Let me first mention some of my sources: firstly, there are local press reports on burglaries, fights and trials; secondly, there is a registry of voters from the 1930s and 1940s which could provide family names and addresses; thirdly, there are documents from the county court, manor and township, as well as litigation documents; finally, there are documents that focus on hygiene. Unfortunately the archive of the colony was burnt down in a fire in the 1940s, and hence personal letters etc. are not available for research.
The Name of the Model Is György Nana
There is one model with a name: György Nana. He often stood as a model for August von Pettenkofen and Sándor Bihari, and even carried Pettenkofen’s equipment.
Pettenkofen, who was originally a lithographer, served as an Austrian soldier in the 1848–49 revolution, but then he exchanged his weapon for a paintbrush and started painting and making illustrations about the battles. Either the fact that his father was born in Hungary or his friendship with Georg Plach led to Pettenkofen’s attraction to Hungary, and he spent the summers in Szolnok from 1853 until his death in 1881. The first time he visited this part of the country was in 1853, as evidenced by some of his sketches of the Tisza river.
He was interested in three themes in Szolnok: the colourful movements and arrangement of the crowd (in the market, where the Fehérlófia pub and the Magyar Királyi Szálló café were sited), the ‘Gypsy’, and the simple life of the peasant. His attraction to the ‘Gypsy’ was based on racial differences, appearance, habits and the original and unique lifestyle:
‘The Gypsy is the Bedouin of the Great Plain. While dispossessed and poor as a dervish in the desert, having but a leaky tent, a hovel looking like a ground squirrel’s hole, one or two nags and lots of children, they nevertheless rejoice and enjoy life [...].’
We should also consider his working method: he would make hundreds of sketches in Szolnok and then elaborate just a few of them back in Vienna.
Sándor Bihari was thirty years younger than Pettenkofen. His parents barely made ends meet and he experienced deep poverty and a tough childhood as a Jew. He was already in his mid-twenties when a benefactor discovered him and supported his studies abroad, in Paris. In 1885 he moved to Szolnok and later became one of the founders of the colony.
Pettenkofen’s work Der Fechter [The Fencer] introduces us to a man wearing a loose shirt and a pair of trousers. He seems to be fighting, for his fists are clenched; perhaps he is between two punches. His shirt is half-open – it might have been torn by his opponent. He seems tired and wild but focused. He might need to protect himself. The rest is up to the viewer to imagine: what the purpose of the fight could be, who his opponent is, how the fight will end, etc.
Bihari’s painting Bíró előtt [In Front of the Judge] narrates a whole story. We see Roma musicians charged with some offence and taken to the local judge for justice. The hierarchy between Roma and non-Roma is immediately visible, not only through their outward appearance but also by means of their pose and gestures. The Roma seem as if they have survived a fight: the violin is broken and a bloody handkerchief is hanging out of the pocket of one of the Roma. They seem to be complaining about the fight as if it was an undeserved attack than rightfully seeking justice.
It is an interesting exercise to look for differences in how the fighter and the musician are represented, and consider how one approaches these differences. In my view, both are exposed to some powerful other and have to fight. Nonetheless, I see more dignity in Bihari’s painting. In this case, the emphasis is less on someone’s attributed (imagined) qualities and more on language, a skill that has to be learned and practiced in order to prevail. In this painting the subaltern is speaking.
Life in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
The life of the art colony came to an abrupt halt in World War I: the majority of the painters had to perform military duty while their relatives were expelled from the colony and a field hospital was set up in the studios.
Following the end of the war, life slowly returned to the colony. The first public exhibition was opened in 1927 and a new era was set to begin with Vilmos Aba-Novák, Tibor Pólya, Pál Pátzay, Eszter Hollósné Mattioni, Adolf Fényes and Ferenc Chiovini. In the following I will focus on the 1930s through the lens of historical documents. This historical period in Hungary as well as in Europe generally is fundamentally characterised by the racialisation of various groups of people. Thus, although my research is interested in naming the local Roma population, the backbone of my analysis is to unpack the transformation of the ‘Gypsy question’ into the ‘Gypsy problem’.
While looking through documents in the archives in order to understand what happened in Szolnok in the 1930s with the local Roma, I did indeed encounter names. Just as the model named György Nana was painted at some point in the early 1920s, so too did the following Roma inspire artists in the 1930s:
János Nagyhajú, Lajosné Nagyhajú, Lászlóné Fazekas, Samu Rostás, Mária Pege, János Rozsár, Gábor Frigor, Pálné Rozsár, Józsefné Kadet, Róza Rozsár, Zsigmondné Rozsár, Lajos Horváth, István Nagyhajú, Béla Varga, Gáborné Horváth, Istvánné Nagyhajú, Sándorné Sántha, Lajos Frigul, Sándor Spiru, Mihályné Horváth, Piros Bagi, Lajos Szabó, Gusztáv Kóré, Rózsi G. Nagy, János Raffael, Menyhért Kállai, Sándor Horváth, Miklós Raffael, László Kiss, Péter Barna, Sándor Farkas, Lajosné Károlyi, István Kovács, Györgyné Balog, László Mondok, Sándor Kökény, Ferenc Göncző.
Let this text be a small monument to them. In the following, I will mostly rely on my research in the archives and make an attempt to introduce the Roma in Szolnok by looking at archival documents. I should note that these texts were produced in a historical period that was particularly influenced by racist ideologies, and thus a critical mind is needed to unfold a narrative – and become familiar with the names and the people – deprived from the violence within which it was born.
The Nazi persecutions of Roma were ‘de-centred’ and ‘de-synchronised’. This means that although there was general agreement on considering Roma to be enemies of the regime and thus anti-Roma regulations were coupled with racist conceptions, there was neither a central order nor any synchronised implementation of the persecution. According to Kapralski: