The Encouter of a Century

Hungarian National Gallery
7 September - 22 October, 2006

The painting emerged from its unknown location at an auction of the Chicago based LESLIE HINDMAN AUCTIONEERS on 18th September 2005.

Jozsef Rippl-Ronai exhibited several works with variations of the title Girl with a Birdcage. Two of his Ladies with Birdcages were on display at his collective exhibition in the Hotel Royal in 1900. In another exhibition in Mercur-Palace in 1902 a Girl with Birdcage (study for a larger painting) was also exhibited.

In 1906 at the collective exhibition organized in the salon of the Hungarian Publishing Shareholder Co. "Könyves Kálmán"a Girl with a Birdcage was presented and at the auction held at the same location three items were listed as Lady with a Birdcage (watercolours), Girl with a Birdcage (oil painting) as well as Girl with a Birdcage.

It is with certainty that József Rippl-Ronai painted the lady with birdcage motive several times. According to the most recent researches none of these works were reproduced in connection with the exhibitions neither can they be identified with confidence by their titles.

At the turn of 1890-91 Rippl-Ronai was the first Hungarian painter who joined one of the antinaturalistic streams of modernism, the NABIS group in Paris. The antinaturalistic behavior combining several tendencies can be traced back to the Egyptian mural paintings, medieval illuminated manuscripts and tapestries, the Italian quattrocento painting, German renaissance painters, the Raffaello-Poussin-Ingres tradition, among the closer forerunners: the art of the Preraffaelites: Whistler, Moreau, and the art of Gauguin, the Japanese woodcuts and watercolors gaining an ever greater success in the second half of the 19th century.

It is very fortunate and significant that Rippl-Ronai started this new painting period with emblematic female figures. The Lady with a Birdcage painted in 1892 is based on this extremely complex theoretical and formal background where influences strike through the apparent simplicity of the works, creating the impression of a secret richness in the beholder.

According to the interpretation of the fin de siecle symbolism, women are the completeness of life. No matter she is an innocent young girl or a blooming maid, a respectful mother or high society prostitute (angel or demon) - a woman universally represented the hidden, indestructible side of human existence, the organic richness that invariably survived through the system of forms pressed (forced) upon her by different civilizations. Dressed in any kind of attire or getting rid of it, she transmits the timeless completeness of life.

The composition of the Lady with a Birdcage I. has a more tense, more audacious close-up than the second, more decorative version. The young woman's figure, standing with her waist bowing slightly backwards, almost stretches the frame. More characteristic and stronger than she is in the final version. The model can be recognized: the Rippl-Ronai's life companion and future wife Lazarine Baudrion.

The appearance of the Lady with a Birdcage I. is an extraordinary event from the viewpoint of the research of the Rippl-Ronai's oeuvre.