Mihaly Zichy

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Biography of Mihaly Zichy ( 1827-1906 )

"A monster of a genius" is what Théophile Gautier, the celebrated French art critic and writer, called Gustave Doré in 1857. Two years later in Saint Petersburg, he discovered a designer who he felt was Doré’s equal: Mihály Zichy.

Born in 1827, Mihaly Zichy was known in his lifetime as Hungary’s greatest designer and illustrator. Mihaly Zichy began his career as a painter, and his entire life he wished to be recognized for this talent, but it was working in graphics that he would find true success.

While still a law student in Vienna, he enrolled in private courses and in 1844 became the student of the Viennese master Ferdinand Waldmüller, who quickly took him on as an assistant. The visit in 1847 of the Grande Duchess Elena Pavlovna to Vienna would mark the turning point in young Zichy’s career.

Waldmüller could not leave Vienna to become the drawing master for the imperial family, and therefore designated his best student for the post: Mihaly Zichy arrived in Saint Petersburg in 1848. However, unhappy with mundane orders from his distinguished employers, Mihaly Zichy quickly resigned and found a position with the photographer Wenniger, and there began his career as a portraitist. In the 1850s, Zichy’s renown developed in aristocratic circles, with the tsar and the artistic milieu of Saint Petersburg.

Chosen to illustrate an album dedicated to the coronation of the new tsar Alexander II, in 1859 he became the painter at the court of Saint Petersburg and would serve four tsars until his death in 1906.

In 1858, Mihaly Zichy received his first high distinction when he was given  the academic prize for watercolor. In 1872, the Belgian Society of Watercolor Artists made him an honorary member.
Despite his official duties, Mihaly Zichy traveled a great deal in Europe: Brussels, Vienna, and Paris, where he lived for five years. It was also in the French capital that he met Félicien Rops and Gustave Doré.

In 1862, Mihaly Zichy went to Paris to see his friend Théophile Gautier, who introduced him to Doré. But it was during his visit in 1874 that the influence of the French artist Zichy became stronger, and the parallels between their careers and artistic ambitions became more marked. Zichy’s art finds its roots and correspondences in Western Europe, his artistic approach being close to liberal thought and the end of romanticism.

There are thousands of Zichy’s drawings in Russian museums, such as the Hermitage or the State Tretyakov Gallery.

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