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10 augustus 2020 

Sensual Lust and Life In the Drawings of Court Painter Mihaly Zichy

Mihaly Zichy (1827-1906) was a Hungarian painter living and working in Russia. In his twenties, Zichy gained popularity with paintings on religious and medieval themes and was invited to the Russian court as a drawing teacher of princess Ekaterina Mikhailovna. However, what brought him to the court, later almost wiped his court career out.

Too Liberal

When Zichy created a portrait of Batthyany, who was a leader of the Hungarian government during the local revolution and took the side of revolutionaries, his views were considered as too liberal. In the 1850s, Zichy had to earn his living working as a retoucher. His reputation was partly restored by French poet Theophile Gautier after the latter had dedicated to him a chapter from the book “Voyage en Russie” (“Travel to Russia“).

mihaly-zichy-drawings

Fig. 1. Mihaly Zichy, 1881. (Wikipedia.org)

Praise of Gautier

The poet was so amazed by Zichy’s watercolors that he wrote the whole chapter observing his works along with the Moscow Kremlin, the Winter Palace, and the Isaakievsky cathedral in Saint-Petersburg. “Florentine Orgy” was the first painting that impressed Gautier (we didn’t find it on the web and replaced with a close analog “Merrymaking”):”There was a depiction of a Florentian orgy of the 16th century. Noble seniors, true satyrs, ancient pieces of the past elegancy, were finishing their supper with young courtesans. Jars, vases, bonbonnieres, boxes with flavor, which were created by great Benvenuto Cellini, sparkled on the empty and messy table, wine leftovers shone like rubies, fruits with their leaves, which hadn’t withered yet, rolled down the enamel trays.

Tiresome

<…> The painter had an intuition for the true pictorial art and could curve the human body at any angle, in a way that even the model couldn’t show herself with that great easiness to which only genuine masters are destined. <…> Everything was excellent in terms of the color, the idea, the stroke, the skill. With a light but timely stopped touch of a caricature as, however, the fine art is a solemn phenomenon, but a motionless expression is tiresome.”

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 2. “Merrymaking”, Zichy (pictify.saatchigallery.com)

The Knight in the Painter’s Skin

1859 Zichy was appointed to the position of the court painter. Until 1873, he stayed on as an artist who specialized in depicting the royal family. At this period, Zichy founded a society to support painters in need as he remembered the late 1840s when he lacked money himself. After 1873, he traveled around Europe and painted large pictures for the European authorities and world exhibitions. In 1881, when Zichy was in Georgia, he was commissioned to create illustrations for the poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” by Shota Rustaveli. The epic writing struck Zichy so much that he refused to take payment from commissioners after finishing his work, which consisted of 35 pictures.

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 3. Illustration for Rustaveli’s poem, 1880s

The Sensual Synopsis of Life

Zichy’s pictorial legacy includes numerous works on a sensual theme. In his drawings, the artist shows how erotic tension goes through human existence from the infancy to late years, which makes these images close to shunga pictures. We can see here different variations of sensuality, sometimes, very grotesque like pedophilia. However, the most memorable and beautiful pieces have a mythologic ground. We mean copulation of two centaurs of different genders, which can be rarely seen in art (fig. 4). The rape scene with a centaur and a woman (fig. 5) probably has its’ origin in a well-known Greek story about the abduction of Deianira, who was a wife of Hercules, by centaur Ness. Hercules killed Ness with his poisonous arrow, which you can see in the picture. The series of erotic pictures by Zichy displays Eros, though in a satiric way, as a universal power that rules over reality and fiction, young and old, kids and adults, males and females.

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 4. Coupling centaurs

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 5. Deianira and Ness (in inscription below the name “Dejanire” can be read – erotic-cart.com)

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 6. Sleeping infant holding his penis*

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 7. “First impressions

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 8. “Horny old man with a child

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 9. “Copulating kids

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 10. “Old lady doing a blowjob to a boy

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 11. “Young boys masturbating and exploring each other

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 12. “Adolescent touching himself and his friend

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 13. “Young man masturbating at the toilet.

