News Detail

Hungarian butcher's secret art collection exhibited after 50 years.

Daughter of concentration camp survivor István Kövesi finally reveals collection of works highly praised by art historians. He was a concentration camp survivor who settled down to postwar life in Hungary as a modest butcher who occasionally indulged his poorer customers with giveaways. But István Kövesi was also something of a secret art collector who over the years poured his money into more than 200 paintings by some of Hungary's national treasures. In an echo of the recent case in Munich where more than 1,000 works of art were rediscovered most of the Kövesi collection has been unseen for up to 50 years. "As regards 'flat collections', this is one of the greatest," the art historian Péter Molnos said. Now his daughter has consented to show the works by artists such as József Rippl-Rónai, János Vaszary and Izsák Perlmutter. But in some senses it is the backstory to the collection that is almost as compelling as the works themselves. Kövesi's most valued adviser at the BÁV was art historian Katalin Sinkó, who described "Uncle Kövesi" as atypical "because he asked the opinions and advice of art historians and his fellow collectors. He would embrace me and charmingly ask 'Katika, you have such good taste, what is your opinion about this painting?'" Despite Kövesi's proclivity for cheerful paintings, the collection also documents human stories with the opposite trajectory of his own life. As Hungary sleepwalked through the 1970s, Kövesi's life once again echoed the times, as he withdrew into family life and the domestic idyll he had created at home. "He always told his children to protect the collection – of course keeping it secret was very important in the socialist era," Molnos said. Since his death in 1981, Kövesi's daughter has wrestled with whether to keep the collection out of sight or to celebrate the life of her beloved father. Fortunately for art lovers, she has decided on the latter course. However when the exhibition closes in March this unique collection will disappear from public view once again. It is certainly not for sale.