Count Keglevich Cognac Distillery
Pre-war 1 Sheet (cca. 63 x 95 cm)
Fine, restored, backed on Japanese paper.
Paper, stone lithography.
During the Prohibition era in the United States, the production of alcoholic beverages was flourishing in Hungary. This original vintage Hungarian commercial poster is a memory from those times as it was created for the Count Keglevich Cognac Factory around 1930.
Cognacs were produced in Hungary from the end of the 19th century after the great vine pest epidemic. Several companies were established in the vine regions of the country, including Budafok, which was a settlement near the capital city of Budapest. It was the location of the Count Keglevich Cognac Factory, too. The settlement had had a great vineyard for a long while, but when it devastated, the local people had to find something else to make a living. That was why the mining of limestone emerged in the region, resulting in a huge system of underground channels. Later these caves were used as cellars to store and age vine or spirit. A lot of companies used them as the taxes of alcoholic beverage-production were increased in the capital city those days, so the settlement nearby was a perfect solution to avoid them.
That could be the reason why the Count Keglevich Cognac Factory was also running there. As this poster shows, the company was founded in 1882. Not so many other facts can be known about the company; however, there are some really interesting pieces of information to be found in old newspapers. The Szentesi Lap (Paper of ‘Szentes’) had a publication of it in 1893 which read:
“Our factory [...] is the biggest one of considerable importance, and after that we had been producing much more cognac compared to the business done through the long row of years, we have a considerable flavorous and old cognac depot.”
The article also informed about the increased level of demand for cognac, and the importance of choosing a fine and reliable cognac brand for the medical uses of the spirit. It aimed to prove the company’s trustiness by mentioning the honorary diplomas it was awarded on exhibitions and the company also released the data of their activity: the amount of wine processed and the taxes payed. In 1893 they had 1, 178, 650 liters of wine used, and 1, 195, 780 liters in 1984 which was published in the Pápai Lapok (Papers of ‘Pápa’) the next year in a similar article. Hence their economic position is credible, indeed.
The name of the company was ‘The Descendants of Count István Keglevich Cognac Factory’ precisely. It is probable that the founder, István Keglevich is identical with the person who is depicted in sources as the imperial and royal chamberlain and a member of parliament, living from 1840 until 1905. This figure is also mentioned as the intendant of the Hungarian State Opera House and the National Theatre. After his military, and then political activity he was also working in the economic field. After this versatile life he died in a single combat. It is easy to understand why the descendants insisted on using the István Keglevich name for the company even in the 1930s.
This poster was also trying to capture an atmosphere which represents great traditions. It shows a middle-aged, massive male figure standing sideways at a decorative white door with golden ornaments. The white wall with a pink pattern also can be seen on the left side of the poster. The figure is holding a tray with a bottle of cognac ant three elegant glasses. He is touching the golden door handle with the other hand and is looking to the viewer, his shadow is also visible. He is wearing a red uniform with white patterns, and white braids on the coat. A pair of shiny black boots and a pair of white gloves are also parts of his attire. He has got well-groomed, black hair and a long, thick moustache. The red typography is placed in a black panel at the bottom of the design.
The poster was designed by András Biczó, a very popular poster artist of the time. His works are typically playful and humorous. He captured joyous and colourful moments in a realist style to achieve insinuating advertisements. He illustrated numerous books, designed covers and created several posters in the 1920s, the 1930s, and the 1940s. He often designed folksy, historical style compositions and followed the taste of the periods.
This can be considered a typical work of him. It was created in a realist manner and it has a genre painting-like character as the steward figure is seen going to serve the cognac. He is also turning to and looking at the viewer as if he shown us how fine the cognac is.
Besides an intensive cut-out and a strong highlight was also employed, so the aimed function of the design was obtained. Unlike paintings, posters were not made for long contemplation, but they had to attract the gaze and give information about advertised products in the twinkle of an eye. Hence the composition had to be concentrated, containing only a few elements. As previous prominent Hungarian poster artists (e. g. Géza Faragó) had already realized, the most essential way to make the viewer memorize the advertisement was if it had a light-hearted, humorous charm.
Biczó could perfectly utilize the well-tried tactics and graphical mechanisms for his own designs. This work also captures the perfect scene to reflect the elegant lifestyle the product represents in a lightsome way.
It is remarkable that the poster has a specifically local tone. The appearance of the figure with the clothing, the physiognomy and the typical twirled moustache has a big part in it. The strong and robust colours and shapes also contribute to this effect, invoking the character of Hungarian historical painting art of the previous century. Its most important masters were Bertalan Székely, Viktor Madarász, and Gyula Benczúr who incorporated Realism, Romanticism and Academism as well. (The historical-academic style can be familiar from the paintings of Paul Delaroche, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Karl von Piloty, Hans Makart or Franz von Lenbach among others.)
The choice of the scene – the wealthy location in the moment right before the serving of the afternoon or evening cognac – is also powerful. It messages that even the emperors consume Count Keglevich cognac; furthermore it also remembers a great period of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy, the time after the Compromise, when the cognac factory was established, too.
It is interesting that Biczó used this clever design again several times later in the 1940s as well, with an even more idealized atmosphere of the represented peacetime.
One example shows the same scene with the massive figure, but the colours are yellowish, the pink pattern of the wall is lighter, the shades and lines are overall tendered, and there are some new elements as well. There is a motif of golden bays with a ’since 60 years’ script in the upper left corner and a coat of arms in the upper right corner. The script at the bottom now reads: ‘Keglevich Brandy, Liqueur, Rum’.
On another poster with the same scene the whole portrayal is even more delicate and stylized. The steward figure is not robust anymore, but rather looks like a gentleman, his shadow disappeared from the composition, and the background is almost homogenously beige, only the thin golden lines of the door ornament marks out. Now the title is placed at the top, it is written: ‘Keglevich specialities: Brandy, Liqueur, Rum, Pálinka’.
Consequently, these pieces emphasised the great traditions of production, and the growth of the company with a wider and wider range of spirit products.
All the mentioned posters can hallmark the continuous prosperity of spirit producing and consuming at a time when countries were recovering from the great economic crisis.
They are amazing indicators of Biczó’s technique to mix the old Hungarian style of paintings and the simplified, fresh nature of posters. The proportion of each he used was always defined by the atmosphere of the given era. These designs evoked the historical past from the 19th century and suggested power, prestige and sophistication – that was the reason why they were popular advertisements in their age as well as why they are superb old-time pieces of art today.
József Szinnyei: Magyar írók élete és munkái – mek.oszk.hu
Szentesi Lap, .109. 23. 1893.
Pápai Lapok, 21. 1894.)