The Hatvanys: the fourth generation

A sponsor, without whom Hungarian literature would not be the same. A painter, without whom art collecting would not exist as we know it. A family, where an entire generation turned against their parents. Find out lots more about the fourth generation of the Hatvanys here.

Lajos Hatvany

Lajos Hatvany

Painters, fools
“One of them is a painter and the other is crazy too” – Sándor Hatvany-Deutsch allegedly said when asked about his sons. The great-grandchildren of dynasty founder Ignác, children of Sándor and József, the cousins developing the family empire the most dynamically of all generations, did not aspire to continue the family business. They however possessed the inventiveness, creativity and perseverance of the Deutschs. Even Jolán Somogyi, the third wife of Lajos Hatvany, who was otherwise highly critical about the family, acknowledged this in an interview made in the 1970s. “All of this, all of the nasty stuff I have said about them is true, yet one has to admit that the entire family was somehow exceptionally gifted”.
Since most of the fourth generation members did not show interest in pursuing business careers, the management of the companies was taken over by Albert Hirsch, Irén Hatvany’s husband and, as the only fourth generation descendant, Endre Hatvany. The others possessed their share of the family fortune, yet wanted no part of the business. The fathers reconciled to this and let their children follow their own ambitions. Not only did the fourth generation choose a different walk of life but they also changed their religious identity as most of them converted to Christianity, albeit they only did so years after their fathers had died.

Pen and valet
Lajos, born in 1880 as the oldest son of Sándor was attracted to literature. “Please write” instructed him professor of literary history Pál Gyulai, his mentor when escorted him once to the railway station. Hatvany mistook the instruction as encouragement and began to write literature. This widely known anecdote reveals that Lajos never became a famed author, part of the literary canon despite the fact that he actually did achieve success with many of his works. Yet, he became known as a literary critic, a manager and most importantly a generous donor. He was the first to discover and promote the genius of Attila József. He also was one of the founders of Nyugat, a signature periodical of the time and sponsored other papers as well. He was a benefactor to many of the most influential literary figures for decades. The blossoming of Hungarian literature in the first decades of the 20th century, the works of Endre Ady, Attila József, Dezső Kosztolányi, Mihály Babits, Zsigmond Móricz, Gyula Juhász and others would never have come to exist had Lajos Hatvany not sponsored literary figures from the family fortune founded by his great-grandfather, this German speaking crop merchant. He often had dissenting opinion on several issues with people he otherwise sponsored, as his help was based on talent. This sometimes led to financially supporting antisemites. One of them was writer Dezső Szabó, whom Lajos Hatvany provided with board and lodging in his house in early 1919 while Szabó was looking for a publisher for his highly influential antisemitic novel, The Eroded Village.
Lajos Hatvany got involved in the democratic revolutions of 1918-1919, but he fled to Vienna from the short-lived Communist dictatorship that followed. He also did not favor the right wing government that was established after the fail of Communism in Hungary. In exile, he published highly critical articles on the new regime’s violent means. He was immediately arrested and put to jail for his writings when he returned to Hungary in 1927. He continued to be considered an opposition figure, a suspicious individual even after his release. Paradoxically, this period was also the one in which his influence on Hungarian culture was at its apex. His home in the castle district became one of the cultural hotspots of the city where giants like Béla Bartók or Thomas Mann were regular visitors. He finally fled to England from growing antisemitism in 1938 and lived through the war there. He returned to Hungary in 1947 and, among other members of the intelligentsia, was silenced during the toughest years of the second Communist dictatorship. Later he was allowed to write again. He died in 1961.

Collectors, writers, scholars
Ferenc, his younger brother became a painter and art collector. He studied from first-class artists of the time and became an acclaimed painter himself. His firm judgment on art and sizeable financial resources allowed him to compile one of Europe’s most prominent art collections, in which works from Cézanne, Picasso, El Greco, Courbet, Cranach, Renoir and others were all represented. He also continued the family tradition of sponsoring young artists and donating many pieces of his art collection to public collections (Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Applied Arts, and the Christian Museum in Esztergom). He survived the Holocaust thanks to his friend, the painter Béla Czóbel who sheltered him during the war in his house in Szentendre. He left Hungary following the war and died in Switzerland in 1958.
Bernát, a nephew to Ferenc and Lajos became a man of science and a researcher on oriental cultures. He was the only one of the fourth generation of the Hatvanys who never converted to Christianity. He was a supporter of Zionism, the return of the Jewish people to their ancient, historical land in the Middle East. Similarly to his cousin Lajos, he too made donations to literary figures. Publication costs of Szép Szó, a literary journal Attila József co-founded were largely covered from donations from Bertalan Hatvany. He also left the country in 1939 and died in Paris in 1980. His sister, Lili became a famed playwright and novelist. She emigrated too during the late 1930s and died in New York in 1968.
Today, no direct descendant of the Hatvany family lives in Hungary anymore.