Róbert Berény was one of the greatest masters of Hungarian poster art, equally important as a painter. Together with Sándor Bortnyik, they were the leading artists of the modernist poster design in Hungary.
He began his studies in 1904, in the Mintarajziskola (an art school), in Budapest, then in 1905 he moved to Paris and continued to study at the Julian Academy. His master was J.P. Laurens, but he was mostly influenced by the art of Matisse, Cézanne and Gauguin.
As a painter, he belonged among the greatest masters of the early avant-garde in Hungary: his first works are close to fauvism, but they show inspirations of cubism and expressionism as well. He exhibited several times at the Salon de Automne in Paris (1906, 1907, 1908), and critics mentioned his works.Until 1911 he stayed in Paris and he joined the intensive art life around the Monthparnasse and in the parisian private art schools. His paintings of this period belong to the greatest artworks of Hungary.
After his return, he became a member of the Nyolcak (The Eight), the first avant-garde painter group in Hungary, whose exhibitions were always considered to be scandalous because of their modernism.
Berény was enlisted during the First World War. After coming back, he opened a free art school, where László Moholy-Nagy has eventually spent some time.
Berény played an active role in the art life of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, he was the head of the Painting Department at the Directory of Art. He has also created an outstanding propaganda poster for the regime (Fegyverbe, fegyverbe! – To arms, to arms!). After the fall of the regime, Berény had to flee; he went to Berlin, where he lived until 1926, and where he got influences from the Bauhaus.
After coming back to Budapest, he became one of the leading poster artists. With Bortnyik, they introduced a new, modern style of design that was close to the Bauhaus and to Russian constructivism. Berény played an active role in the art life in Hungary after the Second World War, since he became a teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts.
Around the 100th anniversary of the “Nyolcak” group (2011), several exhibitions and conferences were organized in Hungary and in Vienna, most of which proved that Berény was one of the most outstanding talents of his age.
Berény’s first poster designs show secessionist style and the common decorative and narrative approach of the beginning of the century. However, Berény’s modern attitude soon became apparent: his great propaganda poster “Fegyverbe!” (“To arms!”) is one of the most powerful and expressive political posters of all time. This work shows the understanding of expressionism, besides the influence of Biró’s political posters.
The key feature of Berény's posters is his outstanding talent in composition and in drawing. The "To arms!" poster is a great example for this: simple but very dynamic and impressive composition combined with the fine and punctual drawing.
Berény (and his colleague Bortnyik) had great impact on the development of Hungarian poster art, when after his return he introduced a new, modernist style. Under the influence of the Bauhaus, they considered the essential requirements of the poster’s function: that is why they used geometric forms, clear design and compositions, basic colours and easily readable block letters. Berény composed his most famous Modiano design in 1929, which is an emblematic poster. (Modiano was an Italian tobacco trademark that ordered advertisements from the best artists of the age.) Berény could depict a scene (a gentleman enetering a bar while smoking), an athmosphere and a very intensive attitude using only elemenaric forms, few colors and geometric lines.
Berény created several distinguished constructivist designs for commercial products (such as Flora soap, Kohinoor charcoal, Tátra washing powder and Palma rubber sole, among many others). The humor and the idea is always dominant element in his works. Many of his posters depict a small scene with simple but characteristic figures - this makes his posters so emblematic that everyone remembers them. Just a few examples: the laundress jumps for the Flora soap, the driver of Cordatic rushes forward with his accelerator-feet, the gentleman with Palma sole walks in a metropolis... Clearly Berény enjoyed the poster genre and created masterpieces that were models for the next generations of poster artists.
In 1933, Bortnyik proclaimed the end of the modernist poster style, and Berény also turned to a different visual world. His posters became more decorative and painting-like, he started to use painting spray, light colours and classicist clearness in the compositions. His splendid designs advertised travel destinations or commercial products like the Nikotex tobacco. His typical humor and artistic style remained apparent on these works. .