Biography

 

HUGO HOLESCH: REMINISCING ABOUT MY FATHER

 

horseshomeFather came into the world in 1910 in what was then Hungary, but would subsequently, following WW1 and the Treaty of Versailles become part of Czechoslovakia. What might have otherwise been an idyllic childhood in the picturesque Lower Tatra Mountains was overshadowed by these historical upheavals. And perhaps it was by way of escape from their aftermath that father entertained two dreams in his youth: to travel the world, and to become an artist. As fortune would have it father would realise both. As a young man he would travel to live and work in such exotic places as Pekin, the Phillipine Highlands among the headhunters, and the jungles of Bali. Later, after marrying the well-known Australian pianist, Joyce Greer, it would be in the great centres of the Western world, London, Paris, and New York among others. His work would be included in numerous collections, as well as museums, would be sold in innumerable galleries, and would receive international awards. He would never settle; a fact I believe reflected in his horse paintings for which he is best known. One’s first impression of these paintings might be of a lyrical celebration of freedom, of freedom of movement. On closer consideration however they reveal a tantalising sense of movement unresolved, of wistfulness, of yearning even, for ever unrequited. The horses one feels are as if suspended in space and time. They are indeed free, as free as clouds, but they will never touch ground.

And although he would repeatedly return to his native land, and die in Budapest in 1983, father, great adventurer and world traveller though he was, would never journey the few extra miles north to his home town, Banska Bystrica and those never to be forgotten mountains. Perhaps he was subject to that confusion of time and place, whereby under the albeit subconscious delusion of preserving them from the ravages of the former we forego the bitter-sweet experience of revisiting childhood haunts. Perhaps throughout his seemingly endless wandering, without quite realising it, father was ever on a quest for what he did not at the end of his life want to confirm as long since gone, that lost world of perceived order and innocence of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire of his early boyhood.

Hugo Holesch

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1910 – Denes Dezo George de Holesch was born on the 9th of February, 1910 in Banska-Bystrica, in Northern Hungary. He was the third child and youngest son of Hugo and Margit (nee Wagner) de Holesch. Like many of his ancestors Hugo was an architect. 1913 – From an early age he showed a keen interest in painting and horses. 1928 – Having completed a formal education, he won a scholarship to the Hungarian Faculty of Fine Arts in Budapest. 1933 – After completing his degree he travelled to the Orient, and produced works in Korea, Manchuria and North China. He remained in China for the next three years, visiting Soochow, Hangchow, Peiping and Shanghai. He would produce portraits, city- and landscapes in oil, as well as lithographs of Chinese subjects. His exposure to Chinese art, with its economy of line, would greatly influence his subsequent development as a painter.

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1935 – A large exhibition of his Chinese studies was held at the Foreign Y.M.C.A., 150 Bubbling Well Road, Shanghai. 1936 – In June, he exhibited his works at the Peiping Institute of Fine Arts, Nan Ho Yen, Peiping, and left China soon after, travelling through Hong Kong to Japan, where he briefly stayed, before moving to the Philippines. He at first lived in the mountainous northwestern Luzon area with a tribe of Igorot headhunters, then moved to Manila where he painted landscapes depicting the local natives and the exotic tropical flora. In July, he gave an exhibition of his work in the Manila Hotel, and in August, painted the portrait of President, Manuel L. Quezon. In December, he opened a studio.

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1937 – He left the Philippines and travelled to Java and then on to Bali. Here he continued to paint the natives at work and at play and the natives helped him to construct a house from the local timbers. 1938 – He was invited by Mr Hugh Stuart, General Manager of the Sydney Morning Herald, to join the Australian Government backed Northern Australian Expedition as the official artist. He arrived in Australia, and set off on the three-month expedition from Government House, Darwin on the 21st of September. The expedition is described by its naturalist, Charles Barrett, in his monograph, Koonwarra. The artist would meet King Billie and other aborigines and produce a number of landscapes depicting the aborigines of Northern Australia in their natural environment, as well as a number of portraits.

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1939 – Following the expedition, an exhibition was held in Sydney of the artworks and photographs produced during the expedition. He would subsequently establish a studio in a boat shed on Lavender Bay, near Sydney and remain there for close to five years. During this time he received many portrait commissions. 1940 – In March, an exhibition of his work was held at the Macquarie Galleries in Bligh Street, Sydney. 1944 – On the 23rd of March, Holesch married the Melbourne concert pianist, Joyce Greer in Sydney, and in September they travelled to Coochin-Coochin in Queensland, where several landscapes of the surrounding countryside were produced. On their return they moved to Lilydale, Victoria where their daughter, Laura was born on the 20th of December.

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1945 – In March, an exhibition of his works was held at Georges Gallery in Collins Street, Melbourne. In October, the couple left Australia for New York. At this point of his career his interest turned to the painting of horses. Exhibitions were held at the Wildenstein and F.A.R. galleries. 1946 – He moved to Montreal, Canada and continued with his portraiture and horse paintings some of which were exhibited at the National Gallery of Montreal. He also produced a number of still life works of flowers. His son, Hugo was born on the 12th of June. 1947 – Early in the year he moved to Boston and continued painting portraits and horses. In June, he painted the portrait of Harvard Law School Dean, Erwin N. Griswold, and in October his work was exhibited at Margaret Brown’s Galerie Intime, Newbury Street, Boston. His work was also exhibited in Ehrmann’s and Vose Galleries. Late in the year he moved to San Francisco. 1948 – Holesch did the head of the great pianist Egon Petri, one of a number of clay sculptures that he produced over the years. He also produced a number of wood carvings. His paintings were chosen for inclusion in a Group Exhibition in the National Gallery of San Francisco, and in the important and prestigious ‘Renoir to Picasso’ Exhibition held at Maxwell’s Galleries, 372 Sutter Street, San Francisco. 1949 – He left San Francisco for a short stay in New York. 1950 – He travelled to England, and lived in St. John’s Wood in London.

