Miners before Going Down the Shaft (Miners' Prayer)

Július Szentistványi

Július Szentistványi – Miners before Going Down the Shaft (Miners' Prayer)
measurements: výška 235.5 cm, šírka 289.0 cm
work type: painting
object type: easel painting
genre: figurative composition
material: canvas
technique: oil
institution: Slovenská národná galéria, SNG
curator: Katarína Bajcurová
inventory number: O 931
tags: kôň baník kríž telo modlitba nazi looted art
in collections:
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The presented art work is characterized by exceptionally broad-minded idea and monumental size, unusual for the interwar modern art of Slovakia. Even though the artist represented the international academic style, the painting is characterized by a focused realistic vision free of embellishments or idealization, with a sense for expressing the inner tragedy of the captured scene as well as emphasizing the social-critical aspects of the subject shown.

Initially, he began studying mining engineering in Banská Štiavnica and from 1901 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich (1909-1914). He participated in the exhibition Neue Münchner Secession in Glaspalast (1914), where he was awarded a silver medal for his work (the available records disagree as to which particular painting attracted the award). From 1922 he taught figure drawing at the Industrial Art School in Budapest.

The main theme of his works was the life and hard work of miners. The large-scale painting Miners before going down the shaft (Miners’ prayer) was created during his stay in Munich. The first owner of the painting was Eugen Bárkány, who probably also ordered its counterpart, titled Miner’s death / The death of a miner (1928, the Mining Museum in Gelnica).

Marian Váross (1971, p. 121, notes 247 and 248) writes that Bárkány was friends with the painter and also compiled his detailed biography (according to Váross the manuscript should be located in the archives of the Institute of Art History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, but it is currently missing).

Because they were Jewish property, both paintings were expropriated during the period of the Slovak state. The Mining Museum in Gelnica, where the painter’s father came from, expressed an interest in the painting (Švantnerová 2010, p. 304). After WWII both works were returned to the original owner who then sold them to the SNG and the city of Gelnica (from there, the second painting was transferred to the collections of the Mining Museum).

This work of art was acquired by the Slovak National Gallery in 1955 by the 19th purchasing commission, from Eugen Bárkány for 20,000 Czechoslovak crowns (according to the records of the purchasing commission at the FAA SNG). Július / Gyula Szent Istvány was born into the family of a mining clerk.

Katarína Beňová ● ŠVANTNEROVÁ, Jana a kol.: Tieň minulosti / The Shadow of the Past, Bratislava: Neinvestičný fond židovského kultúrneho dedičstva – Menorah, 2013.