1901, Arad - 1946, Budapest
Erzsébet's painting career took a step back the moment she discovered her passion for children's book illustration and later for writing. Although she never followed through on her artistic studies by becoming a painter, the art classes she took were enough to provide her with the skills she needed to become the illustrator everyone at the Szentendre Painters' Society knew and loved.
Her art falls mostly in the category of graphic design and illustration, but there is a moment in her life when she was completely in love with painting. It was the time she spent her summers in Szentendre. Two dozen oil paintings, a hundred drawings, and studies survive to this day to tell the story of everyday life in Szentendre.
The calm before the storm
Erzsébet Kádár was born in Arad in 1901, under the name Csernovics.
At the time of her birth her family-owned land in Banat. After the Treaty of Trianon, her family lost their estate and fled, taking refuge in Budapest. However, before relocating with her family to Hungary, Erzsébet grew up in Arad until she finished her high school studies.
The beginning of Erzsébet the illustrator
Between 1924 and 1926, after her family fled from Banat, she studied at the Higher School of Fine Arts in Budapest, under the mentorship of István Szőnyi and Vilmos Aba Novák. She was able to study only for three terms and later she could only participate in lessons at free schools and in evening classes.
She lived with many shortcomings, having to support herself financially from the money she earned teaching drawing and graphic classes. Due to the early death of her father in 1931, she was forced to drop out of her school position as a teacher and take a job as an illustrator for the Budapest newspaper named Hirlap.
Erzsébet presented her work in many group exhibitions like the Szentendre Painters' Society, where she received favorable reviews. Inspired by the urban environment of the early 20th century, she spent many summers in Szentendre, where she worked on her paintings, including the "Summer afternoon" from our collection. The years between 1933 and 1936 represent the beginning of her career as a children's book illustrator. She successfully illustrated three books, which were published by the Literary Institute of Singer and Wolfner in Budapest.
Erzsébet the storyteller
In 1936, Erzsébet won a short story competition posted by the Nyugat magazine (an influential literary magazine), which kick-started her career as a writer. This was the time when she adopted Kádár as her pen name, instead of the original Csernovics, which has had a familiar ring in Szentendre for many generations. She gave up painting and, with great success, she managed to develop her passion for storytelling into a successful literary career, winning the Baumgarten Prize in 1940. She passed away in 1946 in rather mundane circumstances, due to a leaking domestic gas stove, at the age of only 45.
Illyés Gyula, Rónay György and Vas István considered Kadar Erzsebet as „one of the most talented short story writers in Hungarian literature"; “flawless writer”; "she is one of the richest and most perfect narrators.” Everyone wrote about her with appreciation, and not only after her tragic death at a young age, but also during her life. After ten years of painting, she left behind barely a decade of writing. Her choice of subject, the lyrical representation of the Transylvanian nobility and the sober depiction of the gentry lifestyle made her popular in the conservative literary journals, while modern literary papers were receptive to the subtle sensitivity, her precise language skills and the exceptional harmony of her tightly composed structures found in her writings.
Erzsébet Kádár's work has been forgotten for a long time partly because very few of her paintings are known. Her art was rediscovered and presented in an exhibition at the Petőfi Literary Museum in Budapest and the Szentendre Museum in 2020. In addition to the artist's literary heritage, several paintings were exhibited, including the one from our collection. Interestingly, it was originally owned by the writer and publishing director Endre Illés, the former colleague and editor of the writer, who in the mid-1930s became the artist's lover.
Below you can see a photograph of Illés Endre with the painting from our collection: