Gyula Tornai (Hungarian, 1861 – 1928)

The Moor


Gyula Tornai (Hungarian, 1861 – 1928), The Moor, oil on canvas, signed lower right, 16.5″ x 20″

Gyula Tornai was born in 1861 in a small town in Hungary known as Görgö. He received his artistic education at the academies in Vienna, Munich and in Benczur’s studio in Budapest, where he studied under prominent artists such as Hans Makart and Gyula Benczúr. Tornai’s style was heavily influenced by Makart’s aestheticism and tonality known as Makartstil (“Makart’s style” in German).  He exhibited in London, Paris and in the Budapest Art Gallery in 1909 and in the National Salon in 1917. He began his career painting the genre scenes that were so popular in the last quarter of the 19th Century. After his travels to India, China, Japan and Morocco, his themes changed to depictions of the varied and exotic places and customs of those destinations. Tornai stayed in Tangier from 1890 to 1891, and in 1900 he exhibited many of the works he completed abroad at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. 

In 1904, Tornai offered a significant number of works from these journeys for sale in Budapest in order to finance an artistic adventure to India and Japan. The sale of the paintings was a great success and in the summer of 1905 the artist set off for the Far East. He began his Japanese foray by painting a portrait of the former Japanese prime-minister Count Okuma, and with this influential patron, Tornai was allowed access to aspects of Japanese life which were often hidden from Europeans at the time and enabled the artist to delve deeply into the world of Buddhism and Shintoism. Over the next sixteen months, Tornai traveled throughout the Land of the Rising Sun and visited Nara, Kyoto, Nikko and Nagoya. 

Upon his return from this two year journey which included a tour in India, the artist gathered together sixty large canvases and several studies and sent them on exhibition through several major European cities, including London, Paris, Hamburg, Dresden, Leipzig and finally Budapest in the autumn of 1909. Tornai often designed the frames for his paintings to complement the subject matter. His paintings are now featured in the Hungarian National Gallery.