous collection of Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy (1765–1833). The Hungarian nobleman inherited the passion for art from his grandfather Nikolaus I Esterházy (1714–1790), called the Magnificent, founder of the noted collection. Prince Esterházy’s aims to extend the collection were also stimulated by his family ties to the Lichtenstein dynasty, which linked him to Vienna, a major centre of print and drawing collecting in the eighteenth century. Travelling throughout Europe as an engaged diplomat, Esterházy established close relations with the art market.

Prince Esterházy’s collecting activity was notably promoted by Joseph Fischer (1769–1822), a Viennese born artist, the appointed keeper and later director of the Prince’s collection. Fisher’s extensive relations with the art world enabled Esterházy to acquire works from some of the most famous graphical collections of his time. Besides regular purchases from art dealers in Paris, Berlin and Vienna, he purchased from the Prague collection of Franz Anton Kolowrat-Novohradsky, from the collection of the Nuremberg merchant Paulus Praun, and from that of Antonio Cesare Poggi, an Italian artist settled in London. Although the sources of Esterházy’s drawings is relatively well documented, the origins of his prints are more obscure.

With the expertise of his intendant Fischer, Esterházy tried to attain prints with a sense of universality. As in most contemporary collections, Italian works dominated in his collection, but German and Netherlandish artists were also well represented and high quality French works were also included. Prints and drawings were located with Esterházy’s library in the Palace of the Hungarian Guards in Vienna. The sheets were pasted into albums, but more characteristically kept in luxurious portfolios, some of which are still in use. Fischer’s original idea was to classify prints under five schools (Italian, German, French, Dutch and English), and progressively at the time, their arrangement was also inspired by the recently published volumes of Adam Bartsch’s catalogues.

Ever since its foundation, the Esterházy collection was much admired. The newly aroused national consciousness resulted in its transfer to Pest in 1865 and placed in the building of the Hungarian Academy of Science. Shortly after, the deteriorated financial position of the Esterházy family advanced the sale of the entire collection to the Hungarian State. This essential purchase of 1870 stimulated the foundation of the National Picture Gallery (Országos Képtár) in 1871, the predecessor of the present Museum of Fine Arts, which opened in 1906.

Besides several smaller purchases and gifts, the Collection of Prints and Drawings was principally enriched by the generous offer of Stephan Delhaes (1843—1901), painter and restorer to the Viennese branch of the Lichtenstein family, who acquired most of his comprehensive collection in Vienna, containing nearly 15.000 prints.

The Museum of Fine Art’s print collection is located in the art-deco enterieur of the Print Gallery, a work by the Hungarian architect and artists-craftsman Ede Torockai Wigand (1869-1945). Prints are stored in the original wooden cupboards, mounted in three different sizes, while the unmounted series is kept in original Esterházy portfolios.



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