Desiderius Orban

Cultural background: Hungarian
Place of origin: Budapest, Hungary
Date of arrival: 1939

Desiderius Orban (26Nov1884 – 4Oct1986) – yesteryear’s migrant, a renowned Hungarian-born Australian painter, textile designer, & art teacher who started off in Australia as a humble but unknown artist.

Born Orbán Dezsõ in Gyõr, Hungary, in 1884, he was from a long line of public servants & thus his talent & vocation for fine art had to be diverted from art school training in compliance to family expectations. He thus studied & graduated from Péter Pázmány University of Budapest in philosophy, physics & mathematics. Parallel to his university studies he was at times tutored by János Pentelei-Molnár, but overall he became mainly a self taught artist painter.

In 1905, he commenced compulsory military service with the Austro-Hungarian army. In 1906, following early success as a young & promising painter in Budapest at national scene, he moved to Paris where he studied briefly at the Académie Julian. In two short weeks the ebullient young artist gave up academic training finding it irreconcilable with his concept of own artistic development. He acquired his own studio there & also became a regular member of a close knit circle of well known pioneer-in-their-field masters that included Henri Matisse & Pablo Picasso. Their philosophical exchange & collaborative exploration of perception & pictorial representation later resulted in Analytic Cubism. No doubt under that esoteric influence, Desiderius’(Dezsõ) individual style developed to be characterised in a nutshell as Postimpressionist inspired with distinct flat primary flat colours seeking decorative effect in landscape, still-life & in compositions of religious nature.

In 1909 he founded a group of artists known as Keresõk (The Seekers), bringing contemporary painting to Hungary. In 1912-13 he was again called up for military service in the Balkan War. In 1915, he married Alice Vajda, a doctor serving in the Austro-Hungarian army. In 1931, he founded the Arts & Crafts Academy, called Atelier, in Budapest. In 1937, his painting ‘Cathedral in Eger’ (1928) was seized by the Nazis from Nuremberg Museum collection, & was never recovered.

In 1939, he fled Budapest & arrived in Australia as a 55 year old migrant, settling in Sydney & enlisting in the Australian Army as a private. In 1942, following release, he worked as textile designer/printmaker in a Sydney factory. In 1943 he began his own Art School & also held his first solo exhibition of paintings with thirty works, the bulk of which were of European subjects. In 1944, the Art Gallery of New South Wales purchased one of his paintings, sealing his formal entry, recognition & acceptance by the elite of the Sydney art world.

As an exceptional art teacher he authored the following authoritative reference books: A Layman’s Guide to Creative Art (1968), Understanding Art (1968), What Is Art All About (1975). He was a prolific painter & destiny endowed him with a long & productive life during which he took part in solo & selected group exhibitions too numerous to quote both in European capitals & in Australia.

From 1946 to 1949, Desiderius Orban was President of the NSW branch of the Contemporary Art Society of Australia. In 1953, he was elected Chairman of the UNESCO National Committee of Visual Arts. From 1957 to 1967, he conducted summer schools in painting at the University of New England, Armidale. He was a judge for the 1960 Sulman Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Among his accumulated awards was the 1929 Gold Medal, International Exhibition in Barcelona, the 1957 Wagga Wagga Art Prize; the 1967 & 1971 Blake Prize for Religious Art; the 1967 Muswellbrook Art Prize and the 1971 the Wollongong Art Prize.