Art Nouveau was a popular art movement from the 1890s to the 1910s in Europe, influencing both architecture and design to a great extent. Budapest, as one of the centers of the Eastern European art world, was granted many stunning examples of Art Nouveau architecture that are well worth to explore. We’ve collected the most significant ones below.
What is Art Nouveau?
This unique style of art, applied art and architecture means “new art” in French and was created at the turn of the 19th century as a reaction against the formalism of academic art and mass production. Art Nouveau is often referred to as Jugendstil (German), Modernisme (Catalan) or Secession Style and is characterized by natural, free-flowing forms, floral patterns, animal motifs, and colorful mosaic inlays. Instead of the regular geometric shapes, the windows and doors were curved, and modern materials, such as glass, iron, ceramics and concrete were used to create unusual forms and large open spaces. Art Nouveau became so popular that it swept across Europe and Hungary – as part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy – was no exception. This was the time when Budapest and Vienna were twin capitals of the monarchy and Budapest was flourishing. Many new buildings were built in this era and population tripled. Hungarian artists were greatly influenced by the Viennese Secessionism and soon the Hungarian Art Nouveau called “Szecesszió” was born.
Hungarian secession style architects
Frigyes Spiegel was the first to use Art Nouveau elements in his design, but the founding father of Hungarian Art Nouveau is undoubtedly Ödön Lechner, whose importance is best defined by the fact that he is called the “Hungarian Gaudi”. He combined traditional Hungarian folk art with colorful, Far Eastern and Indian motifs and decorated his buildings with colorful terracotta tiles. Other significant architects of the Hungarian Secession style include Károly Kós, Emil Vidor, Béla, Lajta, Gyula Pártos, Marcell Komor and Géza Maróti.
Examples of Budapest Art Nouveau
Museum of Applied Arts (Iparművészeti Múzeum)
Location: 1091 Budapest, Üllői út 33-37.
Year of construction: 1893-1896
Architects: Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos
Ödön Lechner’s first masterpiece in secession style is mixed with elements of French Renaissance and was built just in time to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the foundation of the Hungarian state. The ornamentation displays influence of Hungarian folk art as well as Far Eastern and Indian elements while the facade and the roof are decorated with Zsolnay ceramic tiles. Even the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz Joseph I visited the building although he found the architectural style too modern and expressed his dislike. The building is currently under construction, so it can’t be visited. Reconstruction work finishes in December 2020.
Location: 1075, Budapest Izabella u. 94-96.
Year of construction: 1896
Architects: Frigyes Spiegel and Fülöp Weinréb
The beautifully decorated Lindenbaum Houses were the first buildings in Budapest where Art Nouveau style was used. The design was so new and unfamiliar that the buildings were criticized for being too colorful and kitschy. Unfortunately, only one of the two houses have been restored to its previous glory (Nr.94). On the facade of the renovated house, the colors green, yellow and blue dominate. Both buildings are decorated with a great number of gilded ornaments, including sun disks, stars and peacocks, surrounded by colorful animal and plant representations. The theme focuses on the four elements from which two – Earth and Air – are visible on the renovated house.
National Institute for the Blinds (Vakok Intézete)
Location: 1146 Budapest, Ajtósi Dürer sor 39.
Year of construction: 1899-1904
Architects: Sándor Baumgarten and Zsigmond Herczegh
One of first institutes for the education of the blind in Europe was founded in Hungary in 1825, on the initiative of Archduke Joseph. The building was constructed between 1899 and 1904, displaying oriental and Hungarian Art Nouveau influences. The concert venue Nádor Hall has retained its original furnishings and decorations. Its huge stained-glass window is the work of Imre Zsellér, apprentice to Miksa Róth from 1930. It portrays Archduke Joseph among others figures. The first word of the original inscription on the façade, ‘Royal Institute for the Blind’ was at one point changed to ‘National.’ The institute today is called School of the Blind.
Gresham Palace (Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palota Budapest)
Location: 1051 Budapest, Széchenyi tér 5-6.
Year of construction: 1907
Architects: Zsigmond Quittner, László and József Vágó
One of the most emblematic buildings in Budapest is the Gresham Palace, built in 1907 as the Budapest headquarters of the Gresham Insurance Company. The portrait on the façade is of Sir Thomas Gresham, the original owner, made by Ede Telcs. Inside, the ground floor is lined with shops and is open to the public. The tiles are produced by the Zsolnay Factory, while the Venetian mosaics and the stained-glass windows are made by Miksa Róth. The irony is that the building that is considered one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Central Europe was not appreciated in its time. It was severely destroyed during WW2 and the subsequent communist era. It was however fully restored by 2004 and operates as a luxury 5-star hotel since then.
Bedő House of Hungarian Art Nouveau (Magyar Szecesszió Háza – Bedő ház)
Location: 1054, Budapest, Honvéd utca 3
Year of construction: 1907
Architect: Emil Vidor
The pistachio-green colored building is named after its owner, Béla Bedő, the wealthy factory and mine owner. It reflects the influences of French and Belgian Art Nouveau. Emil Vidor, the architect of the house, not only designed the building, but also the interior designs of the apartments of the Bedő family. Along with many of his contemporaries, Vidor believed that Art Nouveau should be not just a style, but a way of life. Built in 1907, the building still belongs to the heirs of the owner, and houses the Museum of the Hungarian Art Nouveau and the associated café, which is covered with contemporary posters, paintings and furniture. The building is home to a small museum where period furniture, ornaments, paintings and utensils evoke early twentieth-century middle-class life.
Gellért Hotel and Bath
Location: Budapest, Szent Gellért tér 2, 1114
Year of Construction: 1912-1918
Architects: Artúr Sebestyén, Izidor Sterk and Ármin Hegedűs, 1909-1918
The beautiful bath complex in Hotel Gellért is one of the most significant examples of Hungarian Art Nouveau. It was the first luxurious establishment of the Hungarian capital, and at that time, it was the most modern bath in Europe. The thermal baths are decorated with turquoise Zsolnay mosaic tiles and stained glass, while its main hall with gallery and glass roof is also built in Art-Nouveau style. Gellért Bath was open even during World War II. Towards the end of the war, the prestigious Art Nouveau women’s thermal bath was bombed, destroying the Zsolnay pyrogranite facade and the wooden interior of the dressing rooms. The 2008 reconstruction however restored the bath to its original splendor.
The Elephant House at the Budapest Zoo
Location: 1146, Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 6-12
Year of construction: 1865
Architect: Kornél Neuschloss
Some may think that the Budapest Zoo is an unlikely location for Art Nouveau architecture, but it does have some secession style constructions, among them the main gate, the view tower and the Elephant House. The Zoo in Budapest first opened in 1866, but closed for reconstruction between 1909-1912. It was during this time that the construction of the main gate and the Elephant House was entrusted to Kornél Neuschloss. The secession style building features Zsolnay majolica roof tiles and glazed ceramic, hippo, elephant and rhino heads.