István Ferenczy was a prominent 19th century Hungarian sculptor. The son of a locksmith, he was expected to follow the footsteps of his father and was thus apprenticed to him. However, the young István was a creative individual and had set his heart on creating beautiful works of art. He attended a course on copperplate engraving at the Vienna Academy where his work was greatly appreciated. Eventually he developed a keen interest in the fine art of sculpture and studied under Fischer and Kleiber at the Academy. Completely devoted to art, he spent several years in studies and harbored the ambition of becoming a sculptor. However, in spite of his natural talentsand dedication, he often found himself lonely and disillusioned with his career. That is not to say that he did not achieve professional success—he did, but could never achieve the kind of success he had envisioned for himself. Over his career, he modeled several portraits of leading personalities, designed tombs and memorials, and also created several statues that became much popular over the years. He had a lifelong desire of establishing a school of sculpture in Hungary, which he could not achieve in his lifetime
Childhood & Early Life
István Ferenczy was born in Rimaszombat (today Rimavská Sobota in Slovakia on 24 February, 1792. His father was a locksmith.
He was a bright young boy with an inherent interest in fine arts. However, his parents wanted him to follow in his father’s footsteps and had him apprenticed to him.
Naturally talented and gifted with an artistic bent of mind, he wanted to pursue a career as an artist. But his parents wanted him to choose a more stable profession that would also pay well as in those days artists barely managed to eke out a living.
The young István was adamant and his parents finally gave up. He first attended a course on copperplate engraving at the Vienna Academy where he was awarded for his medal "Solon".
He then studied sculpture under Fischer and Kleiber at the Academy in 1817. The following year he traveled to Rome desiring to study under Antonio Canova, the greatest Neoclassicist, and hoped to establish the art of sculpture in his homeland in future.
However after arriving in Rome he was unable to get a place in Canova’s studio. But fortunately, another great artist, the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen accepted him as a pupil. He spent the next six years working in Thorvaldsen’s workshop.
István Ferenczy proved to be a brilliant student and soon started creating beautiful works of art. Even though he was yet to send any of his works to Hungary, the journalists in his homeland were eagerly awaiting to see his artworks so that they could report on them.
He sent his first works--‘Reposing Venus’, ‘Portrait of Csokonai’, and ‘Shepherdess or the Beginning of Fine Crafts’—to Hungary in 1819. His artistic creations helped him earn several scholarships which enabled him to accomplish his fond dream of studying under the great Canova for two years.
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István Ferenczy sent two of his sculptures to Hungary in 1822, addressed to Palatine Joseph Habsburg, the Austrian governor of Hungary and well-respected patron of Hungarian culture, who displayed the sculptures publicly.
As a sculptor, he aimed at erecting memorials of great figures of the Hungarian history. He believed that heroes of culture were as important as heroes of war, and chose to erect his first memorial in the honor of the poet Mihály Csokonai Vitéz.
He adapted the formal conventions of Neoclassical sculpture to his Hungarian subject matter when he combined a traditional Hungarian dress with an antique toga in the bust of Mihály Csokonai Vitéz.
István Ferenczy was a very idealistic individual and wanted to put his skills to the use of his country by creating memorials of historic figures in order to inspire the coming generations. He viewed himself to be a thinker whose works were born out of his intellectual activities.
During his stay at Rome he had envisioned a great future for himself. But after returning to Hungary, he was met with considerable disillusionment. He wanted to work freely, and also wanted to do something for enriching Hungarian arts. However, things did not work out the way he had planned.
Having studied in Rome, the hub of art and culture in Europe where talented artists were admired, he expected to receive the same respect and admiration in Hungary. However, in Hungary, not many appreciated high art. There were no public galleries, no exhibitions, and no art criticism. Thus he was unable to get the kind of professional atmosphere that he had envisioned.
His works did find some appreciation and by the 1830s he had modeled the portraits (‘Ürmélyi’, ‘Rudnay’, ‘Kazinczy’, etc.), tombs (‘Kulcsár’, ‘Szánthó’, ‘Fornay’), and altarpieces (‘The Blessed’ in Vál, ‘The Martyrdom of St. Stephen’ in Esztergom) along with some other works.
He continued working throughout the 1840s though he was becoming increasingly frustrated and disappointed with the Hungarian art scenario. He completed his last major work, ‘Statue of Kölcsey’ in 1846 and retired from large sculpture work in 1847.
Throughout his career he made numerous attempts to establish a school of sculpture in Hungary in order to promote national art in the country. However, he was unable to do so in his lifetime. Even though he did not consider himself to be much successful, it cannot be denied that Ferenczy’s works played a significant role in shaping 19th century Hungarian art.
Personal Life & Legacy
Istvan Ferenczy died in 1856 in Rimaszombat, at the age of 64.