“You’re like the spirit that you understand” – Sandor Liezen-Mayer’s illustrations for Faust

- 23 March 2018 - 5 August 2018


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust is one of the most influential works of world literature. Right from its first publication in 1808, Faust was a subject of central interest to artists. Not only the masters of German painting, but all across Europe, artists produced series upon series of illustrations

interpreting this masterpiece of world literature. Most of them adopted Goethe’s original intent and treated Faust as the main protagonist, placing him at the focus of the tragedy in their drawings. There were also interpretations that highlighted the role of Mephistopheles or emphasised the theme of love. In Liezen-Mayer’s understanding, the main character in the events is clearly Margaret (Gretchen), who – as both the object of Faust’s love and the victim of the machinations thought up by Mephistopheles – still manages to transcend everything that befalls her.

Sándor Liezen-Mayer (1839–1898) is known primarily for his portraits and history paintings. He spent most of his life in Munich, but his works featured regularly in exhibitions held in Budapest, and János Simor, the archbishop of Esztergom, no less, was his patron. He was professor of the Munich Academy, where countless Hungarian and foreign pupils studied alongside him. The artist’s first major commission as an illustrator came in the early 1870s with his series of images for Goethe’s Faust, which was published in Stuttgart in 1876. This was followed two years later by his illustrations for The Song of the Bell by Friedrich Schiller, after which he worked on a whole series of works of international literature, including the dramas of William Shakespeare.

Liezen-Mayer’s work as an illustrator greatly influenced his painting as well, for many of his pictures derived their inspiration from his own drawings and from the heroes he constructed.

He created fifty drawings to illustrate Goethe’s Faust. The publisher employed the best printmakers to work on the decorative volume, who executed the steel and copper engravings, as well as the woodcuts on the basis of Liezen-Mayer’s original drawings. The book included thirty-seven illustrations and thirteen full-page, removable steel engravings. Unfortunately, Liezen-Mayer’s final drawings are now lost, but many sketches survived.

The exhibition contains the original, illustrated Faust volume published in 1876, forty sketches for illustrations, the thirteen full-page steel engravings, as well as three paintings by Sándor Liezen-Mayer that reflect his own illustrations.

Curator of the exhibition: Orsolya Hessky


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