Travel & Orientalism
(1850 - 1980 )
60 x 81 cm
Oil on canvas.
Erzsébet Sass Brunner, or as she signed her paintings in Hungary, Mrs Sass Farkas Böske learnt to paint from her husband, Ferenc Sass Brunner. Ferenc Sass passed on to his pupil the vision of light and colour and the view of nature of the Nagybánya school. Mrs Sass's early paintings (of which only a few have survived) were rich in colour and light effects. The paintings from 1925 to 1929 are on the one hand a humble reflection of nature, individually experienced, and on the other hand, they are often expressions of inner experiences related to natural experiences, often in a similar colour scheme. The experience of nature and the inner experience and visions often flow from one another, and a later sentence of Mrs Sass applies to almost both groups of works: 'Natural phenomena expressed my state of mind in my pictures'. At the heart of her visions is a "universal experience" in which Sun and Moon, Light and Darkness, God and Man, the Universe and the individual appear as identical.
Erzsébet Sassné Brunner arrived in India with her daughter in the winter of 1930, and they soon settled in Calcutta and then in Santinikentan. Santiniketan was also at this time an inspirational centre for modern Indian painting. Abanindranath Tagore (the poet's cousin) and Nandalal Bose, the proponents of the so-called 'Bengali school', were sympathetic to his paintings and artistic ideas. The Hungarian artist, in turn, became familiar with their aspirations and attempted to gloss over Indian nature and its vastly different and divergent artistic tradition. As he writes to Károly Lyka: "My paintings are mostly symbolic, but I also deal a lot with the Indian light vibration - the vibration of air, swimming in light almost without shadow, a serious and beautiful problem ... I see and find the essence in the scattering of colours of the eastern sunrise, in the sombre palm silhouettes, in the lotus lakes, which Lake Balaton first revealed." The Indian Landscape (1932) is one of a series of pantheistic, meditative paintings by Mrs Sass, made during her first tour of India (1930-1935), and is an excellent example of the kind of painting described in the letter quoted. In India, she and her daughter meditated several times a day. Morning rituals included greeting the rising sun and then bathing and cleansing in the lake. These are also reflected in his later pictures [e.g. Lotus Lake at Moonrise (1933), Buddha Meditation (1935), Nirvana (1935), reproduced in her book Mystic India]. In keeping with meditation practice, Mrs. Sass, concentrating on the still tolerable brightness of the sun, tries to experience and visualize the essence of light, luminosity, 'enlightenment'. With the setting sun and the rising moon, the colours seem to burn out, becoming quite neon or metallic, which reinforces the visionary character. In addition, the Indian landscape is reminiscent of a photographic negative, which renders an image in tones that are at odds with reality.
Mrs Sass Brunner knew Tagore and many of the heroes of the Indian struggle for independence. They met several times with India's great leader Gandhi, who was particularly attached to them. Mrs Sass captured this experience in painting. The painting "Gandhi's Evening Prayer" is treasured in the National Gallery of India. And the portrait of Gandhi was painted by Elizabeth Brunner to the great satisfaction of the Mahatma.