Exhibition of explorer and nobleman's photos
‘Pleasure’ from the barrel of a gun
The pictures were taken by the count, a descendant of the Hungarian noble Széchenyi family, in Hungary and Europe, and during his several expeditions to Africa, India and Alaska.
István Virágvölgyi, the curator of the exhibition, said the count compiled his photographs with a dateline, descriptions and short stories in several albums. Count Széchenyi also had a passion for collecting.
Although his collection of 1300 trophies was destroyed in a World War Two bombing raid, his 3500- to 4000-volume library on hunting including rare pieces has been preserved and can be viewed for research in the Hungarian Museum of Natural History, the curator said.
Trophy hunting is defined as the shooting of carefully selected animals – frequently big game such as rhinos, elephants, lions, pumas and bears – under official government licence, for pleasure. The trophy is the animal (or its head, skin or any other body part) that the hunter keeps as a souvenir.
Virágvölgyi said the Hungarian Museum of Natural History also keeps a collection of trophies Széchenyi shot during his expeditions to Africa in the 1960s.
He said: “Half a century after his death in 1967, Zsigmond Széchenyi still needs no introduction. Generations have grown up on his novels elaborating his domestic hunting experiences and his foreign expeditions with literary care. His works have gone through more than 70 editions in the Hungarian language, and one and a half million copies went to domestic readers.
“In addition to his novels, several statues, memorial stones and reliefs commemorate him, but hunters’ associations and schools also bear his name and the Hunting Museum in Hatvan also was named after him.”
Széchenyi was born in Oradea, now in Romania, in 1898. The curator said the little count used to hunt sparrows with his air rifle at the age of seven in Sárpentele, Fejér County, hence his lifelong passion for hunting. It was also important to highlight his passion for collecting. Although his 1300 trophies, including a world record addax (a desert antelope also known as the screw-horn antelope) trophy, had been destroyed in World War Two, his hunting library could be considered a rarity even on a world scale.
The 20th century had given the count, who was raised as a noble in the monarchy, a strange fate, Virágvölgyi said. In 1951, he had been deported from Budapest by the Soviet authorities, then imprisoned for eight months, later becoming a “non-staff assistant” at the Helikon Library in Keszthely. But it was his hunting expertise and his popular works that had allowed him to move back to the capital in the late 1950s.
The photography exhibition has been organised to coincide with the “One with Nature” World of Hunting and Nature Exhibition that Budapest is hosting at the Hungexpo fairground between September 25 and October 14. The expert advisor of the former is Tamás Gyorgyevics, biographer of Zsigmond Széchenyi.
The Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Centre is at 8 Nagymező utca, District VI, Budapest, open Tuesdays to Fridays 2-7pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11am to 7pm, closed Mondays and public holidays.
The Hungarian Museum of Natural History is at Ludovika tér 2-6, District VIII, Budapest.