• By: Dan Donovan

Hungarian Embassy Event ‘On The Road To Modernism’ is a Smashing Success

Amidst the backdrop of Ottawa’s vibrant political, diplomatic, business, and arts community, an impressive event unfolded at the Hungarian Embassy on Wednesday evening. Her Excellency Maria Vass-Salazar, Ambassador of Hungary to Canada, orchestrated a tribute to Hungarian art from the early 20th century to commemorate the anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution and Freedom Fight of 1956. The invitation-only soirée showcased a unique exhibition, curated by Dr. Olivér Botár, featuring works from Dr. Peter Forbáth’s private collection.

The event was met with such great interest that the embassy had to open a tent, as the number of guests exceeded the building’s capacity.

In 1956, following the Soviet suppression of the revolution, over 200,000 Hungarians fled their homeland, with nearly 40,000 finding refuge in Canada. Among them was Dr. Peter Forbáth, a young pediatrician whose appreciation for culture and the arts was nurtured from an early age in his upper-middle-class Hungarian family. While studying medicine, Dr. Forbáth’s mentor, renowned cardiologist Dr. Renée Fonó, and her husband László, both art enthusiasts, began collecting works of art.

The late 19th century marked a significant transformation in Hungarian art, with painters like József Rippl-Rónai leading the charge by integrating Hungarian art into the European scene. Rippl-Rónai launched an art movement and inspired a new generation to embrace this “new” Hungarian art, influenced by their French contemporaries. Alongside poet Endre Ady, these artists were close associates of the iconic Béla Bartók, the pianist and composer, and they stirred the Hungarian art world with their first exhibition in Budapest in 1909. Known as “The Eight’s,” they left an indelible mark on Hungarian art, akin to the Canadian Group of Seven, and laid the foundation for the development of Modernist Hungarian art.

Upon Dr. Renée Fonó’s passing in 1975, she bequeathed her art collection to Dr. Forbáth, whose connection to his homeland deepened after a lifetime of medical practice in Canada. Introduced to Her Excellency Maria Vass-Salazar through a mutual friend, Xaver Varnus, a world-renowned organist, the idea to showcase the collection for the Canadian public was born. The result is the exceptional exhibition, On the Road to Modernism.

ABOVE: (TOP LEFT) MP Adam van Koeverden offers opening remarks. (BOTTOM LEFT) Marcell Nagy and Dr. Peter Forbath with H.E. Ambassador Maria Vass-Salazar.

This exhibition not only features paintings from Dr. Forbath’s private collection but also pays tribute to Béla Bartók’s music, which was unveiled at “The Eight’s” second exhibition in 1911. Hungarian piano virtuoso Misi Boros specially recorded Bartók’s piano pieces for the event, providing a musical backdrop for the artworks. Marcell Nagy, the lead actor in the film Fateless, based on the Nobel Prize-winning book by Holocaust survivor Imre Kertész, was also present to provide an interpretation of modernist Hungarian poet Endre Ady’s works.

ABOVE: Dr. Peter Forbath, MP Adam van Koeverden, H.E. Ambassador Maria Vass-Salazar. RIGHT: H.E. Maria Vass-Salazar with Catherine Bélanger.

Ambassador Dr. Mária Vass-Salazar gave a speech at the event; MP Adam van Koeverden, Co-chair of the Canada-Hungary Parliamentary Friendship Group, Olympic and world champion kayaker, whose mother is Hungarian; Professor Péter Forbáth, the owner of the paintings, and Douglas Cardinal, world-renowned Canadian architect, designer of many famous Canadian and American buildings also offered their remarks.

ABOVE: Maya Cho, widow of author George Jonas, with H.E. Ambassador Maria Vass-Salaza. CENTRE: H.E. Maria Vass-Salazar with Vera Gara, Holocaust survivor and the Ambassador of Germany to Canada H.E. Sabine Anne Sparwasser. RIGHT: Georgia Morissette (recording artist Alanis Morissette’s mother) with H.E. Ambassador Maria Vass-Salazar.

The event was attended by the world-famous singer Alanis Morissette’s mother, who is Hungarian. Holocaust survivor Gara Vera, a descendant of the Pick family, and the widow of famous writer George Jonas were also in attendance. Two senators, over 30 MPs and over 40 ambassadors attended the event.

The Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa realized this large-scale and unique cultural event with the support of the National Cultural Fund of Hungary, as well as with the sponsorship of CAE, Magna and Westjet, and the Canadian Peller Estates winery, whose owners also have Hungarian roots.

After the private event, the Hungarian Embassy opened its doors to the public on October 26 and 27 so Ottawa residents could view the historically significant artworks. The exhibition On the Road to Modernism offered visitors a chance to get up close and personal with “The Eight’s” works, allowing them to acknowledge an important milestone in the history of Hungarian art.

For those who missed this extraordinary event, the Embassy of Hungary in Canada welcomes you to explore more about their culture and activities at https://ottawa.mfa.gov.hu/eng.

HEADER IMAGE: Dr. Peter Forbath with H.E. Ambassador Maria Vass-Salazar.

Photos: Courtesy the Embassy of Hungary in Canada