Joseph Bato as a war artist, 1918

Joseph Bato

Born Budapest 1888, Bato was the oldest of the 14 artists represented at the 1943 Hungarian Club exhibition and perhaps had the most varied career. After studying at the Nagybanya, the influential back-to-nature painting school in Transylvania, he found his way to Paris where he became a pupil of Matisse, studied with the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, and held his first exhibition in 1909. Conscripted to fight for Austro-Hungary in the First World War, Bato became an officer-artist, recording graphic scenes from the Russian front - which didn’t prevent him contributing to a 1916 Berlin anti-war journal, Der Bildermann. Berlin was to become Bato’s base until the mid 1930s, though he travelled widely in the Balkans, France and Denmark. He painted art deco murals for Steglitz Town Hall and the Allianz Palace in the late 1920s. Photographs from the early 1930s by Abraham Pisarek show him at his Berlin studio easel in a tie and white coat, looking more like a lab assistant than an artist. His landscape painting had an international clientèle.

Bato crossed the Channel in 1936 and found informal work via the Hungarian-born film producer Alexander Korda. His first movie credit is as costume designer for Powell and Pressburger’s celebrated 1943 film, “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”. Earlier he had negotiated a sketching permit to record Blitz damage in London - drawings and watercolours now in Imperial War Museum and Museum of London collections. A selection was used to illustrate Defiant City, with an introduction by J.B.Priestley (Victor Gollancz, 1942). He and his English wife, Muriel, had a son, Andrew. By 1945 he was ensconced as a leading art director at London Films, credited with very British classics like “The Sound Barrier”, “The Happiest Days of Your Life”, “The Heart of the Matter”, “An Inspector Calls” and “The Belles of St Trinians”. He designed sets at Shepperton for “The Third Man”. No records survive of his artwork for these movies. Bato’s final years were spent back painting, and researching Cro-Magnan Man cave drawings in France, Spain and the British Museum for a novel he wrote in English, The Sorcerer, published posthumously in the United States. He died in London, 1966.

Russian front field hospital by Joseph Bato, etching, 1916. Click to expand.

Klara Biller

Klara Szanto was born in 1910 in what is now Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, then known as Pressburg. Her father Henrik, the City Architect, died just two years later and the family moved to Budapest, where Klara’s mother made a living as an upmarket milliner. She learned German from her governess, alongside Hungarian; typically of the Central European bourgeoisie she spoke many languages, none of them quite perfectly.

Klara Biller self-portrait, 1940s

Graphic design studies at Budapest’s Almos Jashik Academy led to book illustration and commercial advertising. The chronicle of her life in the 1930s is unclear. She maintained a studio address in Budapest. Meanwhile, she probably flitted to and fro between Hungary and England - perhaps sometimes on visits to her elder sister, whose job was with the Anglo-Hungarian financial journal, Pester-Lloyd. By the late 1930s Klara was teaching German at a school in North Yorkshire.   Between 1935-1939 she produced three poster designs for London Transport signed simply Klara, perhaps because she was unable to obtain a work permit as an artist. A friend of Charles Rosner from Budapest days, she quietly established herself in London where, in January 1940, she married Victor Biller, a Fleet Street newspaper circulation executive. They had two sons, Stephen and Peter. Bringing up a young family in a North West London suburb, Klara Biller built a freelance practice as a children’s book illustrator. In the 1940s she worked principally for Collins, writing and illustrating seven of her own books and contributing to children’s annuals. She also worked on some 160 issues of Child Education (1948-68) with the Quaker editor, Constance Sturmey, and from the 1950s to around 1970 she was a leading member of Gordon Fraser’s team of greetings card designers.  Her biggest single commission was for a new edition of the Oxford Nursery Song Book, published in 1961. Klara displayed a fresh and natural style in the playfully experimental illustrations of her 1940s books, and their publication is seen as significant in the influence exercised by central European modernism on the style of English children’s books. Though her later work in England became more conservative, you can still see her sense of fun in the stories she contributed to Child Education, which were as often as not based on her own family outings. She had been one of Budapest’s leading graphic artists in the 1930s. Although a smaller fish in post-war London, she still produced much work that was accomplished. Her archive has been painstakingly assembled by her younger son Pete, Professor of Medieval History at York University. Klara died at Northwick Park Hospital, Middlesex, in 1989.

