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Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon

Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka has become an emblematic figure in Hungarian painting as a result of the path his life took, his devotion to his art, and his unique, almost mission-inspired voice as a painter. In 1894, he was already in his forties when he gave up his previous career as a pharmacist to begin regular artistic studies in Munich. He subsequently travelled far and wide in search of the “grand motif” for his art. The paintings of cedar trees he made in Lebanon, such as Pilgrimage, are key pieces of his œuvre. Their symbolic force derives partly from their strong confessional nature, as the two cedar pictures can be viewed as concealed self-portraits, while they are also open to interpretation as a more general symbol. According to a popularly held belief at the time, thousand-year-old cedars played a prominent role in ancient Hungarian mythology; in choosing this subject, Csontváry was also giving shape to an original national programme. The artist’s worldview is also reflected in his technique: he evoked the animation of the earthly regions using broad impasto brushwork, but as he progressed towards the heavens, he adopted increasingly smooth and homogeneous surfaces.