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 14. “Young man copulating with an old woman

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 15. “Maidservant doing fellatio

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 16. “Man performing cunnilingus

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 17. “Reversed lying cowgirl position

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 18. “Lying doggy-style

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 19. “Missionary (man standing on the knees)

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 20 “Side-by-side (missionary)

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 21. “Cowgirl position

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 22. “Doggy-style position”

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 23. “Standing missionary

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 24. “Travelers (missionary)

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 25. “Reversed cowgirl position

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 26. “Woman stimulating a partner’s penis

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 27. “Missionary (man standing)

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 28. “Missionary with a pregnant woman

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 29. “Sex with a breast-feeding woman” (this position can often be met in shunga, look fig. 29)

Keisai Eisen (1790-1848). Date: c.1825. Series: Tama no Utena.

Fig. 30. Piece by Keisai Eisen (1790-1848). Date: c.1825. Series: Tama no Utena. (akantiek.nl)

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 31. “Artist and his model

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 32. “Painter performing cunnilingus at his workplace

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Fig. 33. “Cunnilingus

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Fig. 34. “Cunnilingus

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 35. “Woman touching penis of her lover

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 36. “Lovers

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Fig. 37. “Cunnilingus

Mihaly Zichy drawings

Fig. 38. “Reversed cowgirl position

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Fig. 39. “After copulation

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Fig. 40. “Genitalia close-ups

Click HERE to check out the boisterous erotic drawings of the hedonistic Thomas Rowlandson….!!

*Pictures from fig. 6 to fig. 33 are taken from honesterotica.com

Sources: Готье Т. Путешествие в Россию / Пер. с франц. и коммент. Н. В. Шапошниковой; Предисл. А. Д. Михайлова. М.: Мысль, 1988. 396 с.
wikipedia.org, eroti-cart.com, honesterotica.com, roningallery.com, pictify.saatchigallery.com

About the author
Darya is a philologist who lives and works in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She is specialized in Russian literature.
JB
By

JB

on 10 August 2020

Zichy is undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of his time and his depictions of sex acts attest to that. This said, his work is almost surgical, photographic. He was, so to speak, a "documentarian" --- thus his depictions of sexual intercourse that cover a broad spectrum of themes, including mythological, pedophilia, etc. To state that "the artist shows how erotic tension goes through human existence from the infancy to late years, which makes these images close to shunga pictures" is pushing it into the realm of the unacceptable. First, his work is "not erotic" there is no "erotic tension" in it; Zichy's work is as matter of fact as matter of fact can be, and all it does is present different situations; almost as if he was there, camera in hand, snapping the instant, "There, that's how it's done!" only his camera is his eye and his artistic skill fixes the moment. A medical manual of sex would use his work. Then to say that his work, just because it depicts themes that are similar in subject matter to Shunga is "close to Shunga" is something one must question. Shunga is Shunga because of its aesthetic qualities and the way themes are treated, the color is used, the props displayed, thecatory told. Just because in both forms of art sexual encounters are depicted it doesn't make the work similar, other then in the themes being treated, nor makes them close. All the works have in common is that they depict sexual acts. Zichy's work, however, are as far from being Shunga as a Seurat is of being a Van Gogh. Picasso's erotic works are far closer to Shunga than Zichy's. In Picasso's work, yes, there is erotic tension, at times an intentional exaggeration of the forms and bodies, attitude, yet, it's not Shunga either we are talking about. There are parallels, mythical themes and ghosts, rape scenes, the artist and the model or lover together tell a story, but that's where it all ends. Likewise with Zichy's work.

JB
By

JB

on 10 August 2020

Typos!!! Should read "props displayed, the story told." Sorry about that.

Darya
By

Darya

on 10 August 2020

You may remember that shunga itself means 'spring pictures", so yes, Zichy's works are spring pictures as they're related to sex, I take it this wide, so you may disagree if you wish. In fact, shunga does not differ much from Western depictions of sex, because they all are about the same (poses, bodies), excluding the Eastern artists' attention to fabric and clothing, which later Klimt will use in his works. The words about erotic tension are said mainly because of drawings like "First impressions" (fig. 7) as it doesn't show the sex act itself, however, it's still erotic and it's about how erotica comes into our lives from the beginning. That's all.

