AMERIGO TOT - IMRE TÓTH (1909-1984)
Imre Tóth was born on the 27th of September, 1909 in Fehérvárcsurgó, in the surroundings of one of the Károlyi castles. According to the sculptor, he was doused in grape juice at the time of his birth. His mother, Zsófia Naszályi moved to Csurgó from the town of Naszály in Komárom County. According to their recollections, his father, Tóth Imre, was working as a teamster at the time, delivering the sand of the local Tatár-mountain to the nearby town of Székesfehérvár.
Tóth lived in Csurgó until his tenth birthday and he was probably sent to the school of Cisterciens in Székesfehérvár from here in 1919, where he began his secondary studies. Shortly after the First World War, his family moved to Budapest, or more precisely, to Sashalom in 1921. His father, who served as a cavalryman during the war, became a mounted policeman, a member of the gendarmerie. (He most probably had other sources of income, since he gradually purchased eight houses in Sashalom, which the family lost during the socialization of the 1950s.)
In 1927, he began his studies at the Lónyai street Calvinist reform school in Budapest, which he left without graduating. In the same year, he gained entry to the graphics department of the Model-Drawing School of Budapest (which later became the University of Applied Arts). His tutors included Ferenc Helbing, Gyula Kaesz and György Leszkovszky. He also met Sándor Bortnyik at the time and took part in the design of the Modiano cigarette poster series. Apart from his studies, he began his employment at the PIATNIK factory. (At the time, Piatnik was the greatest card-manufacturing factory in Hungary located in Rottenbiller street. He also took part in the design of a number of colored boxes and pasteboards in the interwar period.) The skills he gained at the time later proved to be of value in Rome, when he was employed as a zincographer at the Il Messagero press (between 1936 and 38). During his years in Budapest, he became the member of the left-wing group Kassák Lajos Munkaköre.
In 1930, he passed the Model-Drawing School with honors. In the spring of the same year, he took part in an attack on “Turulist” protestors in front of the National Theatre. The incident led to police involvement and the detention center in Kõbánya. Following his release three months later, he was notified at home that he received entry and boarding from 1931 for a whole semester to the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany. Instead of wasting time, he decided to take off on foot.
1931 was the final year of Bauhaus in Dessau. Most of the previous masters were gone by this time, still he was taught by instructors such as Lyonel Feininger, Josef Albers, Vaszilij Kandinszkij, Joost Schmidt, Gunta Stölzl, Alfred Arndt, Walter Peterhans and László Moholy-Nagy.
From 1932, the school struggled to carry on its work in the outskirts of Berlin, in Steglitz. In October, Tóth left the school and decided to become a sailor instead. (Schwinemünde, Kronstadt, Helsinki, the Åland Islands, Stockholm – just a few locations Tóth visited at the time.) The Nazis come to power early next year and banned the Bauhaus.
In 1933, he returned to Berlin, where Otto Dix welcomed him with his friends (György Kepes, Hans Hofman, and Helmut Klose) to his school in Dresden. He held his very first exhibition here in Dresden at the Brücke Gallery. On the 10th of February, the Nazis arrested the students and deported them to Zwickau. Tóth managed to escape and flee to Italy through Czechoslovakia and Austria together with Polish poet Leo Meter.
He arrived in Rome on foot on the 4th of June, 1933. (The story of his fabulous arrival was recorded by Antal Szerb in his novel Journey by Moonlight which was first published in 1937.) Tóth supported himself in Rome for months with zinc painting, drawing portraits in trattorias, and painting walls (including the shuttered windows of the Hotel Minerva). He spent the nights at homeless shelters (on the Via dei Pettineti). However, with the help of a scholarship (and Luttor Ferenc’s assistance) he became a boarder at the Collegium Hungaricum (Hungarian Institute) of Rome in November (where he stayed until 1936). Here he began dealing with sculpting and met László Mészáros and Jenõ Grantner. (Antique Smile, 1933 / Beethoven, 1934)
In 1936, he moved into a small studio on Via Vittoria. A few blocks from here, he later stumbled across his legendary home of the sixties on Via Margutta, where he made his wooden sculpture entitled The Three Widowers as well as the small sculpture Bulls.
In 1937, the Albanian government announced an international competition for the preparation of an equestrian statue of their national hero Scanderbeg. Amergio Tot won the competition; however, in the meantime the Italian fascist regime conquering Albania commissioned another sculptor, Romano Romanelli to prepare the equestrian statue designed by Tot. (The statue is still on display to this very day in Rome in the Piazza Albania, next to the Ostia Post Office.) Tóth created his relief entitled Tribute to Donatello and visited Hungary in the same year.
In 1938, Imre Tóth received the yearly “Premio per Giovani Artisti” award for young Italian artists. He completed a host of reliefs: Birth, Baptism, Jesus Talks to the Teachers, Last Supper, Crucifixion, Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise, Golgotha, Resurrection. Judith, Salome, Dancing Bacchans.