Book cover design by Klara Biller, watercolour, early 1940s. Click to expand.

Val Biro, 1940s

Val Biro

Aged just 22 when he took part in the Hungarian Club show, Biro had already completed a degree course at Central School, signed up for the National Fire Service (he was prevented from joining the armed forces by being an “enemy alien”) and started part-time work for Charles Rosner’s Sylvan Press. Born Balint Biro in Budapest 1921, his lawyer father decided to send him to the UK in 1939 before hostilities began, and British Val never looked back. His nature was to work all day and all night, stamina and temperament suited to life as a freelance designer. After the early years as studio manager at Sylvan Press, where he began by illustrating patriotic books on air force and navy life, and as art director at John Lehmann, he moved speedily and fruitfully into freelance dust-jacket design for the publishers of best-selling authors from the 1950s and 1960s like Nevile Shute and C.S.Forester, combined with an illustration per week for Radio Times.

Val’s eccentric lifestyle – eccentric, that is, for someone living in a posh Buckinghamshire village – included travel by horse-drawn Brougham; when that proved problematic he restored a vintage 1926 Austin Heavy 12-4 coupé found in a scrap-merchant’s yard. Gumdrop, as he called him, became the star of the 37-volume children’s adventure series he wrote and illustrated. Gumdrop is still in the family. Early out-of-print editions of his adventures have become collectors’ items. Towards the conclusion of his 70-year career, Biro retold and redrew a sequence of classic fairy tales and fables in the same fluent, accessible manner he had developed when, to speed up results, he moved from woodcuts to scraperboard in the mid 1940s. Biro met his Vivien first wife (with whom he had a daughter, Melissa) while lodging at a Toc-H hostel and fire-fighting in the East End of London. In a sense, he was always fire-fighting - a man whose complex personal life intertwined with a straight-ahead professionalism, both sides driven by extraordinary energy. The havens of Bucks and later Sussex were backdrops against which he played out his relentless destiny. Val Biro worked until not long before his death in July 2014. His life story is readily available online at Cameron Cunningham’s web page,, written for young readers and using Biro’s graphics by permission.

Book jacket by Val Biro, gouache, 1955. Click to expand.

George Buday

Wood engraving as a Hungarian art-form has its origins in the folklore of Transylvania, which is where George Buday was born in 1907. His early efforts were in pastels while a schoolboy at Kolosvar Calvinist College, but he then studied law in parallel with engraving at Szeged University. He was a founder of Szeged Youth Art College. He first visited England in 1928 as a delegate to a Liverpool Christian student's congress, stopping off at the British Museum where he hoped to return on a travelling scholarship but was offered Rome instead. In Rome during 1936-37 he met, and made great friends with, the medallist Paul Vincze.

He made his way to London in late 1937. With war declared, Buday was employed by BBC External Services as a studio manager in Hungarian-language counter-propaganda and became involved in Allied dark arts at Woburn Park - none of which had prevented him making patriotic woodcuts themed on Britannia for the Times Literary Supplement in 1941. Throughout his career he was a prolific book illustrator. Stripped of Hungarian nationality in 1941 for co-signing a Times letter heavily critical of the Horthy government, Buday co-founded the Association of Free Hungarians in Great Britain. After the war he set up and became director of the Hungarian Cultural Institute in London, which was however closed down in 1949 as communism took over the Hungarian scene. Anything but a Communist, Buday sought sanctuary in work, researching The History of the Christmas Card, based on his own collection which was later donated to the V&A. Buday, a bachelor suspected by MI5 of Communist sympathies, was never granted British citizenship. Stateless, the crushed Hungarian Uprising of 1956 proved too much for him: he suffered a nervous breakdown and spent the last 34 years of his life in a South London mental institution where, however, he was offered a studio and continued working much as before. At his death, as recently as 1990, he’d been forgotten by the spy agency. He was not forgotten in Szeged, where a permanent museum was created to his memory, never seen by the artist himself. Perhaps his most important single commission in the hospital was a set of stark illustrations for the 1980 Folio Society edition of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. He’s also remembered for his illustration of In Quest of the Miracle Stag, a major anthology of Hungarian poetry.

