Art Nouveau as a style always provokes a reaction, and it is impossible to remain indifferent. The style is considered by many to be stunningly beautiful, with shimmering colours and imaginative forms, while others find it the height of bad taste. Actually art noveau or secession („modernismo” in Spain, „jugendstíl” in Austria and Germany) is not a standard style, one could say, as many country and as many architects, as many style exists. The secessionist movement has its origins among the Viennese avant-garde artists, who rejected the stuffy 19th-century fad of neo-gothic, neo-classical, neo-baroque, and neo-renaissance architecture in favor of a more free-style form; they were essentially seeking to define the art of a new generation on the doorstep of a new century. The movement was not limited to the Vienna border, but spilled throughout the whole of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Europe, from Bohemia to Croatia, from Paris to Glasgow. Architecturally it radically altered the face of many cities of Europe – with Budapest being a leading example – at the beginning of the 20th century and left an indelible mark on our collective cultural consciousness.
The Museum of Applied Arts is a masterpiece of Hungarian Art Nouveau, built between 1893 and 1896 to plans by Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos. Lechner created a national architectural idiom with international aspirations, drawing on Eastern, Western and Hungarian vernacular architecture. The Museum stands as one of the outstanding buildings of European Art Nouveau, with many special features: on the outside it is topped by an enormous dome, and the interior evokes oriental splendour, with glass-roofed halls surrounded by two-storey arcades. The tiles of the rich Hungarian-style ornamentation on the exterior and interior walls and the roof were specially made by the world-famous Zsolnay company of Pécs.
Francis Joseph, Austrian Emperor and King of Hungary, opened the building on 25 October 1896 as the closing event of the Millennium celebrations. The Museum, having been founded in 1872 (making it the third museum of applied arts in the world after those in London and Vienna), was at last able to move its collections into a building of its own.
The Museum’s initial aim was to create an art collection that would promote the development of Hungarian craft industries and raise the standard of public taste; besides being a museum it was to accommodate a library and a school.