Shadow on stone – The art of Lili Ország (1926–1978)

- 17 December 2016 - 1 May 2017


Continuing the series featuring prominent Hungarian artists, an œuvre exhibition of Lili Ország (1926–1978), a prominent figure of modern Hungarian painting, will be held at the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest, from 16 December 2016. The show, comprising more than 300 works, will have two curiosities. Firstly, in an unprecedented fashion, it will illustrate the development of Lili Ország’s artistic approach through analogies selected from Hungarian and foreign art, by artists such as Endre Bálint and Lajos Vajda, Paul Delvaux, Giorgio de Chirico, Vieira da Silva, Toyen, and Zoltan Kemeny. Secondly, the Labyrinth will be built according to Lili Ország’s original concept, containing the artist’s Labyrinth series of more than fifty compositions, which was not displayed in this completeness even at the 1980 Lili Ország memorial exhibition. Never before was such a large-scale show, spanning the entire œuvre, organised from the works of the artist born 90 years ago.



“The walls are inside of me,” professed Lili Ország. Throughout her career she recorded the perpetually emerging walls of her inner self with the patience and devotion of a monk. Although in spring 1944 she was saved from a train bound for Auschwitz, the fear and anxiety she felt at the time forever burnt into her mind. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts, Budapest, she instinctively began to search for “her own path”, and hence found the walls as a theme. Virtually unmatched by any other artist in Hungarian painting, she rendered her pictorial confessions in the tone of classical surrealism. Indeed, in the mid-1950s she made the greatest masterpieces of Hungarian surrealism.

This exhibition brings into focus the originality and unique character of Lili Ország’s works by showing the influences exerted upon her art.


Lili Ország’s path took her from the walls of a ghetto to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The stages of her artistic development can be traced from the individual walls she painted at the academy, through the city walls and the Western Wall of Jerusalem, to the walls of her Labyrinth.


The exhibition takes visitors through the different stages of Lili Ország’s art. The first, stretching from 1952 to 1955, was the Period of early paintings. Between 1955 and 1957 was her period of Orthodox surrealism, with the wall as its leitmotif. Analogies selected include works by Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Delvaux and Toyen. During her travels, she later personally encountered Orthodox icons in Russian and Bulgarian monasteries; these experiences inspired the compositions of her so-called Icon period(1958–1959).

The traces of long lost cities are evoked by her Townscapes painted between 1960 and 1965. In the 1960s, she visited the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, where she discovered the stone motifs that she used to create her own, imaginary cities.

Signs and scripts appeared in her paintings from 1965 onwards, functioning as mementos, expressions of the sacred, messages from a bygone era, fragments, and the harbingers of destruction. They were central elements in Lili Ország’s Period of inscribed paintings from 1966 to 1969, whose works are characterised by a grey and brown palette, and contain fragments of walls with ancient script, mysterious Hebrew or pseudo-Hebrew inscriptions and signs.

In 1972, Lili Ország painted two large, summative compositions: the Gate of All Secrets and the Doors Opening to the Past, in which she already used her new, characteristic motif, the printed circuit boardThis can be interpreted as a symbol of communication, simultaneously an emblem of modern civilisation and a visual manifestation of a labyrinth. They also became the leitmotif of her large-scale Labyrinth. Lili Ország began to paint the Labyrinth series, regarded as her masterpiece, in 1974. After the first, colourful panels of the series, the last pieces are rendered in black tones. “It is my labyrinth, I must pass through it, and I will pass through it by painting it. It is a horrible torment, but one cannot compromise here. … it must be traversed ….” Lili Ország painted the series until her death, when the door of the last, black labyrinth picture virtually closed behind her. Lili Ország got the basic idea for the series from the painted ceiling panels of the church in Ádámos originating from 1526, nine of which can be seen in our exhibition.

Lili Ország envisioned that her Labyrinth series “will gain their true meaning one day closely arranged together as one composition in a small room or a large wall”. Her concept was only realised in 1980, after her death, when the Labyrinth was actually built in the Budapest History Museum according to the artist’s original instructions and in collaboration with Pál Deim. As the panels of the series entered different collections, they have not been displayed together since then, but in this exhibition, the complete Labyrinth, consisting of more than fifty paintings, is constructed based on Lili Ország’s original idea. The individual compositions will be interpreted through the poem titled Apocrypha by Lili Ország’s friend, the poet János Pilinszky, recited by Róbert Alföldi.

The exhibition also aims to provide a glimpse into Lili Ország’s life through photographs and documents relating to her travels, as well as letters and snapshots of her friends, masters (Miklós Róbert, Endre Bálint, János Pilinszky), and the first collectors of her art (István Rácz and Ernő Kolozsváry).

The show will be accompanied by a representative catalogue, exploring the different periods of Lili Ország’s art in essays by prominent authors, and illustrated by previously unpublished documentary photographs and almost two hundred and fifty reproductions of artworks.


Curator of the exhibition: Marianna Kolozsváry

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