Book cover by George Buday, wood engraving, 1940s. Click to expand.

Imre Goth self-portrait, 1940s

Imre Goth

One explanation why Imre Goth, alone among the 14 artists, was interned on the Isle of Man during Churchill’s “Collar the Lot” immigrant charades of 1940-42 could be that he had, to say the least, interesting connections during his Berlin days. Born Szeged, 1893, Goth studied at the Budapest Academy of Fine Arts and then, after the First World War, in Berlin, under Hitler’s favourite artist, Arthur Kampf. Legend has it that Goth met Hermann Goering when they were wartime pilot-comrades, and that as a successful society artist he was commissioned by the Reichsmarshal to paint his portrait in the early 1930s. The result showed Hitler’s side-kick with drug-crazed eyes and Goth saw fit to hot-foot it with the portrait from Germany.

Be that as it may (and the portrait now belongs to a London collector) Goth was a prolific and versatile artist whose works still change hands for good money in art sales around Europe. Having arrived in Britain during the mid-1930s, Goth resumed portraiture. Society connections gave him the entrée to subjects like Anthony Eden’s wife and the family of Lord Esmé Gordon-Lennox. However, it seems that in 1941 he was denounced by a former lover accusing him of pro-Nazi sympathies - and interned in the Palace Camp, Douglas, Isle of Man. During his stay he produced a work selected for inclusion in an Isle of Man special issue stamp series in 2010. The Manx government acquired 11 Goth internee drawings and watercolours for its national collection. Despite release from internment after only a few months during the winter of 1941-42, Goth was bedevilled by restrictions placed on “enemy exiles” during the war. With the end of hostilities he made something of a living doing publicity sketches for London Films, showing, for instance, the making of “An Ideal Husband” and “Anna Karenina”. With his eyesight failing he turned to his second love, the arcane world of invention. He had taken out patents while still in Berlin on a slip-on shoe with rubber side-vents; in 1959 he lodged a patent for a drip-free self-sealing drinking cup. Legend also has it that he had earlier designed improvements to parachutes and car headlamps. He died, London, 1983.

Filming "Anna Karenina" by Imre Goth, pencil, 1948. Click to expand.

Imre Hofbauer

If one artist summarised the melting pot of Central Europe it was Imre Hofbauer, who called himself Peregrine, the wanderer. Born 1905 in Mitrovica, now part of Kosovo, he grew up in the northern Hungarian mining town of Tatabanya. Ethnically Jewish but educated in a Catholic environment, he travelled through Germany before studying architecture in Prague, working as a newspaper cartoonist there, and then establishing himself in Budapest as art director of the Athenaeum Publishing Co. He crossed to London in 1936. Working, like Val Biro and George Buday, with the wartime National Fire Service, Hof (as he was universally known) was also sketching. Calvary, published by the Bodley Head in 1942 with introductory articles by the Compton Mackenzies, portrays the agonising human experiences of the Blitz in an emotional and often allegorical fashion, quite different from Joseph Bato’s precise studies of bomb damage.

