He was born in 1909, during the Danube monarchy in a town named Pécsvárad in the Southern part of Hungary; he grew up near the border between Slovakia and Hungary close into the Tatra mountain chain. The family name was Nágel. In Paris, after the Second World War, Endre’s brother managed the publishing house Edition Nagel. Endre chose the name Nemes that already existed in the family, as his artistic signature as well as his last name. He carried with him, the memories and the impressions from his youth, of the Slovakian folk art, Eastern Jewish tradition, a bit of German bureaucracy and Hungarian folk tradition. He became an undergraduate in Budapest, and continued for a short period of time to study Philosophy, in Vienna. He then returned to Slovakia and started to write for various newspapers.
During the period between the wars, Prague was a rich art center with artists such as Frantisek Kupka, Emil Filla and Willy Nowak. He departed for Prague in order to study at the Art Academy there, he wrote for Hungarian newspapers and drew caricatures for Czech newspapers; all the while he was becoming serious about becoming a real artist. In the periodical Prisma, 1949, Endre recounted about the intellectual impulses in Prague. His good friend throughout the years became the artist Jakub Bauernfreund, who while in exile in England, changed his name to that of Jacob Bornfriend. Many years later, Endre saw to it, that he had an exhibition in Sweden.
Endre visited Paris in 1933, and he had an exhibition in Prague, 1936. The artists in Der Blaue Reiter, obviously rendered him with impulses, in the same way he gained impressions through the symbolism and expressionism in Edvard Munch’s paintings. Oskar Kokoschka was very significant for him. His journey to Paris would strengthen his impression of Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Chagall and Miró. Endre carried with him a wealth of impressions, and for him it became important, in a personal way to combine the expressive multitude of colors, with the abstract discipline of form.
Swedish art has gained a wealth of impressions from the years between the wars in Prague, through the author J.P. Hodin and artists such as Peter Weiss and Jan Brazda. Endre Nemes came in the early forties to Sweden. During the thirties, he naturally felt unrest, due to the German expansion in Central Europe, and he contemplated going to Mexico, however the first stop became Finland. For a period of time he was teaching there; but was banished in 1940. He had an exhibition, in Oslo, in 1939 and thanks to that it became possible for him, to go there. Then came the German assault of Norway, and he succeeded in fleeing to Sweden.
In Sweden he was up against the prejudices, which can always be found in a small country. Ecole de Paris was the role model for Swedish artists if they did not become socially and sentimentally realists. Artists such as Kandinsky and Kokoschka had to wait, for comprehension from the Swedes. When Endre showed his works, it was looked at, as being “Central European” and strange. The critics seldom accept many free flowing directions at the same time, within the arts. One could actually talk about a specific mobbing of Endre through the years. However, as a contrast to this, there was a great many enthusiastic admirers of his art and his persona, with appreciation of his technical skill and profound education. Towards the end of his life he got to witness how his works were collected in a Public Museum, dedicated to his art in Pécs, in Hungary.
He had been marked by the changing art ideals of the thirties. In his dexterity there was a miraculous expressiveness, in the same way that his exceptional color sense showed admirable detentions. He could search towards Chagall’s and Miró’s symbolism, when he formed his personal memories. His works from the early forties, in monumental size, has a melancholic impression with combinations and ambiguities that connects to Arcimboldo. During the years 1947 to 1955, as the head of Valand Art School in Gothenburg, he executed large tempera paintings; he got monumental assignments and put graphics portfolios together. In the Hotel Lysekil, he executed a very large stucco-lustro-decoration, an enormous work, and a feast for the eye. Outside of Gothenburg, in Frölunda, he executed a large composition out of doors, in marble. In various places in Sweden, there were large compositions in enamel out of doors, which had been burned in the porcelain factory in Gustafsberg. As a teacher, he was disputed and criticized, because he broke away from the Gothenburg way of dealing with colors, but he reared a great many gifted artists. After the years in Gothenburg, Endre Nemes returned to Stockholm. He gained over time, an established position in the art circles. His exhibitions in Stockholm and around the world became successful. A visit to Prague made him horrified. They had there, come out of the Nazi ashes and into the all-consuming communistic fire. Endre told me about the communists in the concentration camps and how they informed on liberal cultural personas, so that they would be killed and thereby not be able to create difficulties for the communists, when they would take over after the war.
Throughout the years one finds the same sensitive signature and brushwork, the same modulated multitude of color, but the content and the motif transforms. He studied ex-rays, medical technical illustrations, which resulted in what seemed to be non-figurative compositions. He worked with images of nature as the form giver and he once told me, how his first journey by airplane contributed to the impression of new color perception and new compositions. Towards the end of the fiftieths, his art form seemed to be non figurative. The most important work from this period is the Blå spärren, an enamel painting, which can be seen in Skissernas Museum in Lund. After this period, Endre worked a lot with collage-compositions. In the same way as in the illusory work, bedriegeritje and trompe l’oeil, Endre succeed in repeatedly painting, so that one did not know if it was a collage or not. This technique satisfied his will to express the fine art, where different epochs were mixed with each other, somewhat like T.S. Eliot’s quotation specked poetry.
Endre died in Stockholm, in 1985. In the years after his demise, his works have been much thought after by museums and collectors. Having been much disputed, his art can now be seen as a real center of gravity, in the postwar art, in Sweden.
When the Soviet occupation came to an end, the Central European museums, in Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary showed a great interest in his art. With great hardship and much ambition, they have during the later decades managed to acquire works by him. Even they now recognize, that Endre Nemes holds an important place in their tradition of art, from the time between the wars and the time after the war.
Today, when Endre Nemes should have been one hundred years old, his art is far from old. It displays a vigorous artistic temper, a will for continuous renewal and ability for the classic designs. Many artists of our time look at his works, as created by a predecessor. He is a current master.
Uppsala, August 2009
Fil. Dr, Professor Emeritus
Translated by Anette Lindegaard