Kornél Maria SPÁNYIK (Bratislava, 1858 - Budapest, 1943)

The Two Beauties

200 x 121 cm. (78 ¾ in. x 47 58 in.)
1897. Oil, gold and silver leaf on canvas. Signed, dated, and situated upper right: Spanyik Cornel M. Bpest 1897.

• Germany, Private Collection.
• Sale, Vienna, Kinsky, 9 December 2009, lot 3.
• Private European Collection.

Related Works
Posterior autograph verson: Springtime, oil on canvas, 125 x 96 cm. Private Collection

A lawyer’s son, Kornel Spànyik studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest in Christian Griepenkerl’s class. During his academic training, he encountered Guyla Benczúr, Director of the National School of Painting, whose studio he entered in 1883. He finished his studies under Sándor Liezen-Mayer, Imperial portraitist in Munich.

Upon his return to Hungary in 1886, he participated in the decoration of the Slovakian National Theater and the City Hall of Pressburg (now Bratislava), a cosmopolitan city in the process of being completely renovated. Pressburg was proud of its artistic Union which, inspired by the ideas of Prince Nicolas Esterhazy and placed under the high patronage of the Archiduke Frederick of Austria, had been created the previous year. Spanyik presented several paintings at the Union’s exhibitions in 1887, 1888, and 1889. Splitting his life between Pressburg and Budapest, he in fact became one of the most influential members of the Union, even being elected Vice-President at the beginning of the 20th century. Following Esterhazy’s death, the exhibitions became very irregular and only started up again under Spanyik’s direction. He established a rule that two-thirds of the works exhibited would come from the exhibitions in Pest, and one third would be produced by members of the Artistic Union of Pressburg. He himself had exhibited regularly in Pest since 1888, as well as in Vienna and Munich (where he received the gold medal for his Honeymoon), and in Paris. At the World’s Fair of 1900, he won the bronze medal.

After the First World War and the creation of Czechoslovakia, Spanyik settled in Budapest. His first personal exhibition was organized in 1929 at the Mucsarnok Gallery in Budapest.

On account of his fame as a portraitist, as well as family ties to the Imperial Court (his brother was aide-de-camp to Emperor Francis-Joseph), he received many official commissions. Thus, he produced several portraits of the Emperor, including two done in 1904. Aside from portraits, Spanyik painted history and religious paintings, and large-scale works “for exhibition” which had poetic titles, regardless of whether they were interior scenes or Symbolist inspired allegorical subjects.

Our picture was among the works destined for Salons and develops the theme of a young woman inhaling the perfume of a flower or holding a bouquet which appeared in the artist’s oeuvre a few years earlier. Thus, Young Girl with a Bouquet of Lilacs of 1894 (125 x 80.5 cm. private collection) depicts a young woman, attired in the fashion of the times, who fixes the viewer with a serene gaze. She is depicted in front of dark drapery with deep folds. Here, the clothes are inspired by Antiquity and the tapestry which acts as a backdrop undulates so little that it tends to abstraction.

The combination gives the effect of an inverted mirror where opposites control the background as much as they do the sitter. With the height divided in two and the width in three, the silver and gold tapestry provides the warp of the composition and organizes the space. The upper part is scattered with heraldic fleurs de lys, while the lower part is decorated with stylized lily plants whose interlacing stems criss-cross in an elaborate game. Two young women, one brunette with a white lily, and the other blonde with yellow lilies, stand side by side. The brunette with her hair pulled into a bun and held by a band, wears a white dress embellished with geometric motifs and seen in profile. Her eyes are closed and the whiteness of the flowers brings out the golden ground of the tapestry. A bouquet of white lilies is set at her feet. Breathing in the intoxicating perfume emanating from the lily, she seems isolated from the world.
The blonde has thin hair and her left breast is exposed. A slight smile on her lips, she is depicted full face and looks at the viewer. Her pose is relaxed and breaks the linear character of the composition. She nonchalantly rests her head on her neighbor’s shoulder and slips her hand to the same as well. Her light green tunic is scattered with stars and golden wings. Her yellow lilies drop a few petals on the mosaic floor.

The picture emits an atmosphere of purity and mellowness, with fresh rhythmic hues of yellow, white, and green. The thematic unity is defined by the omnipresence of lilies, from the blazon in the upper right which is reminiscent of those in Renaissance portraits and borrows its lily shape from the lily of Florence. The painter composes an allegory of the duality of feminine beauty which can be pure, serene, and wise, but equally tender, lascivious, provocative, and flighty.

A few years later, the artist reused his composition by removing the tapestry which was replaced by a verdant landscape and by softening the contrast between the two women. The title of this canvas, Springtime, takes into account the semantic shift. The motif of the woman in profile, with eyes closed, turned inwards, and inhaling a flower’s perfume, can be found in several of Spanyik’s paintings such as the Young Girl Holding a Flower of 1936.

See more