Imre Hofbauer self-portrait, 1950s

Hof followed up soon after the war with The Other London, a bleak evocation of East End poverty, hardly the “we’re all in it together” spirit of the time, but his final book, the 1976 London, Flower of Cities All, to words by Richard Church is, as the title suggests, a much more conventional descriptive guide. Separately Hof wrote several semi-autobiographical evocations of his youth in provincial Hungary, and edited a monograph on the German artist George Grosz. Living modestly in a small King’s Cross area bedsit, working non-stop in his Highgate studio, never marrying but with a wide circle of friends, Hof left behind a huge body of work of varying quality. The commissions he undertook for London Transport and the Post Office Savings Bank are accomplished, but the much earlier advertising posters from Prague days are more lively. When awarded a one-man show in Budapest in 1964 by the Hungarian Ministry of Culture, he didn’t attend. He died in London in 1989. Among Hof’s many collectors, his friends Maria del Carmen Rodriguez and her daughter Yasmina Guerda put together a website which does full justice to his work, and includes pages of tributes from those who knew him or acquired items in various sales. It’s online at

Hyde Park Corner by Imre Hofbauer, mixed media, 1966. Click to expand.

Peter Lambda self-portrait, 1945

Peter Lambda

Born Vilmos Levy, Budapest, 1911, Lambda was not the only artist for whom crossing the Channel involved a name-change. His parents were eminent doctors and psychoanalysts, quite close to Sigmund Freud.  Lambda carried strong childhood memories of the great man through his life, and the family connection no doubt helped persuade Freud, by then in poor health, to sit for a bust in London during August and September 1938. Lambda had studied medicine in Vienna before switching to sculpture. He had a knack of seeing into people’s souls while not distorting likenesses which gave him, when life took off after the Second World War, increasing career opportunities as a sculptor. His bronze bust of a pugnacious Aneurin Bevan, the Welsh politician credited with creating the National Health Service, is often on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

The NPG also acquired busts of Laurence Olivier, Kingsley Wood, Wendy Hiller and Christopher Fry. Receipts show that the gallery paid good money for these when often work was donated for the honour of being in a national collection. A cast of his Freud bust was rejected by the acquisitions committee, however, on the dubious grounds of Freud not being British enough. He exhibited twice at Royal Academy summer shows, where in 1952 his half-length nude of the actress Linda Christian caused quite a stir. “What every man needs is a bust. A bust of his wife, that is” Lambda was quoted as telling the American columnist Robert Musel. Well, if your wife looked like Ms Christian (then married to Tyrone Power) maybe it was. The story goes that Lambda visited the Oliviers at their country residence to sculpt Vivien Leigh, but she behaved so badly about it that he had to make do with Larry. Lambda himself had sunny temperament. He cleared life’s hurdles with apparent ease, marrying on three occasions, the third time (it was also her third) to the London-born actress Betty Paul. Together they ventured into script writing, setting up an early tv soap, “Weaver’s Green”, writing for the West End theatre and, when London became too much, retiring to a Gloucestershire village in the 1980s. Lambda died there in 1995.

Sigmund Freud bust by Peter Lambda, bronze, 1938. Click to expand.

Lili Markus

Lili Markus’s husband Victor and brother-in-law Stephen, fleeing Hitler, were directed by a welcoming British government, with the help of a local MP, to an obscure corner of North West England. They set up a small factory which, with a staff of just four skilled machinists, began to produce precision machine tools for the wartime Spitfire programme. By the end of the war Ferrostatics employed 20 people. The Markus family, with two growing boys, then made Glossop their family home. But the move would prove hard for Lili.