Darya
By

Darya

on 10 August 2020

About Zichy's fixing the moment: look at any work of Keisai Eisen, especially the one where geisha is looking at the viewer (Ehon fuji no yuki, 1824), and show at least one specific feature that differs this design from modern pornographic photos or films with actress staring at the camera. Moreover, shunga WAS treated like a sex manual by some Japanese consumers as you know, so I don't see any reason why works of Zichy can't be compared to it.

JB
By

JB

on 11 August 2020

Darya, Thank you for your feedback. Art lovers are as varied as artists are. I am both, and the funny thing is that I even have different ways of experiencing art as a collector, observer and creator, and at times, I have to disagree with myself on certain things. It's the old "me, myself and I" having a discussion about "the way things are" and not being able to agree on it and having to, well, simply agree on disagreeing. And that's ok. Makes it all even more interesting and exciting! The way we experience things is different because we are different and our ways likewise differ. The Japanese imported their language from China. The term Shunga or Chun Hua (春画) is originally Chinese, yet, when I think of "Shunga" I do not include the Chinese and their Chun Hua in the same group. I simply can't. For some reason Shunga, and Japanese woodblock prints influenced the impressionists, and not Chinese Chun Hua. I don't have to wonder why to see the path and reasons, aesthetic qualities that, in my understanding, made that possible. You may look at a landscape (Shan Shui Hua) of Huang Shan in China, for example, and one of the views of Mount Fuji, and although they both are landscape paintings and depict the same ("mountains and waters") subject, they are as far apart as Hokusai and Shi Tao were. Each has qualities unique to themselves, but they simply are not the same and cannot the thrown in the same basket. My collection of art (and crafts) depicting human sexuality, erotica, etc., includes items ranging from prints, drawings, paintings to sculptures and what not, from Africa to Asia, Europe to America, and everything in between that I can find abd ibterests me, and cover areas such as ritual, naif, serious, humorous, medical, and more. Many are depictions quite similar to each other in expression, even intention, etc., yet, they aren't classifiable as Shunga, anymore than a small carving of a representation of copulation can be called "a kamasutra" as is so common to find these days on the internet, on auction sites, etc. I find it enerving when I see those and it's not only because it's a search word that will translate into hits and a possible sales, it's just because people equate "sex" and "kamasutra" as being the same; they aren't. There are many other parallels that I could give as examples, from other artists that also left us erotica in one form or another, Ungerer, Barbe, Becat, just to mention a few. Not Shunga, none of them. Any similarities only show that we all enjoy sexual intercourse in similar ways. Same, as far as I am concerned, when it comes to the subject of our discussion here, so I think we'll have to agree on disagreeing, you see common elements in Zichy's work and Shunga. To me, they are similar only because they depict sexual interaction, and that's all. But let's rejoice together in the fact that the world is so rich and offers us so much variety, both in all sorts of things to be appreciated, including art, as in people to enjoy them and sharing them. Thanks again for your input. Much appreciated.

Darya
By

Darya

on 11 August 2020

The funniest thing is that you can't put in one basket not only Hokusai and Shi Tao, but even Hokusai and Kunisada, however, both artists created works that we define as shunga. All in all, It depends on artist's individuality, and when the artist develops his own recognizable style, it's always hard to treat his works as a manifestation of any genre because they're too individual and outstanding. When we speak of shunga in the most narrow sense, it's a term that can be used only to classify printed erotic images of the Edo period, according to some specialists. Nevertheless, modern books of reproductions with the word "Shunga" on the cover include sensual designs of both earlier and later periods, however, early simple pieces of the 16th century with noble couples are much closer to kamasutra than to shunga. I don't have problems with such wide understanding, however, it might seem to you profaning.