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1951 – He painted the portrait of Neville Cardus, the famous music critic who would later be knighted, before returning to New York to complete a number of portrait commissions. He would also be accepted as a member of Portraits Inc., New York. 1952 – On the 28th of August, Holesch took out a United States of America Certificate of Naturalization. The certificate gave his address at this time as 253 East 62nd Street, New York City, N.Y. and his personal description as of fair complexion, with blue eyes and brown hair and height six feet one inch. Late in the year, he travelled back to England, and took up residence in Buckinghamshire. 1953 – His works were included in a Group Impressionists Exhibition held at the Ohana Gallery, in London. 1954 – He travelled to New York, where he was commissioned to paint Herbert Gasser, Nobel Prize Winner in Biochemistry. 1955 – He returned to England, and then travelled to Paris to exhibit in the Galerie Marcel Lenoir. 1956 – He again returned to New York to work for portrait commissions and exhibitions of his work, mainly of horses. These exhibitions were held in New York, Boston, San Francisco and late in the year at the Galleries of Frank J. Oehlschlager in Chicago. Attending the Ringling Bros Circus in New York, and a rodeo in Tucson Arizona, around this time, evidently impressed the artist, since related themes frequently recur in his paintings. His work moreover was greatly admired by Hollywood film- stars, such as Ann Rutherford and Burt Lancaster, and David Niven purchased one of the horse paintings to give as his wedding present to Grace Kelly on her marriage to Sovereign Prince Rainier III of Monaco. 1957 – An exhibition of his paintings was held at the Veerhoff Gallery, Washington DC.

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1958 – He returned to England where he lived in a charming period town house in Markham Sq Chelsea. He continued with his horse paintings, mainly oils on canvas, although he occasionally painted on pressed board panels and also on vinyl. Prints of three of his artworks, ‘Courtship’, ‘Chargers’ and ‘Rehearsal’ were made by Triton Press, New York. 1959 – Reproductions of ‘Courtship’ and ‘Chargers’ were advertised in the best selling American women’s magazine, ‘Family Circle’. It has been estimated that close to a million copies of his prints were sold over the next ten years, with ‘Courtship’ being advertised by Stern’s Book Department on 5th Avenue, New York along with prints by Picasso, Degas, Goya, Modigliani, Renoir and Van Gogh. 1960 – He moved to Antibes, on the French Riviera in the South-East of France. An exhibition was held in the Galerie des Etats-Unis, Cannes and his work was now permanently exhibited at Galerie Madsen and Galerie Davis, both in Paris. 1961 – Known to Picasso, he was invited to attend a special bull-fight held in the South of France, which was organized for Pablo Picasso’s 80th birthday. Scenes of bull-fights were later to appear in a number of his canvases. 1963 – He moved to Belgravia, in London from where he travelled to New York for more portrait commissions. He then travelled to Mexico City, where his works were exhibited at the Galerie Arte de Coleccionistas. Late in the year he returned to England, and then moved once again, this time to Vienna. 1964 – He moved from Vienna to Wurttemberg, close to the Black Forest in South-West Germany. He would remain there for three years although there were regular trips to Paris, Madrid and Lisbon. 1967 – From Wurttemberg, he moved to an old stone farmhouse in the village of Voulangis, situated some forty kilometres outside of Paris. During this time the art journal ‘Apollo’ carried an article outlining the strengths of his work. Also at this time, the Medici Society in London produced postcards and large prints of “White Horses’.

 

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1973 – On one short trip Holesch travelled to Beverly Hills, California, where his works were exhibited by the Art Collectors Gallery in a major one-man exhibition, sponsored by the Mexican Government, and held at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Also, during this year his daughter, Laura married playwright, Christopher Hampton. 1974 – He painted the portrait of ‘Octavio’, the thoroughbred of Princess zu Oettingen of Wallerstein. Her husband, the Prince of Wallerstein was the President of the Baden-Baden Jockey Club.

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1975 – He moved from Voulangis to Castelfontana in Dorftirol overlooking Merano, in Italy. He remained there for close to a year and participated in a group exhibition in Merano in which works by Dali and Annigoni were also displayed. He also exhibited works in Viterbo, Italy and in the Tabula Gallery in Tubingen. 1976 – Works of his were chosen for a group exhibition in the Museo de los Castillos, Manzanaves el Real, Madrid, Spain. 1978 – He travelled to Ottawa, Canada where he stayed for three to four months, painting portraits on commission. 1979 – He returned to the old farmhouse in Voulangis for a few months and then moved to Westmount, Montreal, where he lived for just over a year. During this time he painted the portrait of Pope John Paul II.

 

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1981 – He moved from Westmount to Oxford, England where he resided for a few months before moving to Stoneythorpe Hall in Warwickshire. 1983 – At the beginning of the year he travelled to Paris and visited many of the art dealers who had handled the selling of his work for many years. One in particular was Robert Philippe in Montmartre who had sold many of his bull-fights to buyers from Madrid and Tokyo. After a short stay in Paris he travelled to Hungary and only four weeks after his arrival, he died of cancer on the 11th of May.

 

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1985 – His paintings pare exhibitedin Lisabon. 1985 – A number of his canvases were selected for a group exhibition in Cascais, Lisbon, and in June an exhibition of his Portuguese bull-fight was held at the ‘Pro Contra Piano Club’ in Bonn, Germany. 1989 – A retrospective exhibition of his work was held in the ANZ Pavilion, The Theatres, Victorian Art Centre in Melbourne, Australia. 2000 – Twenty of his works are exhibited at Szantodpuszta, Hungary, between May and October.