Lili Markus, Glossop, 1950

She had become one of Hungary’s leading ceramists during the 1930s. Born 1900 in Eszek, now Osijek and part of Croatia, where her father was a forest manager, she had little formal education or training before she moved to Budapest in the mid 1920s to marry Victor. However, the folk arts and home industry crafts which she embraced in her work were all around her when she was growing up. The couple’s elegant Budapest apartment, designed by Lajos Kozma, was the backdrop to involvement in a burgeoning modern arts/crafts scene which saw her win major awards at international exhibitions representing Hungary in Brussels (1935), Milan (1936), Paris (1937) and Berlin (1938). Exhibits parcelled up for Warsaw (1939) were destroyed in the Nazi blitzkrieg. With a young family to look after, Lili Markus set about staking out a professional practice after the war, with the backing of people like Gordon Forsyth. An exhibition at the Batsford Gallery in 1945 was, however, her first and last major show in Britain; the Tree of Life ceramic in the V&A collection was among items sold there. Still highly productive, she turned increasingly in her home studio to tapestry as potting became difficult with chill-blains. Lili Markus died at home in Glossop aged just 61. Her late-starting career had finished early. But she will be remembered alongside Margit Kovacs as the most accomplished Hungarian ceramist of the 1930s. Her family’s contribution to Britain’s war victory, to industry in the North West (Ferrostatics was sold to Chloride in the late 1950s) and her sons’ academic careers at British universities make this immigrant story one where the host nation gained immeasurably. In 2008 Lili Markus was accorded a major exhibition, “In the Eye of the Storm”, at the Collins Gallery, University of Strathclyde, curated by Juliet Kinchin and Laura Hamilton.

Corner stove detail by Lili Markus, ceramic tiles, early 1950s. Click to expand.

George Mayer-Marton self-portrait, 1950s

George Mayer-Marton

When George Mayer-Marton and his wife Grete reluctantly fled from Vienna to Brussels and London in Autumn 1938, the diary he kept was written in German. They had lived in Vienna for over a decade. Although born in Gyor, North Hungary, in 1897, many of his formative years were spent in Austria or Germany (including service in the Austrian army during the First World War).

Forced to leave Vienna after the Anschluss, Mayer-Marton’s life story was particularly tragic. His parents and brother died in the Holocaust, as did Grete’s parents. Having by 1940 established a home/studio in St John’s Wood, London, the building was incendiary bombed during the Blitz and precious work destroyed. Grete, who never fully recovered from the event, died in 1952. George took a peripatetic job with the precursor to the Arts Council before establishing himself as a senior lecturer at Liverpool College of Art but dying of leukaemia in 1960. A tragic life, yet his contribution equally to Vienna and to Liverpool was extraordinary. In Vienna he became secretary and vice-president of the Hagenbund, the group which took over from the Secession as the voice of contemporary artists until it was closed by the Nazis. In Liverpool he pioneered a form of religious mosaics, one example of which, Pentecost, now has a prominent place in the Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral. At the same time, Mayer-Marton strived to replace the works lost in the London bombing, not simply with copies but because he felt challenged by the very different light and landscape of the British countryside. His British work is to be found in public collections at the Walker and Victoria galleries, Liverpool, at Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Gallery, and at the Imperial War Museum in the heartfelt memorial to his mother, “Women with Boulders”. Mayer-Marton’s memory has been well-served by his family. His niece Johanna Braithwaite, whose mother Clara Mayer also came to London before the war, encouraged an important retrospective at the Belvedere in Vienna, where the artist’s archive is to be found. She also saved the Pentecost mosaic from threatened destruction. His great-nephew Nick Braithwaite maintains an authoritative website at

The Crucifixion mural at an Oldham Catholic church threatened by demolition (see bottom of Home Page)

Henry Ripszam

Before he settled into life at Hazels, Ockley, as the squire of an acre or two of prettily-wooded Surrey stockbroker belt, Henry Ripszam had been as buccaneering as his friend Istvan Szegedi-Szuts. Born 1889 in Nemetboly, near Pécs, in southern Hungary, Ripszam followed his father into athletic running and walking events, culminating with participation in the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games (Szegedi-Szuts was there too, though neither won prizes). He also took part in orienteering, a sport he later introduced to Hungary.

