All Souls

Aladar Korosfoi-Kriesch was one of the leaders of the Gödöllo Colony of the Hungarian Art Nouveau, founded in 1901 on the principles of the English Pre-Raphaelites, especially Ruskin and Morris. Known more for his monumental frescos in public buildings, Korosfoi shows here his fascination with the deep roots of his native culture.

In this work of 1910, he uses no explicit Christian symbolism, but seeks to convey the power of the traditional All Souls Day visit to the graves of loved ones. Day has turned to night; the three dark figures on the left, one seated two standing, express the pain and sorrow of our mortality; the four figures to the right are bathed with ethereal light emanating, one may suppose, from the tomb before which they sit in almost trance-like reflection.

In an age of confident faith, this dark painting of dark colours hinted at the melancholy yearning of those who were not yet fully integrated into the doctrines and sacraments of the Church, but who yet prayed, ‘Help thou mine unbelief.’ Like the women at the tomb, they see in the fierce white light intimations of the resurrection.

In an age with little faith or none, the melancholy gloom of this night scene might seem closer to a sentimental wallowing in sorrow. Except, that is, for the lights in the distance, from countless other family groups gathered around their graves. More powerfully perhaps than in his own day, we see here on earth a reflection of the heavenly communion of saints – our fellowship of hope. Korosfoi painted a counterpart All Saints Day’ in 1914, just as the artists’ colony and their ideals were dispersed by war.

Nigel Anthony