György Zala (Mayer)
The turn of the century – the era when the art of György Zala was awakened and reached maturity – is one of the most exciting periods in Hungarian social and cultural history, and one that is uniquely rich in works of art.
His development, his personality as an artist and his immense capacity for work have made him along with contemporaries such as Alajos Strobl and János Fadrusz one of the definitive figures of the time and a chronicler of the period on account of his prolific output.
He lived for his work. His life was long and he continued to work throughout his life. Even during the confusing, tormented, crisisridden times following the First World War, he received noteworthy commissions.
Owing to polarized opinions and changing historical perspectives on the period and in view of the personalities he portrayed and in he ideas put forward in his sculptures. Zala and his works in a sense ceased to exist, receiving no critical appreciation and were totally disregarded for a long time.
Since his death, there has been no exhibition devoted solely to his work nor has any monograph been written.
Ildikó Nagy was the first to notice that no such study had been published. This is the third time that his motherland has reached out to embrace her son. In 1907, the local Artisans Reading Club made him a honorary member, then, in 1986, they furnished a memorial room in the wonderfully-located castle of Lendva with the help of Zala County Council.
On this occasion, to our great pleasure, in the year of the millecentenarium, on the eve of the 60th anniversary of his death, a memorial exhibition and conference have been organized with the help of the Hungarian National Gallery.
We express our appreciation and thanks to the devotees and those remembering him in the past and in the present.
Unfortunately we know little of his childhood, and his years spent in Lendva. Documents and registry books have been destroyed. So far no heirs or those remembering him have been found.
He lost his parents at an early age of 8. He became a student of the science grammar school in the 4th district after a number of years in schools in Városlőd and Pápa. He went on to the school of decorative arts having been taught by excellent art teachers.
He was going to become a painter, but he gave in to the inducements of Adolf Huszár. At the age of twenty-one he worked under Edmund Hellmer and Zumbusch in Vienna.
From 1880 his teachers were Josep Knábl, Max Wittman, Michael Wagmüller, Eberle Sirius in Munich.
His exceptional talent and incomparable diligence brought their result. The young artist returning home in 1884 had very good references following the success of “The Baby is Scared” made during his studies. “Maria and Magdalene”, which won the academy gold medal and the prize of the Hungarian Council of Fine Arts, and the Csukassi tombstone – which won a gold medal in Antwerp – modelled with an equally unique level of craftsmanship and sensitivity.
There came a period of works of high quality executed with the youthful enthusiasm, zeal and passion that characterized his work: the Arad Monument, a sculpture competition on the 1848 War of Independence, János Arany competition, the Monument to the Hungarian Soldiers, the impressive equestrian statue of Earl Gyula Andrássy, and the tomb of Queen Elizabeth in Vienna, followed by his magnum opus, the grandiose programme of the Millenium Memorial, and at the same time a series of competitions on Queen Elizabeth, which are his works of lasting worth, encompassing a whole lifetime.
We, the people of Zala county can be proud of his Deák statues in Szeged and in Kehida. A copy of the latter is in the memorial room of the castle, and the most recent one has recently been erected in the yard of the county seat’s grammar school, which existed even in his time.
In the meantime he also portrayed women’s heads with artistic perfection: A Tudy (My wife), Mrs. Béla Jármay, Mrs. Jenő Zsigmondy, Queen Elizabeth, Róza Laborfalvy, Lujza Blaha.
His busts of men demonstrate their character: Mór Jókai, Gyula Benczúr, Antal Ligeti, Franz Joseph, Gyula Andrássy.
All of those are eloquent testimony to his ability to model with grace, delicacy, sensitivity, in the context of the period.
All this was accomplished while engaged in substantial commissions continuing over a period of several decades, suffering from undeserved attacks, and pursuing an active role in public life with the enthusiasm and vigour characteristic of the euphoria of the millennium.
A more finely drawn picture of his work is obtained by consideration of his formative years, his admiration of the classical works and the French masters, his devotion to Ödön Lechner – who designed Zala’s villa incorporating Zala’s own Art Nouveau relief, The Celebration Of Venus, on its façade -, his library, the furnishing of his house, his collection of works of art, and the memories of his contemporaries.
György Zala, a great sculptor of historic themes of the Hungarian nation, an outstanding master of this European school passed way on 31st July, 1937. He was given a state funeral in the Kerepesi Road cemetery. His simple tombstone was made by Miklós Ligeti.