Henry Ripszam self-portrait, 1920s

Having graduated from the Royal National School of Applied Arts in 1910, Ripszam’s career was, like all his contemporaries, interrupted by the First World War. Conscripted, he was captured in Poland and sent to a Siberian labour camp. A few drawings survive from that period; many of his compatriots didn’t. Somehow Ripszam found his way back to Sweden and eventually to Hungary where one of his commissions was the design of a stamp to raise funds for the Paris 1924 Olympics. By the late 1920s he was visiting England, and exhibiting in Manchester, where the Manchester Guardian reporter and latent novelist Howard Spring bought a couple of Siberian pastels. Showing typical expediency Ripi (as he was known) met, fell in love with, and in 1932 married Mollie Keay, daughter of a Birmingham industrialist. Apart from travelling the world in style the couple, who had no children, lived contentedly at Ockley. Mollie died there in 1968, Henry in 1976. Their ashes are interred together at Ockley Parish Church. Because Ripi obtained British citizenship in 1935 he was able to help others like Szegedi-Szuts just beginning the painful process. He also supported the Hungarian stained glass artist Ervin Bossanyi, a friend from college days. Dodging Hitler, Bossanyi had abandoned a successful Hamburg practice and was living north of London in straightened circumstances. His son Jo recalls being taken shopping for clothes by Ripi in the West End, and being invited to Ockley for weekends. The Ockley studio was used to stage informal concerts by leading musicians like Artur Schnabel and Joseph Weingarten, but a fire there after the war destroyed much of the artist’s work. Today Ripi is still remembered locally for his generosity of spirit. He was, for instance, president of the Oakwood Hill Football Club and instituted the Ripszam Cup for road running. According to his obituary in the parish magazine, he always added – when praised for community initiatives - “yes, but it was my dear wife who helped me do that”.

Guards in Siberian camp by Henry Ripszam, pen and wash, c1916. Click to expand.

Jean-Georges Simon self-portrait, 1920s

Jean-Georges Simon

Somewhere between leaving Hungary in 1920 and coming to England in 1936 Simon Gyorgy Janos, born 1894 in Trieste, then a major port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, changed his name to Jean-Georges Simon and his signature to JGS. That he chose to francisise himself reflects a desire to live and work in Paris, which he managed in 1925, but his decisive move was to London, where he met and, in 1937, married Patricia Frayling.

Like some contemporaries, the couple took Hungarian nationality, which made life in wartime England problematic. Unlike others, they moved in 1941 from London to a rural hideaway. Simon had brought precious items from his before life with him. Friends offered them a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales; a year or two later the move was cemented by Pat’s aunt helping them acquire a house in Harrogate. Simon’s Battle of Britain and Blitz experiences were not forgotten. He soon produced a body of work based on the sketches of Londoners he’d made in streets and pubs. His eye was compassionate: he’d also been conscripted to fight in the First World War and been injured. He’d returned to Budapest to complete his studies at the Haris-Kozi Free Art School. Harrogate meant a studio where he could draw from life and explore a long relationship with post-impressionist ideas. He taught at Bradford and Harrogate art colleges, made annual trips to France for more life drawing in Paris and a taste of the Mediterranean, and twice took London studios, but Harrogate remained his home and his centre of activity. He died in Leeds, 1968. Pat Simon supported her husband through all this by working as a civil servant, yet Jancsi, as everyone called him, lived modestly. He neither sought, nor was awarded, the limelight. After an exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1945 shared with Constantin Guys, his name slipped from the lists. Although he had a small band of enthusiastic private buyers, much of his work was unsold at his death. Pat kept it, and in 1986 assigned it to Lois Smith, a close friend of both. Lois promoted and catalogued the work, and together with a small archive, it remains within family and friends following her death in March 2016.

"Wharfside" by Jean-Georges Simon, oil on canvas, 1945.  Displayed in page header. 

Istvan Szegedi-Szuts

The late Michael Snow, an artist friend of Istvan Szegedi-Szuts, was entrusted with his archive and remaining work by Gwynedd, Istvan’s widow, when she died in 1982. Snow eventually made a distribution of work between museums and libraries in the UK, with the main archive going to the Petofi-Irodalmi Museum in Budapest, where Prof Bela Gomor researched a Hungarian-language biography published in 2014.