In 1939, he visited his home country again. His entry for the Madách Statue competition in Budapest came in first place shared with Pál Pátzay, which he designed with architect László Juhász. He also created a number of other portrait statues – Celestina and Hermetique Poet – as well as his relief entitled Still Life.
In 1940, Tóth traveled to Bologna were he completed the tomb of the Goldoni family. The many-figured composition entitled Doomsday depicts the images of Hitler and Mussolini amongst the figures destined to be sent to hell (there are a total of 472 figures on the relief.) The direct antecedent of this work is the many-figured Mining Lesson (1938-39) relief, as well as the series entitled Relief, reminiscent of the Mesopotamian seals. He also completed his works Prophet, Donatella and the portrait of Sándor Lénárd in this period.
In 1942, he completed his statues Susan (or: Susan in the Bath).
In 1943, he was stuck in the northern German-occupied part of the country. He soon slipped through the frontlines and joined the National Liberation Committee. He trained to be a paratrooper and later became a liaison officer between the committee and the partisans (serving through 7 commissions as a messenger). According to his stories, he saw Budapest in flames from above on several occasions, and in fact he once even landed in the Hortobágy as a paratrooper. His commander was Alessandro Pertini, who later became the president of the Italian republic at the end of the 1970s.
In 1945, he completed The Beauty of Naple (La bella Partenopea). The war had a deep impact on the artist who previously followed the ethos of the renaissance, and his sculptures at the time focused on forming a link between the external and internal spaces. In this period he displayed two distinctive styles. His works inspired by pebbles include the series entitled Pebble Woman (1940-1945).
In 1946, he completed the following sculptures: Quarell, The Earl, Portrait of Professor Birnbaum, Foreign Correspondent, Lunatic, Town Visit, Country Visit I-II., Gossip I-II., Women on the Beach, Hick Hail Mary. In the same year, he also won another Italian sculpture award, the "Premio Saint Vincent".
In 1947 Tibor Kardos, the director of the Hungarian Academy (Collegium Hungaricum) of Rome approached Renato Guttuso and Amerigo Tot to become the artistic advisors of the institute. He created a number of illustrations (wood engravings) for Sándor Lénárd’s volumes Ex Ponto and Orgelbüchlein. He also met György Lukács, who invited him to come to Hungary. Partly due to the need to make money, but basically because of his fundamentally restless nature and his longing for something new, he dabbled in motor-racing, movie acting and even harpoon-fishing in this period. (He completed his statues Retired Wrestler and The General.)
In 1948, he won the first prize of the Forte dei Marmi. He became the director of the V. Pinto ceramics factory between 1948 and 1952 in Vietri. He created a number of distinctive green and blue vases. (His large-sized terracotta figures, Pregnant Woman I-II. and A kõasszony probably date from this period.)
The year 1949 yielded his most spectacular success as an artist, gaining him fame all over the globe, by winning the international competition for the frieze of the Termini Railway Station of Rome. His anodized aluminum composition received its final placement in 1953. (His statue Csontok és szemaforok dates back to this year.)
In 1950, he won the Mostra della Ricostruzione sculpture award with his statue entitled The Stone of Reconstruction (or: Rebuilding) köve. (The work was lost.)
Between 1950 and 52 he presented his works in Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden.
In 1952, he put on an exhibition at the Italian pavilion of the 26th Venice Biennale. He received a number of state and private commissions at the time. (Rape of Europe1952-54)
In 1953, he completed the The Friezes of the Termini Station in Rome.
In 1954, he created his statue entitled Meteor from the “new” material of architecture, concrete, which was later erected in 1960 to honor the 17th Summer Olympic Games next to the Sports Palace (Palazzo dello Sport) designed by Pier Luigi Nervi. He completed the ceiling relief of the Foreign Ministry and his statue The Stone Gordian Knot. He put on exhibitions in Bologna and left the Italian Communist Party.
In 1955, he created the reliefs The Woodcutters, The Family of the Woodcutter, Nymphs of the Wood, The Old Woodcutter, Agriculture, Christ Cutter Man, Olive Sedan and The Surgery.
In 1956, he won the first prize of the Agricultural Exhibition (Mostra dell’ Agricoltura) of Rome with the above-listed reliefs. He completed the 10 segments of the bronze gate of the Savings Bank of Bari (Cassa di Risparmio delle Pugile) entitled Il Tavoliere, compiled from the above-listed reliefs. He took part yet again in the Venice Biennale. (People are not Machines, The Stone)
In 1958, he appeared at the World Fair in Brussels with his large-sized statue Monster Train (Il mostro locomotivo), located in front of the entrance to the European Transportation Pavilion.
