Imre Szobotka, “Fiatalkori Onarckép (Self Portrait as a Young Man)”, 1912-14, Oil on Canvas, 45.5 x 38.2 cm, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest
Born in Zalaegerszeg, Hungary, in September of 1890, Imre Szobotka was a painter and engraver. Between 1905 and 1910, he studied at Budapest’s School of Design under painter Ignác Újváry. Szobotka traveled to Venice in 1908 for a study trip and traveled to Rome in 1909, this time accompanied by his friend Ervin Bossámyl. He relocated to Paris in 1911, where he lived at the residence of avant-garde sculptor and graphic artist József Csáky, one of the first Parisian sculptors to apply pictorial Cubism to his art.
Szobotka attended the 1911 Independent Salon in Paris, where he viewed the works of the Cubist painters. Inspired by their work and with the encouragement of his friend, the Cubist painter József Csáky, he enrolled at the La Palette School of Art in 1912, where he studied under Cubist painters Jean Metzinger and Henri Le Fauconnier. By the spring of 1913, Szobotka’s works, exhibited in the Independent Salon, were already noticed by the French critics, including writer and critic Guillaume Apollinaire.
During World War I, Imre Szobotka was interned as a prisoner of war, starting in 1914 in Bretagne and later, at Saint Brieuc, France, until his release in 1919. The landscapes, still lifes, and portraits made in the internment period were experiments in cubism, symbolism, and orphism, a cubist offshoot that focused on abstraction and bright colors. These works, rare examples of Hungarian Cubism, included his 1914 “Pipe Smoker”, the 1916 “Sailor”, and watercolor illustrations he produced for poet Paul Claude’s “Revelation”.
After his return to Paris in 1919, Szobotka’s paintings contained a more naturalistic expression. He exhibited this new work first in 1921 in Belvedere, a commune in the Vesubie Valley north of Nice, and, between 1929 and 1944, in shows at the Tamás Gallery, the Fränkel Salon, and the Mária Valéria Street gallery. The solid, defined construction of these landscape works by Szobotka insured him a place among the Nagybánya artists, whose work was focused on plain-air painting.
Imre Szobotka was a founding member of Képzőművészek Új Társasága, the New Society of Fine Artists, and presented his work in its exhibitions. For his 1929 “Mill in Nagybánya”, he won the landscape award presented by the Szinyei Society, an artistic association founded after painter and educator Pál Szinyei Merse’s death to promote new artists. Szobotka would later enter the “Mill in Nagybánya” at the 1938 Venice Biennial. In 1941, he won the Szinyei Society’s grand award for his exhibited work.
From 1945 onward, Szobotka produced some graphic work; however, his main concentration was on his landscapes. He spent his last summers in the countryside near the village of Zsemmye where he painted pastoral landscapes. Szobotka became president of the painting division of the Fine and Applied Arts Alliance in 1952. For the body of his work, he received the Munkácsy Award in 1954 and the Socialis Work Order of Merit in 1960. Imre Szobotka died in March of 1961, at the age of seventy, in the city of Budapest.
Imre Szobotka’s “Self Portrait as a Young Man” is one of the key creations of his Parisian years. It shows his embrace of the elements of cubism, particularly the coloring and abstraction of its orphism branch. The main emphasis of the work is not the formal structure with its conventionally postured figure, but rather the way the light breaks its components into prisms of color. Szobotka emphasized his sense of light value and his translucent colorization to form a refined play of reflections, which cut the painting’s solid forms into colored shards.
Imre Szobotka, “Sailor”, 1916, Oil on Canvas, 35 x 29 cm, Janus Pannonius Museum, Péca
Imre Szobotka, “Gathering Apples”, 1930, Oil on Canvas, 55 x 76 cm, Henman ottó Museum, Miskolc
Imre Sobotka, “Self Portrait”, 1912, Oil on Cardboard, 53 x 45 cm, Private Collection