Istvan Szegedi-Szuts by Elemer Germany, 1912

The exercise illustrates challenges surrounding the reputation of artists who cross cultural lines. While Szegedi-Szuts, born 1892, did not settle in Britain until 1936, his best-known work, My War, a classic anti-war book published in 1931 by The Bodley Head, has an introduction in English. However, its pictorial account of an ordinary soldier’s life and death in the First World War is Hungarian in experience, concept and execution. The same applies to a humorous cartoon short, “Legi Titanok” (the Battle of Titans) each frame drawn by the artist in Hungary during 1933 but later given a British Board of Control certificate. However, Szuts was refused an extension of his work permit in London after the cartoon’s success interested film producers there who fancied establishing a European industry in competition to Disney. Having returned to London to marry Gwynedd Jones-Parry in 1937 and then move to Cornwall, Istvan exhibited with the Newlyn Society of Artists and the Penwith Society of Arts, yet was never quite part of the burgeoning St Ives scene. The couple, adjudged by the authorities to be enemy aliens, were made to move away from their home on the Lizard during 1940-41, but when allowed to return they billeted an RAF airman flying Mosquitos from a nearby airfield, where Szuts also helped pull a crashed pilot from his aircraft. The real adventures had happened years before. Born in Budapest and having trained at the Budapest Academy he found a teaching job at Csongrad, near Szeged, but then came the war where he served as an artillery officer on the Romanian front. Hospitalised by a bomb until 1919, he found himself evading the Bela Kun Communist regime and, according to Michael Snow, guarding the deposed Queen Zita of Hungary before returning to Csongrad. Istvan’s failing health in the 1950s, and an inability to obtain paid work in Cornish institutions, left his utopian beliefs untroubled. He died in Penzance Hospital in 1959 following an operation.

Riots by Istvan Szegedi-Szuts, lithograph, 1920s. Click to expand.

Paul Vincze by Ede Telcs, 1930s

Paul Vincze

Over half of the 14 artists in the Hungarian Club exhibition had assimilated Jewish backgrounds. Paul Vincze’s father was Jewish, his mother Catholic, but he too had to flee Hitler and was to lose both his parents, his sister and her two children in the Hungarian Holocaust.

Each artist found a way of coping, somehow. To Vincze, one of the twentieth century’s most eminent medallists, it came perhaps from working with both Jewish and Catholic causes: he is remembered for medals celebrating the State of Israel but also for his portrait of Pope Paul 6, for which the Pope sat during two months. Born 1907 in northern Hungary, he studied under the sculptor and medallist Ede Telcs at Budapest’s School of Applied Arts. Vincze joined Telcs’ studio for the next seven years before being offered a scholarship in Rome, where he met George Buday and began a lifetime friendship. Vincze it was who persuaded Buday to stay in London when, in 1949, the Communist-leaning Hungarian authorities ordered him back to Budapest. Following the events of 1956, Buday was admitted to a psychiatric institution but Vincze kept on the Rossetti Studio in Chelsea they shared in the forlorn hope that Buday would return. Vincze produced medals for the Queen’s coronation, for Shakespearian anniversaries – and for US President Harry S Truman, who employed him personally. Not normally an early riser, he was summoned to wait outside the Oval Office at 8am each day until President Truman had a moment to spare. Truman paid him with a personal cheque which his London bank manager found hard to take seriously. In 1991 the Birmingham jeweller Alabaster & Wilson struck a deal to produce Vincze’s St Christopher and Signs of the Zodiac medallions, an arrangement which survives, some 24 years after the artist’s death in the South of France. His widow Betty, a Parisian who he met in London, has lived there ever since guarding her late husband’s memory.

Medal in support of the Hungarian Uprising by Paul Vincze, alloy, 1956. Click to expand.

Akos Zsoter

Legends grow up around artists, especially those with central European backgrounds. Sometimes they are fostered by the artists themselves, sometimes by their family and friends. Until it was proved otherwise, Jean-Georges Simon was believed to have been an acquaintance and supporter of Modigliani in Paris. Akos Zsoter, born 1895 in Budapest, is said by some to have been a classmate of Hitler. Out walking one day, they noticed a house being restored. Look, Hitler told Zsoter, those are the real artists.

