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Collection for the Zsolnay Sisters 1999


Collection for the Zsolnay Sisters, (1999), was shown at Rich Women of Zurich, a small London Gallery in Leather Lane, run by Lubaina Himid and Maud Sulter. The exhibition was an homage to the Zolnay sisters, Terez, (1854-1944), and Julia, (1856-1950), whose family owned the ambitious Zolnay factory in Pecs, in southern Hungary. Here the sisters produced most of the factory’s ceramic designs during the 1880s and 90s as it was rising to international prominence. The work in this exhibition was also about collecting and museums. In particular it refers to a private museum in Sopron, Western Hungary, where the Zettl-Langer family still own the building which houses their original collection and which is still their family home. The exhibition grew out of a study tour of Hungary in 1998, funded by the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. The text that follows is an edited version of the introduction I wrote for the exhibition in 1999.

Musings on Museums and the beginnings of Collection for the Zsolnay Sisters, 1999

All over Europe, there are musty old museum collections tucked away in private houses in forgotten corners of small towns. The collections and their display show clearly the story of European adventurers making their way around the world, helping themselves to whatever they fancied, in the name of archaeology. These collections are defined by the collector. They are not defined by the objects themselves, or by the individuals or communities who made them. It is an aspect of European history now well understood and Museums in Britain go to great lengths to educate their audiences about the people and societies who made and used the objects in their collections. Paradoxically however, as one history emerges through clear and accurate labelling, another, the history of the actual collecting process, becomes obscured.

In ‘Collection for the Zsolnay Sisters,’ I am creating a kind of parallel museum collection, exploring the phenomenon of collecting, both in the material sense of collecting objects and also in the sense of collecting memories, influences and layers of experience. I am interested in the sources of inspiration, in the connection between objects and memory.

In common with many wealthy Europeans of the time, the Zsolnay family were avid collectors. The sisters, Julia and Terez, derived many of their designs from the artefacts they collected, a mix of pottery, textiles, and a natural history collection. I now find I treasure these creaky old museums with their giant ceramic stoves, dominating a room full of bird skulls and the moth-eaten uniform of some long-dead Prussian soldier, alongside the trophies and plunder of ancient burial sites. I may not have learnt much about Isnik pottery, ancient Egyptian culture, or central European textiles, but I learnt a great deal more about what it means to be European.

View other archive:

Genetic Cafe 2001
Alien in the Kitchen 2000
Wedding Feast 1999
Teeming & Banana Bowls 1998-2000
Collection for the Zsolnay Sisters 1998
The World Service 1997
Archive: 1987-1996


Zsolnay Sisters