Anna Lesznai

Last updated
Anna Lesznai
Lesznai Anna1.jpg
Amália J. Moskowitz

(1885-01-03)3 January 1885
Died2 October 1966(1966-10-02) (aged 81)
Nationality American
(m. 1913;div. 1918)

Tibor Gergely
Children Andrew Jaszi, George Jaszi

Anna Lesznai (3 January 1885 – 2 October 1966) was a Hungarian-born American writer, painter, designer, and key figure in the Hungarian avant-garde.


Life and work

Amália J. Moskowitz (familiarly known as Máli) was born in Budapest. She grew up in Alsókörtvélyes (now Nižný Hrušov, Slovakia) on the country estate belonging to her father Geyza Moskowitz, a physician who had served as personal secretary to Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy. Her mother, Hermina Hatvany, was a member of the Hatvany-Deutsch family, one of the leading ennobled Jewish families of Hungary. The art patron Sándor Hatvany-Deutsch was her uncle, the writer Lajos Hatvany  [ hu ] her cousin. She adopted the pen name of Anna Lesznai after the neighboring village of Leszna (today Lesné, Slovakia). [1]

Multi-talented, she was recognized equally for her artwork and her writing. She studied art in Budapest with Károly Ferenczy and Simon Hollósy, later in Paris with Lucien Simon. In 1909 she joined the Constructivist-Expressionist group of Hungarian artists known as Nyolcak (“The Eight”), and in 1911 her work was shown as part of their second exhibition. Her painting and embroideries drew much of their inspiration from Hungarian folklore and folk art. [2]

Lesznai's early published writing includes essays, poetry, and original fairy tales. Beginning in 1908 she was a regular contributor to the literary journal Nyugat . She was also a member of the intellectual discussion group known as the Sonntagskreis (“Sunday Circle”) and maintained close friendships with its two principal founders, Béla Balázs and György Lukács. Both were responsible for her appointment in April 1919, during the Hungarian Republic of Councils, to a position in the Ministry of Education where she was charged with developing a new national arts curriculum.

Defying expectations for women of her time, Lesznai was bohemian in spirit and lifestyle. She married at the age of seventeen, bore a son, and then divorced soon after. In 1913 she married the sociologist and historian Oszkár Jászi, a leading figure in the Hungarian progressive movement and cabinet minister in the Hungarian Democratic Republic. Two sons who were later to become respected intellectuals in the United States resulted from the marriage: economist George Jászi (1915–1992), and the philosopher and Germanist Andrew Jaszi (1917–1998). Anna Lesznai and Oszkár Jászi divorced in 1918 but maintained a close lifelong friendship.

In 1919 Lesznai emigrated to Vienna along with sons George and Andrew and her companion Tibor Gergely (1900–1978), an artist and illustrator fifteen years her junior whom she knew from the Sunday Circle. The couple eventually married and, faced with the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, immigrated to the United States in 1939.

Settling in New York City, Lesznai continued her work in art education, lecturing and teaching classes in Hungarian art and design. In 1946 she opened her own school of painting. Her autobiographical novel Kezdetben volt a kert (“In the Beginning was the Garden”), on which she worked for thirty years, was published in German translation in 1965 and in the original Hungarian the following year. With regard to the recent revival of interest in Lesznai's life and work, Judith Szapor writes: “Young scholars, especially Petra Török and Csilla Markója […] consider the novel a masterpiece and argue that it should be valued equally for its historical sweep as a family saga, the psychological depth of her characters, and as a documentary source of the early-twentieth-century progressive scene it depicts.” [3]

Anna Lesznai died on October 2, 1966, in New York City. A major retrospective of her art was mounted by the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest in 1976. A permanent exhibition at the Hatvany Lajos Múzeum commemorates her life and work.

Selected works

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Karl Mannheim</span> Hungarian sociologist (1893–1947)

Karl Mannheim was an influential Hungarian sociologist during the first half of the 20th century. He is a key figure in classical sociology, as well as one of the founders of the sociology of knowledge. Mannheim is best known for his book Ideology and Utopia (1929/1936), in which he distinguishes between partial and total ideologies, the latter representing comprehensive worldviews distinctive to particular social groups, and also between ideologies that provide support for existing social arrangements, and utopias, which look to the future and propose a transformation of society.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Béla Balázs</span> Hungarian film critic, aesthetician, writer and poet

Béla Balázs, born Herbert Béla Bauer, was a Hungarian film critic, aesthetician, writer and poet of Jewish heritage. He was a proponent of formalist film theory.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Attila József</span> Hungarian poet