In 1959, he completed his concrete relief entitled Dazzle Lights and Semaphores in the building of the directorate of the Automobile Club (Automobile Club d’Italia) in Rome. (Similarly shaped works include the statues Man with Machines and Geometric Muscles which were made for the Olympic Games in Rome. The latter was glazed and then placed in a furnace by Tóth himself and later put on display at the Sports Palace (Palazzo dello Sport) in Rome.)
In 1960, he opened his individual exhibition at the Roman Quadriennale. He also prepared a number of abstract and geometrical small statues: the Protest series. The Meteor was also erected in this year.
In 1962, he took part in the 31st Venice Biennale with his own individual exhibition as well as opening an exhibition in London. He completed his works Nazism, His Majesty the Kilowatt and
The Ears of the Earth. He wrote the script of a ballet piece for the Spoleto Festival as well as creating the set for the play.
In 1963, Denis Chevalier invited him to Paris for the “Actualité de la Sculpture” exhibition in the Galerie Creuse arranged by the Art d’Aujourd’hui journal. He exhibited his work alongside artists such as Henry Moore, César, André Bloc, and Alicia Penalba. In the same year, he received an invitation to Belgrade with Henry Moore and Ossip Zidkine, to prepare a statue each for the Museum of Modern Art. (The museum was ruined by a bomb-raid during the Third Balkan War.)
In 1963, he prepared the ornaments for the Raffaello luxury ocean liner. (The ship was hit by a rocket off the Iranian shores in 1983 and later sunk in the Bûshehr Bay.) He also completed his sculpture entitled The Shell in this period.
In 1965, he created a number of illustrations for the erotic poems of Italian, renaissance poet Pietro Aretino. The idea of the Madonna of Csurgó surfaces at this time.
In 1966, he won the competition for the Kennedy Memorial in Rome. He opened an individual exhibition in New York as well as taking part in field trips to Japan and India between 1966 and 67.
In 1967, he completed his plans for Microcosm in Macrocosm (Bartók Memorial).
In 1969, he completed a number of statues: Hommage á Karinthy Olivecrona, Crusader and Cosmos, Flying. He also visited Hungary during the year. He put on exhibitions at the Mûcsarnok in Budapest, as well as in Tihany, Pécs, Szeged and Debrecen.
In 1970, he was commissioned to be a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bari (Accademia di belle arti di Bari). He stayed on as a lecturer for 10 years. In the early 1970s, he established good ties with the Vatican, who provided him with a number of significant commissions. He was concerned with the idea of The Apotheosis of the Seed, which was later erected at the Szent István University in Gödöllõ. He appeared as an actor in Damiano Damiani’s film, The Most Beautiful Wife.
In 1971, the motif of the mag appeared on the final gate to Saint Peter’s Cathedral. He also created a number of smaller statues on the same theme.
In 1972, they erect his work The Bandiera Memorial in Cosenza, on one of the cliffs of the Vallone di Rovito, which Tóth created more than a decade ago thanks to a competition he won. (The brothers Banderia fought for the unification of Italy, which is why Tóth recalls the motif of the broken chain in his work.) He lands a role in the film Pulp.
In 1973, he opened an exhibition in Palermo, Sicily.
In 1974, he played the role of the bodyguard of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in the second installment of the famous Godfather trilogy. He also completed the Portrait of Pope Paul VI, as well as the chalice, which the pope used to celebrate mass at the opening of the Holy Year. Amerigo Tot also completed the Holy Hammer and Holy Trowel, which they used to open and wall up the Porta Sacra. He also completed a multi-figure fountain for a hospital in Philadelphia.
In 1976, he created a World War II monument in the coastal town of Anzio, near the ruins of Nero’s villa. He transformed a German military bunker into The Warrior as the Guard of Peace. At the end of the 1970s, he received a major commission from Persian Shah Reza Pahlavi: Memorial in Teheran - General Khatami Memorial.
In 1978, he opened a permanent exhibition in Pécs, Hungary. He completed his sculpture series Chairs for the Small Statue Biennale of Pécs. The Italian Academy of Science elected him as a gold-medal member.
In 1979, he received the laurel wreath order of banner of the People’s Republic of Hungary.
In 1980, he creates the Historical Ellipse in the Saint Peter Cathedral, within the Hungarian Chapel of Our Lady. He began working on the design for the version of The Seed intended to be erected in Gödöllõ. (The statue’s 1:1 plaster model is on display in the Petõfi Csarnok in Budapest.)
March 18th – April 18th, 1982. His final domestic exhibition opened in Budapest at the Vigadó.
1983. The inauguration of The Seed in Gödöllõ. The inauguration of Microcosm in Macrocosm in Kecskemét, dedicated to the memory of Bartók.
In 1984, he became hospitalized, in the same building as Pope John Paul II.
Imre Tóth died on the 13th of December, 1984, in Rome. He was laid to final rest in Budapest at the Farkasréti Cemetery. (A monument was erected in his memory in 1989, prepared by Miklós Melocco. 1-1-585/586)