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Hungarian Artists Alongside Greats in London Show at Royal Academy
Eugene Delacroix, Lion, 1848-1850. Watercolour, heightened with white, 15.2 x 20.2 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

By: Mike Collett-White

LONDON (REUTERS).- Hungarian artists hang alongside some of Europe's greatest painters in a new blockbuster exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts put together at the 11th hour after the original show fell through.

"Treasures from Budapest: European Masters from Leonardo to Schiele" opens on Friday and features around 230 works from the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest and Hungarian National Gallery.

The London exhibition was scrambled together in only a few months when a show featuring treasures from the Prince of Liechtenstein's collection was canceled in December following a dispute over the export of one of the prince's paintings.

Kathleen Soriano, director of exhibitions at the Royal Academy, said the Hungarian museums offered the institution "carte blanche" to select works for the show and within three months they had made their choices.

For the Hungarian partners, the exhibition at one of Britain's top galleries was a rare opportunity to showcase one of Eastern Europe's finest collections and teach the West something about the history of Hungarian art.

"First of all it helps focus London's cultural interest on East and Central Europe, and more specifically on Budapest," said Ferenc Csak, general director of the Hungarian National Gallery.

"Secondly, the idea is to choose a selection of Eastern European art and present it alongside the international artists," he told Reuters.

And so a 1711 self-portrait of Adam Manyoki, one of Hungary's foremost painters of the 18th century, hangs in the same room as portraits by the likes of Peter Paul Rubens, Frans Hals and Joshua Reynolds.

And Philip de Laszlo's portrait of Pope Leo XIII dated 1900 shows how he was inspired by earlier papal paintings which he would have seen while working in Rome, notably that of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velazquez.

The opening room of the exhibition is dominated by the towering "St. Andrew Altarpiece" from Hungary in 1512, made for a small village church and which survived Turkish and Protestant iconoclasm when many medieval religious works were destroyed.

At the heart of the exhibition is a selection of more than 80 old master drawings, which include works by Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Duerer and Giambattista Tiepolo.

Many came from the Esterhazy collection, acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts in 1871. The collection began in the 17th century and expanded during the rule of Prince Nikolaus II Esterhazy.

It includes one of the most priceless works in the exhibition, the so-called "Esterhazy Madonna" by Raphael, which an 18th century Esterhazy prince probably obtained from Austrian statesman and collector Prince Kaunitz.

Other highlights include two small, rare Renaissance sculptures, including "Mounted Warrior" which has been attributed to Da Vinci making it one of very few existing sculptures associated with the artist.

It is believed the piece may have been a bronze cast from a wax or clay model used in preparation for one of two monumental equestrian sculptures of rearing horses which were commissioned but never realized by the artist.

There is also the last portrait of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt painted by Mihaly Munkacsy just a few months before the musician's death in 1886.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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