Attila József was one of the most famous Hungarian poets of the 20th century. Generally not recognized during his lifetime, József was hailed during the communist era of the 1950s as Hungary's great "proletarian poet" and he has become the best known of the modern Hungarian poets internationally.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mihály Károlyi</span> President of Hungary from 1918 to 1919

Count Mihály Ádám György Miklós Károlyi de Nagykároly was a Hungarian politician who served as a leader of the short-lived and unrecognized First Hungarian Republic from 1918 to 1919. He served as prime minister between 1 and 16 November 1918 and as president between 16 November 1918 and 21 March 1919.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Six Swans</span> German fairy tale

"The Six Swans" is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in Grimm's Fairy Tales in 1812. It is of Aarne–Thompson type 451, commonly found throughout Europe. Other tales of this type include The Seven Ravens, The Twelve Wild Ducks, Udea and her Seven Brothers, The Wild Swans, and The Twelve Brothers. Andrew Lang included a variant of the tale in The Yellow Fairy Book.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Margit Kaffka</span> Hungarian writer

Margit Kaffka was a Hungarian writer and poet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ildikó Enyedi</span> Hungarian film director and screenwriter

Ildikó Enyedi is a Hungarian film director and screenwriter. She is best known for directing On Body and Soul, which won the top prize at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival among other awards, and was nominated for a Foreign Language Academy Award.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">László Németh</span> Hungarian writer

László Németh was a Hungarian dentist, writer, dramatist and essayist. He was born in Nagybánya the son of József Németh (1873–1946) and Vilma Gaál (1879–1957). Over the Christmas of 1925, he married Ella Démusz (1905–1989), the daughter of János Démusz, a keeper of a public house. Between 1926 and 1944 they had six daughters, but two of them died in infancy. In 1959 he visited the Soviet Union. In the last part of his life he lived and worked in Tihany. He died from a stroke on 3 March 1975 in Budapest and was buried in Farkasréti Cemetery, Budapest, where he shares a grave with his wife.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ödön Márffy</span>

Ödön Márffy was a Hungarian painter, one of The Eight in Budapest, credited with bringing cubism, Fauvism and expressionism to the country.

László Dombrovszky was a Russian painter.

The Sonntagskreis was an intellectual discussion group in Budapest, Hungary, between 1915 and 1918. The main focus of the group was on the relationship between ideas and the social and historical context of those ideas, a line of thought that led towards the later concepts of "social history of art" and "sociology of knowledge".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jozsef Wolfner</span> Hungarian publisher

Jozsef Wolfner was a Hungarian publisher, founder of the publishing house Singer and Wolfner.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Olga Máté</span> Hungarian photographer

Olga Máté was one of the first women Hungarian photographers, most known for her portraits. She was known for her lighting techniques and used lighted backgrounds to enhance her portraits and still life compositions. In 1912 she won a gold medal in Stuttgart at an international photography exhibit. Perhaps her best-known images are portraits she took of Mihály Babits and Margit Kaffka. She was also an early suffragist in Hungary and during the Hungarian White Terror assisted several intellectuals in their escapes.

Andrew Oscar Jászi was a Hungarian-born philosopher and literary scholar. He taught as professor of German at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1948 to 1984.

János Vető is a Hungarian visual artist, photographer, video artist, musician, songwriter, singer and composer. He has been involved with non-conformist photo art, visual art and alternative music culture since the late '60s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Galileo Circle</span> Former student organization

The Galileo Circle was an atheist-materialist student organization that functioned in Budapest between 1908 and 1919. Their center was located at the Anker Köz in Terézváros, Budapest. The circle had several subgroups with four different world views: the radical liberals, the Marxists, the anarcho-syndicalists and the socialists. However they had common goals, which included the protection of free scientific research and thinking at universities, the cultivation of social sciences, the social assistance of poor students, the spread of anti-clericalist and atheist views, the support of anti-nationalism and promoting internationalism, the propagation of anti-alcoholism, the opposition to large estates and the "reorientation of Hungarian social perception".

Tibor Várnagy is known as a Hungarian fine artist, gallery director, curator and critic.

Ágnes Lukács was a Hungarian-Jewish painter, graphic artist and secondary school teacher. She was the daughter of the painter Gyula Lukács.

A Tett was a Hungarian magazine published by Lajos Kassák from 1915 to 1916. It advocated an anarchist-pacifist outlook. Kassák sponsored several activities opposing the war – exhibitions of avant-garde art by socialist painters and lectures by left-leaning intellectuals. He also published work by foreign "enemy" artists and writers. It was modelled on Franz Pfemfert's German magazine Die Aktion. It presented a challenge to Nyugat, the established literary journal in the Kingdom of Hungary.


Further reading