My quest to look at the paintings of the Nabis this week takes me to one who will be unknown to you, unless you are Hungarian: József Rippl-Rónai (1861–1927), dubbed by the group as le nabi hongrois, the Hungarian Nabi. I confess that I had never heard of him before researching this and the following article, in which I reveal the little that I now know of his career, and show some rather surprising paintings of his.
Rippl-Rónai was born in the Hungarian town of Kaposvár, in the south-west of the country, well south of Lake Balaton. He seems originally to have studied pharmacy at university in Budapest, but following an accident at work sustained severe acid burns to his left hand. He took drawing lessons, and in 1884 studied at the Academy in Munich, Germany.
In 1886-87, he was awarded funds to support his study in Paris, so moved there as a pupil of the Hungarian realist painter Munkácsy Mihály.
I regret that this image of Interior Room in Paris Suburbs, one of his early paintings completed in Paris in 1887, is not up to my usual high quality, but it shows the realist or even Naturalist style which he adopted initially.
The following year, possibly through the Académie Julian, Rippl-Rónai made friends with the young artists who were forming the Nabis. He spent some summers with other Nabis and the school of Paul Gauguin in Pont-Aven, Brittany.
By 1890, he still maintained his realist style, as shown in this sensitive portrait of a Mother with Child.
Throughout his career, Rippl-Rónai was an accomplished and prolific painter in pastels. In these early years, he experimented with hatched textures which appear to have been inspired by the pastels of Edgar Degas, and are seen in his Nude with Yellow Narcissus from 1891.
As the other Nabis were painting without depth, in muted colours, and extensive decorative patterning, Rippl-Rónai was visibly distinct. His Woman with a Birdcage from 1892 is rich in colour, retains depth, and has no patterning visible at all.
Other paintings did show more evidence of Nabi influence, though, including Skittle-players from the same year, although it has distinct foreground and background. His paint has been applied very thinly, perhaps with a minimum of binder.
This study for a full-length portrait of a Woman with a Rose, also from 1892, has been sketched in with diluted paint.
Rippl-Rónai’s portrait of My Grandmother from 1894 is perhaps more reminiscent of Whistler’s painting of his mother, than the typical Nabi paintings of this time. Once again there is no flattening of depth, nor patterning. All the textiles shown are devoid of patterns.
His Self-Portrait in a Brown Hat from 1897 continues to pursue his individual style, with careful 3D modelling of his face. Sadly the paintings behind him contain insufficient detail to make them readily recognisable.
The closest Rippl-Rónai seems to have come to the Nabi style is in a couple of watercolours which he painted around 1898, including his Four Women in the Garden from that year. Its almost colourless appearance may not be intentional, as he used indigo dye here, which is notoriously sensitive to light, and may have faded almost completely in the century since this was painted.
By the end of the nineteenth century, in paintings such as this marvellous still life of Fish from about 1898, Rippl-Rónai remained at heart a realist who if anything was still pre-Impressionist.
This wasn’t to last long into the next century.