Akos Zsoter self-portrait, 1950s

The problem with this story is that Zsoter was six years younger than Hitler, that he studied in Berlin not Vienna, and that he was the real artist. It is however true that he was, like Imre Goth, a pupil of Hitler’s favourite painter, Alfred Kampf, at the Charlottenburg Art School. The second story concerns Kenneth Clark, head of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee and director of the National Gallery during the Second World War, who became Lord Clark of Civilisation. He was apparently on hobnobbing terms with Zsoter, visiting him frequently in his West London studio and buying his oils. Whatever happened to them? What’s for sure is that Zsoter was an energetic participant in the London art scene from the time he arrived in 1937 to his death in 1983. He had a 1938 exhibition (shared with the sculptor Frank Kovacs) at White’s Gallery, showed during the war years with the London Group at the Leger Galleries, and, some 40 years later, shared an exhibition with Charlotte Mensforth at the Medici Galleries. He also showed at the 1967 Paris Salon. He died in London in 1983. Like Jean-Georges Simon, Zsoter had spent years on the Continent between leaving Hungary and arriving in London. He lived and worked in Germany and Holland, as well as in Paris. Like Henry Ripszam, he was captured fighting on the Russian front in the First World War and was imprisoned in Siberia. He exhibited there – in Irkutsk and then Petrograd – before returning to complete his studies in Budapest. Zsoter has an enthusiastic collector, the Worcestershire-based artist Malcolm Victory, who was also a family friend. His work, unrepresented in British public galleries, still occasionally comes to light at auction sales around Europe.

Klara Zsoter by Akos Zsoter, oil on canvas, 1940s. Click to expand.

Charles Rosner, London, 1940s

Charles Rosner

Rosner modestly called himself the arranger of the 1943 Hungarian Club graphics show. Without him, the exhibition wouldn’t have taken place. If by April 1943 he was no longer Hungarian correspondent of The Studio, that was because the Budapest-born typographer had acquired his own London publishing house, Sylvan Press, and was the go-between with institutions like the V&A.

Although he didn’t obtain British citizenship until 1947, Rosner, born 1902 in Budapest, commuted between Budapest and London from the early 1930s. He was editor of the journal Magyar Grafika at a time when Hungarian typography was in the van of Bauhaus modernism, while simultaneously establishing himself as a London man-about-town. He acquired Sylvan Press, where Val Biro was employed as illustrator and studio manager, starting out in publishing with patriotic wartime volumes celebrating the RAF like No bombs at all, stories by C.H.Ward-Jackson illustrated by Biro; It’s a piece of cake, RAF slang made easy, also by Ward-Jackson, illustrated by David Langdon; and All Buttoned Up, Langdon’s scrapbook of RAF cartoons; as well as the Royal Navy salute Roll on My Twelve. Sylvan Press was also known for publishing titles ranging around poetry and the arts in French as well as English and Hungarian. After the war, Rosner became joint-editor of Modern Publicity, the international advertising industry’s guide to creativity, and later joint-editor of Graphis - as well as being joint-organiser of the V&A’s 1949 International Book Jacket exhibition and author of The Art of the Book Jacket. Cooperation was in his blood. For the Festival of Britain Sylvan Press published Printer’s Progress 1851-1951, produced by the Wisbech-based quality printer Balding & Mansell on a variety of papers and edited by Rosner. His paper The Changing Background of the Poster was written for the Council of Industrial Design to mark the open-air International Poster Exhibition in London. In 1961 he was the art editor of Queen magazine’s centenary publication, The Frontiers of Privilege. From the mainstream of the burgeoning British design scene, Rosner kept a friendly eye on protégés like Klara Biller. He married an English wife Stella and lived in style just off Abbey Road, of Beatles fame. He died in London, 1972.

Book published by Charles Rosner's Sylvan Press in 1943. Click to expand.