Darya
By

Darya

on 11 August 2020

And I'll allow myself (with a respect to your opinion of course) to point out that your own words on Zichy contain a reason to compare his works to shunga. you say: "This said, his work is almost surgical, photographic. He was, so to speak, a "documentarian" --- thus his depictions of sexual intercourse that cover a broad spectrum of themes, including mythological, pedophilia, etc". But when it comes to shunga, we must admit that spring pictures were a genre of ukiyo-e. The philosophy of ukiyo-e, according to Asai Ryōi, lies in the fixation of the moments of pleasure in this constantly changing universe. So, shunga artists are true "documentarians" of sex, and if you look at the diversity of shunga plots including myths, sex with pregnant and breast-feeding women, bath scenes, rape scenes and so on, you'll agree that the distance between Shozan and Zichy is not so immense. Your definition of Zichy suits Shunga artists very well. Even your word "photographic" comes to mind when we look at anatomically correct and detailed depictions of genitalia in shunga pictures. The only difference between shunga and Zichy's drawings is in the obvious fact that Zichy's not a Japanese artist of the Edo period working in this particular printing technique. But I never claimed this nonsense. Thank you for the discussion!

JB
By

JB

on 12 August 2020

My pleasure. I enjoyed the discussion myself and it's always interesting to see things through the eyes and understanding of another. As said previously, we all experience things differently. Our comments simply reflect that. I guess that it I try to boil it down to a reductionist, maybe even simplistic statement, I'd say that although all Shunga is erotica, most erotica cannot be classified as Shunga, and that is why I like Zichy's work, see the parallels in subject matter, but don't compare it to Shunga at all in aesthetic terms. We could take this discussion further. Even if we just speak of the aesthetics of Shunga (as I am referring to) do we consider Shunga any works that use elements of Shunga, but are not Shunga? I'm thinking of, for example, the series of prints by Erro. And what about "shunga" (quote, unquote) my artists that paint in oils or acrylics? Even Senju's work, since all he does is done on a pad and inkjet printed? Does "real Shunga" need to be produced traditionally, i..e., woodblock printed? Any thoughts on these? Thanks!

Darya
By

Darya

on 12 August 2020

These artists may be surely separated from authors like Erro. His works are a clever manipulation with culture codes, when shunga is the element of the construction, the mean, not the purpose.

Darya
By

Darya

on 12 August 2020

Meh, my previous commet is lost. Before the comment on Erro I wrote that all artists like Senju can be called "neo-shunga artists" as far as they follow this tradition in accordance with their own understanding of it.

Marijn
By

Marijn

on 13 August 2020

Thanks again JB and Darya. It's all in the eye of the beholder. Shunga is the most prominent and extensive erotic art form in history, and has inspired many artists worldwide over the years. While Zichy's illustration of the woman who is breastfeeding (Figure 29) and Eisen's design (Figure 30) are similar, in terms of pose and theme, there is a good chance Zichy never saw a shunga in his life. He was mainly active during a time Europeans were not introduced to shunga yet. One of the appealing factors to me of ancient shunga is the fact that they were predominantly produced in the unique ukiyo-e woodblock medium. In the aesthetic experience, the ink-bleed through, the embossing, the use of gold and silver pigments and other techniques give it an exclusive charm difficult to approach nowadays. The well-known Japanese artist Takeda Hideo (1948) for instance honors the aesthetics of traditional prints (especially Kuniyoshi) but mainly uses the silkscreen medium, https://shungagallery.com/takeda-hideo/ Gudmundur Erro is firstly a pop artist who uses (like Darya mentioned) popular cultural elements and as far as I know his 'Made in Japan' series (1972) and his Nomad! painting (1979) https://shungagallery.com/gudmundur-erro/ are the only works he produced that included shunga elements and therefore were an incidental 'outing'. I agree with Darya, Senju falls in the category neo shunga. He uses elements of shunga and modern devices to create his work. In contrast to Erro, for Senju shunga is a starting point in his art. Over time, shunga has become a somewhat diffused term. Purists will refer to shunga as an exclusive ancient Japanese art form, while others use it more loosely and also include other Asian erotica.

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